Long before Phyllis Smith was cast as Phyllis Vance on The Office, she dedicated her talents to another type of performance: burlesque dancing.
In the first episode of Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey‘s new podcast, Office Ladies, the duo opened up about 68-year-old Smith, who worked as a casting associate on the comedy before scoring the role of Phyllis.
“I think this is an interesting tidbit. Phyllis Smith, who plays Phyllis on the show, she was the casting associate for The Office. So when I auditioned for The Office, she read my audition scenes with me,” said Fischer, who starred as Pam Beesly from 2005-13.
Fischer explained that director Ken Kwapis “was so taken with how she did her readings with the actors … that he said to Greg Daniels, ‘I want her on the show. Can I give her a part on the show?’ “
“And so Phyllis went from being a casting associate, which she had done for years with Allison Jones, the casting director, worked with Phyllis, to having a part on this pilot,” recalled Fischer, 45.
At the time, Fischer admitted that everyone “thought the show was going nowhere,” so “it was fine” for Smith to have the part.
“And after the pilot was over, she went back to being a casting associate,” Fischer said.
Although Smith was working behind the scenes at the time, her longtime dream was to be on-screen.
“Phyllis had wanted to be an actress. She had been an actress,” Fischer said. “She had been a burlesque dancer.”
And apparently, Smith wasn’t shy in showcasing her dance moves to the cast and crew.
Said Kinsey, 48: “No one can shimmy like Phyllis. She has a great shimmy.”
While shooting the pilot, Smith even referenced her past job in a small way.
“She had an amazing photo on her desk, because Ken Kwapis wanted us to personalize our desk for the pilot episode and moving forward. So we all brought in something from home … and Phyllis had a picture of herself in her full burlesque outfit with a red feather boa draped over her shoulders,” Kinsey said.
During filming of the show’s ninth season in 2012, Smith opened up about being an NFL cheerleader before she turned to dancing.
“How it came about [was] that I auditioned for the Municipal Opera of St. Louis. Out of that audition the lady, who was also the choreographer for the St. Louis Cardinal cheerleaders, asked me to audition for the cheerleading squad — and I made it! It was just the perfect job for me at the time. I really enjoyed it because I loved football, so I was able to watch the game, dance, and be there and look at the cute guys across the field. So it was the triple threat there (laughs),” she told Yahoo.
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Following her post as a cheerleader for the Cardinals, she traded pompoms for dancing shoes.
“I was a dancer, and every year this vaudeville/burlesque show would come through town. They played in St. Louis and all over the country when dinner theater was at its peak. A gentleman by the name of Will B. Able, who had a long career as a dancer, would hold auditions. Every year, I would audition and he would just praise me and say how wonderful I was, but he never hired me. So one of the last years he came through St. Louis, I didn’t bother to audition, but I went to see the show. While we were there, he was talking about how I was so good, and blah, blah, blah. He said, ‘Oh, I’d love to hire you,’ and I said, ‘Well then, why don’t you?’ So he ended up hiring me about eight to 12 months later when a position opened in the show. Then I was on the road doing that for about seven years,” she explained to the outlet.
Although burlesque dancing is known to be quite seductive, Smith assured that “there was no stripping” involved. “We had strategically placed feathers and G-strings with feathers covering our rumps (laughs). It was quite sexy, but no stripping or nudity,” she said.
Smith also reflected on being casts as Phyllis on The Office, saying she’d been “very blessed” by the opportunity.
“I always say this and I mean it: God had a better plan than I ever anticipated for me,” she told Yahoo. “All I did was try to be responsible, pay my bills, and do my best at whatever it was I was doing, but I just feel extremely blessed as how it has turned out.”