The stunning transformation of Jenna Fischer

Jenna Fischer helped make the case for office romances for nine seasons on workplace comedy The Office. Her receptionist character, Pam Beesly, and Dunder Mifflin co-worker and sales rep Jim Halpert, played by John Krasinski, had viewers laughing with their sophomoric sense of humor and swooning over their romantic gestures.

The role gave Fischer — who was relatively unknown when the show premiered in 2005 — the career jolt she had long been waiting for since arriving in Hollywood. An Emmy nomination for supporting actress followed, as did the film offers.

Fischer's road from St. Louis to stardom was less than glamorous. She spent so much time as a struggling actress working temp jobs to make ends meet that she wrote a book about it, The Actor's Life: A Survival Guide, in 2017 to help aspiring actors. Here's a closer look at that path and how Fischer has transformed over the years.

Her humble beginnings in community theater "ended in failure"

Fischer was landing starring roles right off of the bat when her acting career began in St. Louis. Of course, it helps that she was the one doing the casting, as these roles were for plays she had written and performed for her family when she was a child. "I cast my little sister in various roles," Fischer told Master Chat. "My parents would joke with me that I always gave myself the lead role in all the plays I made up."

Once it came time to audition for plays that didn't take place in her garage, Fischer — who was part of the theater club and took dance class — was hit with hard dose of reality. "These auditions mostly ended in failure; I never got the lead roles," Fischer said of school plays in The Actor's Life: A Survival Guide. "In fact, I barely got the supporting roles. I usually found myself being offered the obligatory consolation prize: A role in the dancing chorus."

She fought for equal rights... at Long John Silver's

Fischer was a pioneer at the Long John Silver's where she worked at age 16. Upon learning that the cooks working in the back made 70 cents more per hour than employees such as herself working the cash registers in the front, she asked to become a cook and wouldn't take no for an answer. "The manager said, 'I'm sorry, girls have to stay up front and greet the customers with a smile,'" Fischer recalled on Conan. "And I said, 'Have you heard of a little thing called discrimination?'"

Fischer was granted her request, only to regret it immediately. This is Long John Silver's, after all — home of fried, um, everything, which meant she was standing over a hot fryer for much of her nine-hour shifts. Her hair and clothes smelled. Her hands were burnt. And her once-determined spirit was broken. She returned to the manager after three weeks with her tail between her legs and was given her old job back. Still, she's proud of what she accomplished in that Long John Silver's. "I do feel like I broke down barriers," Fischer told Conan facetiously. "I brought women to the fryer." Progress!

She "felt so disconnected" from her parents as a teen

Like just about any other teenager, Fischer butted heads with her parents over what she felt were restrictive rules and kept to her room. It wasn't until her senior year when she discovered a date book they kept on her that she developed a newfound appreciation for mom and dad. The book included entries such as "You tried strained peaches today and you loved them!" and "Today you tried on your Easter outfit. It has little bunnies on it and you look so cute!"

"It had honestly never dawned on me that the people responsible for incarcerating me in my bedroom… had once been two kids who were overwhelmed and excited about having their first baby," Fischer told the Oprah website. "… To see that kind of humanness in them at a time when I felt so disconnected from them was deeply affecting."

Another major source of tension was when Fischer decided she wanted to move to Los Angeles after high school, but her parents stood firm that she go to college. Looking back, she's glad they did. "I was so eager to get started on my acting career and I didn't see what I needed to learn," Fischer told Master Chat. "But my parents insisted I go to college and I'm really glad I went… I don't think Hollywood is a great place for a 17 or 18 year old kid to be figuring out who they are."

Alyson Hannigan made life difficult

Following her college graduation, 22-year-old Fischer drove her Mazda 323 Hatchback to Los Angeles with visions of stardom in her head. Things didn't click as quickly as she's hoped, and she was soon broke and depressed — so she became a receptionist. Her first few roles were in a sex ed video for mental health patients and extra work in an ad for Universal Studios's Jurassic Park ride. Fischer described this unstable time in her life as "Six years of small successes followed by heaps of rejection" in her book.

She landed better auditions and parts after that, including a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo on Spin City, but still struggled to get her big break. One reason: Alyson Hannigan. "I had been knocking around Los Angeles for years going to various auditions," Fischer told The Jeff Probst Show, via People. "I would do eight auditions for a new television show and then at the very end they would offer the role to Alyson Hannigan. She was my biggest competition. I would get to the final audition and I'd go, 'I know I've got this one.' And then she'd walk in the door and I'd go, 'Nope.'"

She was told she was "just not hot enough" by casting agents

Believe it or not, Fischer was up for the role of CIA spy Sydney Bristow in Alias, which went to Jennifer Garner. She revealed to Entertainment Weekly that she was told she gave a great audition, but she was "just not hot enough." That had to sting. But don't feel too bad for Fischer. She doesn't think she would have been a great fit for the physically demanding role. And besides, Fischer's girl-next-door looks may have helped her land her biggest role to date.

Fischer told NPR, "when I went in for The Office, the casting director said to me, she said, please look normal. Don't make yourself all pretty, and dare to bore me with your audition." Odd advice, but as we now know, it must have been effective. It doesn't hurt that Fischer knew a thing or two about being a secretary after having worked as an administrative assistant for seven years while waiting for her big break. 

The Office made Fischer a star and led to big-screen roles in Blades of Glory, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and Hall Pass. Suddenly, Alyson Hannigan had some serious competition.

After her accident, she "gained 10 pounds and got flabby"​

Fischer told USA Today that, just when things were finally going her way, she fell down a flight of stairs at an Office cast get together in 2007, fracturing four vertebrae in her back and tearing a ligament in her elbow. Unable to work out while she recovered from the accident, Fischer, 33 at the time, sulked and gave in to her junk food cravings

She was in amazing shape at the time of the accident because she had just wrapped Walk Hard – she told USA Today that she "trained very hard" for that role. This only juxtaposed how difficult it was to be incapacitated while her body healed. "Before the accident, I wore size 26 jeans! I was truly in the best shape of my life," Fischer told Shape. "Afterward, I gained 10 pounds and got flabby."

Once cleared to resume normal activity, she picked herself back up and focused on her diet (cutting fat) and exercise (hiking with friends). The result: She returned to her pre-accident size-26 jeans, and two years later showed off her figure on the cover of Shape, bikini and all.

She was ready for a new 'do after The Office

One of the downsides of playing Pam on The Office — and let's be honest, there probably weren't many — is that Fischer was stuck with pretty much the same hairstyle for much of the series. Sure, there were slight changes, like when she dropped the "girl mullet," as she called it in an interview with TV Guide (straight in the front, curly in the back) for a hair curlers look. But that wasn't enough for Fischer.

"I'd love to color and cut my hair into a style, any style: bangs, a bob, go blonde," Fischer told Redbook in 2011. "I've had the same hair for eight years, and it's starting to get to me!" After The Office wrapped in 2013, Fischer contemplated getting a pixie haircut. Though that idea was tossed out, she proudly showed off her curly bob in 2015. Then, in 2018, she raved about her big, crazy hair in The 15:17 to Paris. Clearly someone is enjoying their hair freedom.

Her Office co-star's love advice stuck with her

The best piece of love advice Fischer received after her divorce from Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn in 2007 was from… Toby? Paul Lieberstein — who played HR rep Toby Flenderson on The Office — told Fischer that "Finding love is not as hard as picking the right person to spend the rest of your life with." That stuck with her as she took a dip back into the dating pool.

"When I was younger, I thought you married the person you fell in love with the most," Fischer told Redbook. "But as [my ex-husband and I] learned what we wanted, I realized there was a whole other set of criteria. You have to ask, 'Do we have the same goals?'"

Fischer gave marriage another chance in 2010, marrying screenwriter Lee Kirk, whom she began seeing while working together on the film The Giant Mechanical Man. Fischer revealed to Redbook that they didn't jump into things right away — there was a slow build of "six or seven months." But, thankfully, not as slow as the two-season build to Jim and Pam's love affair.

Fired for the first time

After The Office, it was back to the drawing board for Fischer. She has been working steady in TV and film, including the Clint Eastwood-directed The 15:17 to Paris, but nothing near the same level of The Office. It appeared Fischer found her next sitcom home in CBS's Man with a Plan. And then, in what was a career first for her, she was fired in 2016 because focus groups felt there was no chemistry between her and co-star Matt LeBlanc. To be fair, Pam and Joey does seem like an odd couple, don't you think?

Fischer — who rebounded with a co-starring role in ABC's Splitting Up Together — has been finding out the hard way that Hollywood isn't going to hand her everything just because she was on a hit show. She told Parade, "I still audition for things. Sometimes I'm offered things, but if there's a role that's different from the work I've done, I have to go fight for it and I have to audition. … There's no finish line in this business."

She would sacrifice her dream role if it doesn't meet this one crucial requirement

The number one thing Fischer takes into consideration when looking for her next project isn't the script, director or cast — it's where the production is located. "Now that I have a family, I look for work that's happening in Los Angeles, number one," Fischer told Master Chat. Fischer has shifted her priorities in order to stay close to her husband and two young children, even if it means sacrificing a role that interests her. 

"Sometimes there's a really cool indie film with great people, but it's shooting in Louisiana for six weeks," she told Master Chat. "As much as I would like to go create with that group of people, I can't leave my family for six weeks. And I can't really bring them with me because it's so expensive to relocate a family. … I have a very pragmatic approach to work now."