Who's Robert Ray Shafer? You have a lot to learn about this town, sweetie.

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What line of work you in, Bob?

It's a warm September morning in Southern California, and as I park my car on a side street near Aroma Cafe in Studio City, I can't believe my luck that I'm actually going to have breakfast with arguably the most iconic secondary character on The Office. A week ago, Robert Ray Shafer sent a message to The Office-isms Facebook page letting us know he has a new movie coming out and that he'd be willing to do an email or phone interview about his time on The Office with us if we liked. 

Our entire admin team went into Threat Level: Midnight mode at the possibility that we might get to learn more about him and the show we all love from such a beloved character. I messaged him back, offering to meet him in the Los Angeles area, since I live locally, and by some stroke of dumb luck, he actually agreed. Not only did he agree to meet me, he said we could grab a bite at a cafe he likes, and then head over to the Church nearby where he and Phyllis got married.

As I walk up to the Cafe late on a Monday morning, I'm surprised to see a line out the door. I wait in the queue for a moment, unsure if he might already have a table, and through a gap in the crowd, I see him: Bob Vance, in the flesh, casually waiting on a bench to the side of the restaurant, doing his tenure on the show proud by wearing a Vance Refrigeration sweatshirt and a The Office baseball cap. He stands, a towering 6'5" and exuding the casual, confident masculinity his character Bob had on The Office, greets me warmly, and jokes that he didn't realize this cafe was becoming so trendy. He says he takes his aunt here when she's in town and that they have really good coffee and pastries. I am awestruck, and trying not to morph into a screaming fangirl puddle, but his demeanor instantly sets me at ease and we quickly fall into effortless conversation.

The night before, I had watched the movie he had sent me via private link "Dick Dickster" set to release on digital media outlets such as iTunes November 13th, 2018. Shafer starred, wrote, cast and produced the indy mockumentary comedy flick that centers on his title character, Dick Dickster, a debauched Hollywood director whose first scene immediately sets the tone for a comedic wild ride through some pretty hot-button topics currently gracing news headlines. Namely: sexual harassment in Hollywood. 

Dick Dickster promo photo

Me: I noticed the film isn't afraid to poke fun at the Harvey Weinsteins of Hollywood, was that your intention or is the current press just a PR bonus given your films release timing? 
Robert Ray Shafer: It's always been there, sexual harassment in Hollywood, none of this is new. It's just that people are finally talking about it. Dick Dickster is a mishmash of the worst kind of Hollywood men that exist in real life. He's Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, Bill Cosby, and Harvey Weinstein all rolled into one awful character. And he gets what's coming to him in the end. 

Me: Hilariously! The ending was probably my favorite scene. 
RRS: (Laughs) It was a lot of fun [without giving too much away] to spend days listening to various fart noises deciding which would be the ones I used for that scene in the film. The joke there was more about making the audience uncomfortable with how long they went on, those noises.  There's another scene where we used that kind of lengthy joke involving urine. What makes it funnier is just as the audience is thinking "When is this going to stop?" we lean into it, making it last longer and longer and in the screenings I've hosted, the audience laughter just get louder and louder as it goes. 

Me: Although raunchier than anything we saw on The Office, I felt a lot of similarities to it watching Dick Dickster. Can you speak to that?
RRS: The Office was network television, and could only go so far in terms of the jokes. And I enjoy working in the mockumentary style because it feels more realistic. It also has the talking heads everybody knows from The Office. And a very talented group of actors. 

Me: Would you say the mockumentary medium is more or less difficult than traditional filming?
RRS: Oh easier, definitely easier. But in some ways it takes adjusting because you have to be more on your game. Like on The Office, we had to stay in character constantly because we didn't know where the cameras were. We had to be ready, and fast, to give those looks and keep the flow of the scene going. 

Me: Did that leave room for improvising?
RRS: Very little. You have to keep in mind that The Office was network television, which means every line in the script had to be approved by NBC as appropriate for broadcast audiences. There was a lot less improv that actually made it into the show than what people would expect. Most of the improv came from long filming days when guys like Steve and John and Rainn would switch things up to try to get each other to break. 

Me: What was it like working on a network show?
RRS: It's a real job. Just like anything else. I can remember overhearing minor arguments about times to be on set and things like that. Someone has a film or interview and can't be there until 9am but the shooting schedule needs everyone to be there by 8am or it costs the network a lot of money. It's hard work and long hours. And it's not as glamorous as people might think. But everyone got along very well. It was fun.

Me: I understand that you're originally from West Virginia, was it dreams of becoming an actor that brought you to Los Angeles?
RRS: (laughs) No, it was a woman. I moved here to be with her and then found myself modeling and then later got into acting. I got to study alongside some really amazing people and learn the craft. I never thought I'd become an actor. I used to work in restaurants before this.

Me: What was your inspiration for Bob Vance? Did you have any background for him that didn't come from the script?
RRS: Oh yeah, the script gave me very little. For one, he was once a Marine, and once a Marine always a Marine. And I had two uncles who were salesmen back home who I based him on. Back then, salesmen would introduce themselves to each other with 3 things: Their name, their business, and where they were from, because it instantly gave the other person 3 topics of conversation. That's where the idea of introducing myself as Bob Vance, Vance Refrigeration, as if it were one phrase that always goes together, came from. But mostly my motivation for his character was just: Love Phyllis. 

Me: What do you mean by that?
RRS: Think of your first love in Junior High. How they are perfect and can do no wrong and they are all you can see and all you can think about. Undying, unwavering love. I wanted to show that love for Phyllis on the show. And they loved it. It's why I got called back for more episodes. 

Me: You brought up how Bob Vance introduces himself on the show. Are you aware of some of the theories surrounding that online? That he always incorporated his business into his introduction because he was using the filming crew as free advertising?
RRS: Oh yes, definitely that's why. Bob was a salesman first and foremost. 

Me: Have you heard the theory that Bob Vance was actually a mobster and that his refrigeration business was a cover up for his criminal activity? It mostly centers on a webisode, "The Outburst" where Phyllis mentions that Bob was not going to be indicted by a Grand Jury because none of the witnesses showed up. 
RRS: (laughs) I don't know about that. No comment. (He winks at me... is that confirmation!?)

Me: Who was your favorite person to hang out with on set?
RRS: Phyllis, definitely. But also Leslie [David Baker, who plays Stanley]. We all have very similar senses of humor and make each other laugh.

Me: What do you think about the rumors of a reboot?
RRS: I'd love to work with everyone again, if Bob Vance is in it. I know John Krasinski and some others have said they want to do it. But so far the network hasn't said anything.

Me: Other than Phyllis and yourself, who was your favorite character on The Office?
RRS: Michael Scott, no question. But it was hard work on Steve. It's really tough being the lead character in any project, but especially on a network TV show. Long hours and a lot of demands on his time as he gained in popularity. I don't blame him for leaving to get a break from all of it. I honestly haven't even watched the later seasons without him in it.

Me: That's a fairly popular stance for a lot of fans.
RRS: It was still full of great people, it just wasn't the same. It got further and further away from the show it was in the beginning. That happens on popular shows as people move on and get more demands on them for film and other TV projects. As some of the main players moved on to other things, it lost a little of what made it special. But I'm really proud of what some of them have done after the show ended. Phyllis Smith deserves all the success she's seen since leaving the show [with her projects on The OA, Inside Out and others] I remember talking to her once and her saying she was nervous about working on a new film and was worried she wouldn't be up to snuff with the other actors. You probably know she was a casting agent for The Office before working as an actress so it's not her background. But I told her not to worry about it, she steals every scene she's in. You can't take your eyes off her. She's amazing.

Me: It sounds a little bit like Bob Vance's love for Phyllis lives inside Bob Shafer.
RRS: (laughs) Oh absolutely. She's a great person.

Me: Would Bob Shafer date Phyllis in real life?
RRS: Well the question isn't if I would date Phyllis, it's if Phyllis would date me. (laughs)

Me: You mentioned being proud of some of the other cast members' work after The Office ended?
RRS: Yes, I'm also really proud of the work John Krasinski has done he and David Denman, who played Roy, both were in that movie 13 Hours and did such a great job, it was a great film. Rainn Wilson has also done some great stuff. Those boys are all growing up. It's great to see that.

Me: Would you want to work with anyone from The Office again, aside from in a reboot?
RRS: Oh sure, I have worked with one of them, Calvin Tenner who played Glenn on The Office [a warehouse worker] is in my film Dick Dickster. But I'd also really love to work with Oscar [Nunez], he's very talented.

Me: Can you give us any stories behind the scenes we may not know about?
RRS: Here's a good one: One time Jim's, I mean John's, parents came to visit him on set and John said to me "You know who my dad's favorite character is on the show?" And I said "Well, you, Jim, of course." And he said "No, it's Bob Vance, Vance Refrigeration." That was pretty cool.

Me: Do you get recognized by fans a lot?
RRS: Not much in LA, everybody is an actor here. But if I wear my gear I do. (He points to his Vance Refrigeration shirt) The Office fans are sharp. They'll pick you out of a crowd and start quoting the show right away. Once I was on a flight and I could see a guy watching Phyllis' Wedding on his tablet, and I waited until he was finished and then went over and said "If *you* lay a finger on Phyllis, I'll kill you." (laughs) You should've seen his face.

Me: How much of Bob Vance or even Dick Dickster, the characters, is in Bob Shafer the person?
RRS: Hah, not much. You know, it's the job to portray a character. But some of me is in them both. Things you can't help. In general I have a pretty commanding presence because I'm so tall and with the way I carry myself. I think that's more obvious with Bob Vance than it was with Dick Dickster, who's kind of pathetic. But even with Dickster, I approach everything as an ATTACK! Attack the scene. Attack the character. Attack life. That shows in the film I think.

As we finish our pastries and plan to move on to First Christian Church of North Hollywood (where Phyllis' Wedding was filmed) to do a live Q&A with The Office-isms fans on Facebook (linked below), I ask Bob if he'd be willing to sign some photos I've had printed of himself and of him and Phyllis on the show so we can do some giveaways with our followers.  He says he would love to and then says he also brought some stuff to give us: Signed Dick Dickster promotional photos with passwords to watch a sneak preview of the film before it releases, and signed copies of the title page of his script for Phyllis' Wedding. And then, he pulls this out and tells me the shots from Phyllis' Wedding were actually taken with his own camera.


I somehow pester him into signing a few of my own The Office items, a Vance Refrigeration fridge magnet and my copy of the Season 2 The Office DVD set, the season in which he first appeared.

"We'll always have Scranton." Dead.
My ghost is writing the rest of this article.

And here's some of the giveaway stuff he signed and gave to me to pass out to The Office-isms fans:

We've already done two giveaways for the best questions during the live Q&A he did with us, but our next contest will be related to his upcoming film Dick Dickster, see photo below for how you can win!

Click here for Dick Dickster trailer

And if you don't win that one, make sure to dress up in your Vance Refrigeration garb and send it to us. Best show of Vance Refrigeration gear sent to our Facebook page messages will also have a chance to win.  Our last contest will be for whoever shows us the their best Halloween costume from The Office. Be sure to keep following The Office-isms on Facebook for more information about these upcoming giveaway contests.

Back to our interview:

Robert Ray Shafer and I meet up again at the church where Phyllis' Wedding was filmed. Unfortunately we can't go inside because another crew is there filming. But a few months ago another admin and I had gone on a filming location tour all over the Los Angeles area (article coming soon!) and the kind people of the church's office let us tour the inside.

Looking around, even just outside, it's instantly recognizable as a set from The Office. The entryway where well-wishers cheered Bob and Phyllis as they exited their reception on the way to their honeymoon. The alcove where Michael talked with Uncle Al on the benches outside, and where he jumped up and down trying to see inside the windows after Bob kicked him out of the reception. But I wonder about something my other admin and I had questioned during our visit a few months before.

Me: Can you tell us if the reception was also filmed here? There's a banquet hall area on the other side of the church we briefly saw and weren't sure if it was the same as the reception hall for Phyllis' Wedding.
RRS: Yeah, we filmed all those scenes here. It was also the first time I got to see the Vance Refrigeration logo with the penguin, it was on the side of a van parked right outside here 11 years ago. I loved it. We even named him, the penguin. We called him "Puck".

Here are the two Ask Me Anything videos that went live on The Office-isms Facebook page, in case you missed them:

If you don't have time to watch them now, be sure to go back. One of the winning questions was about that classic moment when Bob bids $1000 for one of Phyllis' hugs in the episode Crime-Aid. The winning fan asked how much Bob would have kept bidding for that hug if the auction had kept going.

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His answer will make you swoon 

By the time we've finished up our live Q&A, it's been nearly 3 hours time since we've first met and I apologize for taking up so much of his time. He laughs and thanks me and says it's nothing, he enjoys interacting with fans and is going to spend the rest of his day penning a press release for his new movie. I thank him profusely and say goodbye. What a fan dream come true.

Be sure to check out Dick Dickster, soon to be on iTunes and other digital media platforms. And click here to follow Robert Ray Shafer on Facebook. It's really him. <3