No matter how successful we become, our social media-savvy world has made it easy to sink down a spiral of depression as we scroll through our friend's picture-perfect Instagram feeds.
This digitally-induced despair is at the heart of director Mike White's new comedy drama "Brad's Status," which opens nationwide this weekend. The film stars Ben Stiller as Brad, a middle-aged dad who finds himself stuck in a mid-life crisis as he takes his kid on a college road trip to Boston.
Although Stiller's character is blessed with a Harvard-bound son and a devoted wife named Melanie, played by Jenna Fischer, he can't seem to shake this feeling of being a failure in the eyes of his old college buddies. Brad constantly puts himself down while obsessing over his pals' careers and successes.
"I just thought it was a somewhat unexplored topic, your anxiety about your status or our tendency to compare ourselves to others, that FOMO," Fischer says. "We do a very good job of covering up our anxiety, worries and neurosis so, to everybody else, we look confident. But inside, we feel like a mess and our brains won’t shut off."
We caught up with the Emmy-nominated actress to talk about her new film, plus her thoughts on "The Office" reboot rumors.
You didn't get the chance to film in Boston for the movie, but are you a fan of the city?
Yeah! My very best friend from childhood moved to Boston when I was little and the first time I flew on an airplane by myself was to go visit her. She had moved so that was really significant, and I remember they took me everywhere, they showed me all the sights. More recently, one of my very best girlfriends is from Boston and she got married there, so I was there for her wedding. I’ve had these occasions where I’ve spent time in Boston. It’s so beautiful there.
When dealing with fears and anxieties, are you more like Ben's character, Brad, or your character, Melanie?
I’m a Brad, who everyone thinks is a Melanie. I get cast as Melanie, I play a lot of Melanies, but inside I’m a Brad. Not in the sense that I’m particularly obsessed with status, because I’m not, but it’s more "Am I doing okay? Do people like me? Am I meeting my goals?" I’m just in my head, constantly checking in with myself. Or maybe I’m reviewing a conversation I had with someone thinking, "Oh that was a stupid thing to say. Why did I say that?" Or I’m imagining what a conversation might be like and what I might want to say in order to be most effective. I’m more tightly wound than I think people would imagine. I love a good list. I love a good spreadsheet.
Brad is constantly in his head, comparing himself with his successful friends. Do you do that a lot, too?
I don’t really get involved in the Hollywood competition game or the comparison game. What my IMDB number is or how many likes I’m getting, those things, I don’t spend any time at all worrying about that. I more get in my head about more social anxiety things; like there was a big holiday party and I wasn’t invited but I wouldn’t have wanted to go anyway, and maybe I should be more social but I like being at home. I don’t make enough time for my friends, but how do I make enough time for my friends, because then I’m taking time away from my family... and I love my family! That’s the brain that doesn’t shut up for me. I worry more about being a good person than I worry about being popular or the Hollywood status game.
It’s all kind of a losing battle because if I were a stranger looking at my own Instagram account, I would be jealous of my own life. I think we all have become really good at becoming our own personal branding machines that none of us are even actually living the life that we’re presenting on Facebook or on social media, so I don’t look at other people’s social media and get jealous because I know that their life is way less perfect than what they’re showing me. They’re only showing me the good parts. They’re only showing me the vacations and the great meals and the cute snuggles with their pets. They’re not showing me the time they spilt coffee on themselves and were 40 minutes late to a meeting.
You're currently working on a new sitcom for ABC, but there've been rumors of NBC rebooting "The Office." Are you interested in that?
I’ve been reading those rumors, too, and I would just have to say that nobody has called anybody or made any offers. I don’t know where those rumors got started. I think it would be really just logistically difficult to assemble the whole cast again. I’m under contract with a completely different network now. I’m doing an ABC show. I mean, listen, big wigs make things happen all the time, so I’m not going to stand in the way of anything, but I’m not sure. I think John [Krasinski] is doing a show for Amazon right now, so I’m not sure how he can be Jack Ryan and Jim Halpert at the same time. But, like I said, people have ways of making things happen if they want to make them happen. Studios talk and make deals and negotiate things, so I don’t know, but I would love to work with that group of people again in any capacity. We could all get together and do something not called "The Office," or I’d do an "Office" movie, or I’d do an "Office" miniseries! Whatever it is, I’m always up for it, so if somebody can figure out how to get everybody back in the same room, then let’s do it.
How is filming going for your new show, "Splitting Up Together"?
It’s really great. I’m really excited. I get to play a character who is all of those parts of me: the list maker, the more type A. She’s more high strung than Pam, but that’s what’s fun because I feel like I’m getting to express totally different parts of myself. I have a lot of things about me that are just like Pam and that’s what draws me to characters — if I can see myself in them. I definitely see myself in this new woman as well. Her name is Lena and I feel like I get to express another side of myself. She’s a mom, she’s married. I get to bring out all those new parts of myself that have happened since I was cast as Pam.
"Brad's Status" opens in theaters Sept. 22.