Old Friends and a Character's Namesake

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 19, 2006

This Jim Halpert is no Scranton paper salesman.

But he is the reason there's a Jim Halpert on "The Office."

James J. Halpert -- partner at Piper Rudnick, the mega law firm, expert in e-commerce, privacy and intellectual property rights, Yale University undergrad (magna cum laude), Harvard Law (cum laude) -- goes way back with Greg Daniels, executive producer of "The Office." Back to age 4. They grew up together in New York and parted ways when Daniels went to Harvard and Halpert to Yale.

It was just a few weeks before the U.S. version of "The Office" aired that Daniels told Halpert he had named a character for him. Halpert, aware of the British version of the show, was a little apprehensive and a bit insulted: "Most of the characters were despicable," he said. But he was relieved once he saw Daniels's version of the program. The Jim Halpert character is sympathetic. Sure, he makes jokes. But he's got a little sweetness to him. And gosh, what about that heart-melting crush he has on Pam?

So what brought Daniels to create a fictional version of his friend? When he writes alone, it helps to have a familiar name in the script, Daniels says. And because that character hadn't yet been cast, he was trying to picture a face. He pictured his old pal Jim. "The real Jim Halpert is sociable and good with people. And kind of tall." Just like the fake Jim Halpert.

Does the real Jim Halpert see any similarities?

"I really don't do practical jokes," the real Halpert says. And although the other Halpert is articulate and smart, "we are different in that I'm a good deal more directed and focused than the Jim Halpert on the show."

But there is this: "My hair looked a bit like that when I was in high school and college."

The show has taken on a role in the real Halpert's life. He watches it closely. And analyzes it. "The idea of the show is to take the classic situations that occur in the workplace and to amplify them to the point where they're absurd and everyone can sit down and laugh about diversity training, the office Christmas party . . . inter-office romance," he says.

Speaking of romance, Halpert's wife reminded him of one final parallel between real Jim and fictional Jim: When they met, Karen -- not Pam -- was involved with a friend of his. Halpert says he "pined after her, but waited over a year until that relationship ended, then swept her off her feet."

Okay, Jim Halpert-the-real admits. Maybe he is a bit more invested in the show than most. "I want my character to get the girl. I want him to be happy."

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