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Angela Kinsey: Ready For Her Close-up

Aug. 21, 2007

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As an Emmy award-winning actress in Hollywood, Angela Kinsey rubs elbows with plenty of stars. But she still gets some of her biggest kicks from hints of home--including Baylor.

"I was in traffic the other day, and someone had 'Sic 'Em Bears' on their bumper, and I pulled up next to them and just waved," says Kinsey, a 1994 Baylor graduate. ''They probably thought I was a crazy person. But I do get real excited to meet people who have gone to Baylor."

She hasn't met too many in Los Angeles, though some of the Baylor faithful have crossed her path at Bel-Air Presbyterian Church. But Kinsey has sustained the enthusiasm she brought to college in her professional life--even if she can't always show it while playing Angela Martin, a dead-serious accountant on the hit NBC sitcom The Office .

An offshoot of the same-named BBC show, The Office concerns a dysfunctional group of podmates, drones and misfits toiling at faceless paper distributor Dunder-Mifflin in Scranton, Pa.

Well, there is one no-nonsense type. There's Kinsey's stern character.

"She's nothing like that," says professor Robert Darden, who taught Kinsey professional writing toward her bachelor of creative arts degree in English.

 "Angela was a perky, outgoing, spontaneous person, not a grim control freak," he says. "Her nickname was 'Junior Mint,' and her screenplay characters were always funny and irrepressible."

It also helped that she didn't hit Baylor as a sheltered freshman. From ages 2-14, Kinsey had lived in Jakarta, Indonesia, where her engineer dad worked in the oil business.

 "She'd been around the world and was not naïve," Darden says. "She was very focused on what she wanted to do."

Focus is one trait, at least, Kinsey shares with her character on The Office , which punches its time clock for a fourth season this fall.

"I'll admit I can be a little bossy when it comes to family outings," says Kinsey, 36, a Lafayette, La., native who returned to the states as a teen to live in Archer City, Texas, two hours northwest of Fort Worth near the Texas-Oklahoma border.

"If there's a big group, I'm the person who says, 'OK, everybody, get on the bus. We've gotta go! We've gotta go!' I'm punctual and want things to be neat and orderly. But I'm also a person who believes the glass is half full. I'm not a half-empty gal like Angela Martin."

Actually, Martin's world is warming as a result of her furtive romance with officemate Dwight, played by Rainn Wilson. Kinsey's nickname for the nerdy couple is "Dwangela."

"I think they have a pure love in their odd, geek-ball way," she says. "They're both very strict and work seriously. While I can't say too much, I think things are going to heat up for Dwight and Angela next season."

Between seasons, Kinsey hopes to juggle parts in films with working on the "fixer-upper" house she and husband Warren Lieberstein, a TV writer, recently bought. During her rare free time, she enjoys playing tennis and gardening.

 "I'm very domestic," she says. "I love to go to Target and get a good sale. I love spending time with my husband. I love a normal life. I also love going back to Archer City to my parents' house and visiting my grandmother. I'm a small-town kind of girl in that way."

That nature drew her to Baylor while a high school senior in Archer City, best known as the home of Lonesome Dove author Larry McMurtry.

"My mother wanted me to go to a private school," Kinsey says. "I hadn't lived in the U.S. that long, and she felt big schools like USC, which I considered, would be overwhelming. And I really think she was right."

So Kinsey checked out SMU, TCU and Baylor.

"One of the girls at school was looking seriously at Baylor, so I went on a special weekend where you get a tour of the campus," Kinsey remembers. "I absolutely loved it."

Like anyone who gets a lump in his or her throat while singing That Good Old Baylor Line, she quickly felt special kinship for the state's oldest private university along the banks of the Brazos.

"I remember walking along the cobblestone street near the creek and the bear pit, and the bells started to chime, and I felt, 'Well, this is what I always thought college should be.' It was almost out of Dead Poets Society--a New England campus! I felt very inspired."

So she plunged into Baylor life. A member of the Chi Omega sorority, Kinsey played intramural softball and attended home and away football games, but she also cherished the quiet grace of the Armstrong Browning Library and the English Department's home at Carroll Science Hall.

"I love the beautiful wooden staircase in it," she says of the latter. "And the professors' offices are like little rooms tucked away in a big mansion."

While studying writing, she also took theater classes and performed in All-University Sing. Her hope was to advance her performing career by writing her own material.

She also watched other actors in a no-car drive-in of sorts.

"They used to show films on the side of the Student Union in warmer months, and I loved to be outside," says Kinsey, who liked to "find a little bench and enjoy the trees--and the millions of squirrels."

In such ways, she feels she "soaked it all up at Baylor. In fact, I didn't want to leave, so I managed to graduate a semester late. It was such a great experience."

After graduation, Kinsey landed a behind-the-scenes internship on Late Night with Conan O'Brien in New York, where she also studied acting. The next year she made an even bigger move: to Los Angeles to be an actress.

"I'd have really good years in L.A. as far as acting, but also not-great years, where I'd make one or two commercials and be on phones for 1-800-DENTIST," she says.

But she kept her chin up by looking for laughs. While landing occasional parts on TV, Kinsey studied improv with L.A.'s The Groundlings troupe and voiced quirky characters on Fox's Texas-set animated sitcom, King of the Hill.

"I played a teacher and a police dispatcher and let my natural Texas accent come out," says Kinsey, whose parents are both Texans. "Even in Indonesia for 12 years, I heard that Southern drawl every day. And I still say 'y'all.'"

Regardless of the role, she believes "making people laugh is what I was put on this Earth to do. I get a huge sense of joy when I make someone forget the bad part of their day and make them laugh. It just warms my heart."

Kinsey also has honed that skill doing standup comedy and improv in L.A., including a one-woman show at the Improv Olympic theater. "Improv is a strong passion for me," says Kinsey, who appeared on NBC's spring improv series Thank God You're Here.

By contrast, The Office is "100-percent written. But we have moments where we get to improvise."

At first, mere moments were all she had. Though The Office is an ensemble show--and won this year's Screen Actors Guild Award for best ensemble--only a few characters claimed prominence at first, including arrogant office chief Michael Scott, played by rising star Steve Carell, who also stars in this summer's comedy Evan Almighty.

"For the pilot, they just told me my character was the type of woman who'd say, 'Now, I don't like to say anything bad about anyone, but ... ' and then sort of lay it all out.

"That's a Southern thing, really," Kinsey says. "Except we'd add, 'Bless their heart,' like, 'She's so plain-looking, bless her heart.' I thought, 'Gosh, I've known plenty of people like that.' So I've added a little to it, and the writers have added, and my character has evolved."

That includes revealing Martin's passions for bobblehead dolls, cats, party-planning and Baby Ruth candy bars, her vice as a vegetarian.

She also loves judging people--and being judged.

"I did the youth beauty pageant circuit," Kinsey's Office character said before a performance review, "and I really enjoy being judged. I believe I hold up very well to even severe scrutiny."

Kinsey's character saw significantly more screen time online in NBC's webisodes, The Office : The Accountants, which was honored recently with a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Broadband Program - Comedy.

Martin and her number-crunching cohorts are featured prominently in the web-only mini-series, which can be viewed online at www.nbc.com/the_office.

Kinsey is keenly aware that though she's "the biggest goofball in the cast, my character is the most serious." But she doesn't approach her as a straightwoman.

"I think the humor in her is her sternness," Kinsey says. "It comes from subtle moments. I work hard to make her human. I don't want her to be a Type-A stereotype."

Producing the full show on closed sets "is regimented like an office, but also the most fun you'll ever have," Kinsey says. "We get along great and spend most of the day laughing."

The set truly is a working office.

"Our phones work, and we can call out. Our computers work, so we can play solitaire. We have Internet access and can message each other. When we're in the background of a shot and look like we're doing business, often we're typing e-mails or paying bills."

Kinsey bonds with fans by writing a blog for her character on MySpace at www.myspace.com/accountinglady.

"Our fans have been wonderful. It's a great way to have personal contact with them," she says.

Besides, after years of seeking work in an overcrowded job pool, she's grateful for their zeal--a quality she shares.

"In order to make it in this business,  you have to tackle each day with single-minded drive," Kinsey says.

"I never thought for a second when I moved to L.A. there would be another option. A lot of people tell actors to have a backup plan. Obviously, it's smart to take care of yourself financially and be a responsible person. But if you want to be an actor or a writer, then don't worry about a backup plan. Just do it."

And so, as in choosing Baylor for her collegiate home, she's embraced a career home in show business.

"You really have to believe in your heart that this is all there is (in terms of a professional path)," Kinsey says. "You have to believe that this is it for you."

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