They knew. They knew almost the first moment they laid eyes on each other: They were meant to be together.
Likewise, viewers were quick to catch on when "The Office" introduced them to Pam, the sweet, wallflower-ish receptionist at the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin paper supply company, and to her workmate, Jim, the sensitive sales rep who secretly adored her.
Viewers of this NBC comedy (which airs at 8:30 p.m. EDT Thursday) knew a heaven-sent pairing when they saw it — that is, the pairing of Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski, who, providentially, were cast as Pam and Jim.
Jenna and John were almost aching for those roles when they auditioned two seasons ago. Then they felt something else when they met each other: Here was Mr. or Ms. Right.
"I didn't know if I was going to get the part," says John, "but after auditioning with Jenna, I absolutely KNEW she would. I told her afterward."
"I was so happy he said that," Jenna recalls, "because I thought, `If that guy thinks I'm gonna get it, then that's the best compliment I could have — because HE'S so clearly Jim.'"
It's worth noting that in real life Jenna, 32, and John, who turns 27 later this month, are not romantically involved. She is married to filmmaker James Gunn (they mark their sixth anniversary this Saturday, she proudly announces). John says at the moment he has no girlfriend.
"John's very modest," says Jenna, likening him to the character he plays. "He's a little shy, too."
"I've never been the suave guy who gets it right on the first try — never!" he concedes. "I try to magnify those feelings when I play Jim."
"He really doesn't know how cute he is," Jenna adds.
"That's ridiculous," says John under his breath.
"He gets all blush-y when I talk about it," she giggles. "Look! You ARE!"
The big obstacle for Jim: Pam's engagement to someone else, a none-too-romantic Dunder Mifflin warehouse worker. So Jim tried to be satisfied with Pam in a warm, kidding office friendship, their refuge from the grating foolishness of their boss, Michael (series star Steve Carell).
"The writers are so delicate and so smart about where the Pam-and-Jim relationship is going," says John, pointing out that, however much the series is meant to simulate a documentary, "every 'umm' and 'ahh' and stumble is right there on the page.
I'm always looking forward to seeing what they come up with."
Viewers, too. With the start of the new season, they found that Jim had transferred to Dunder Mifflin's Stamford branch and that Pam had called off her June wedding (as well as her engagement) — upheaval from Jim mustering the courage to tell Pam how he felt on last season's finale, and then, at long last, kissing her.
Pam was thrown for a loop by Jim's boldness. So, apparently, was Jenna.
"At the table read," reports John, "when I first read my line, 'I'm in love with you,' Jenna said, 'What?!' — right in front of the whole cast. It was hilarious. They put that in the final script."
Until "Booze Cruise" (a pivotal episode airing earlier last season where Jim and Pam almost kissed but, after painfully acknowledging they wanted to, didn't), Jenna had felt free to do what her character was doing: pretend Jim was nothing more than a friend.
And until then, she says, "my work day was great. This girl lived inside of me who was just kind of flirty with Jim and having fun. Since then, the girl who lives inside of me has a deep longing and heartache for this man she can't quite manage to be with."
After shooting that episode, says John, "Jenna asked me, `Is THIS what YOU'VE been living with all along?' And I told her, `Yeah! How does it feel!'"
Jenna — a native of Fort Wayne, Ind., who was raised in St. Louis — moved to Los Angeles a decade ago. There, like so many would-be stars, she was greeted with longing and heartache career-wise: "odd jobs, guest shots on TV shows or a small role in a movie."
"Any dead-body work?" John teases.
"I never did dead-body work," she declares.
"I did," says John, a native of Newton, Mass., who chased roles in New York before heading to L.A. "I died on `Without a Trace.' I had my face beaten in."
"Wait! I DID die — on `Strong Medicine,'" Jenna suddenly remembers. "I got such a high fever my brain melted.
"I also auditioned for the lead role in `Alias.' They said they loved my reading, but that I just wasn't hot enough. When I went in to audition, I was all about the acting. I didn't get that the character also had to be this super-hot sexy fighter chick.
"Hot is not my thing," she says, "so what I like about playing Pam is that `The Office' is about people on the inside, more than their looks. I'm getting to do the kind of work that made me want to be an actor in the first place — exactly what I always dreamed of getting to do."
But what about the dreams of Pam and Jim? What comes next with their bittersweet romance? Viewers are rooting for them. But no one cares about their fate more than Jenna and John.