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‘The Office’ Star Ed Helms Balances Acting and Bluegrass Music

Ed Helms
Stephen Lovekin, Getty Images

Fans of NBC’s hit comedy ‘The Office’ are familiar with salesman Andy Bernard, played by actor Ed Helms. He’s witty, if a bit odd, and frequently known to pull out his banjo for an impromptu love song. Well, you should know that banjo is more than just a prop. When he’s not in front of the camera, Helms is frequently working with his bluegrass band, The Lonesome Trio.

“I grew up in Atlanta, Ga., and there was some early exposure to [bluegrass music], but it’s not like it was very prevalent in my family or anything,” Helms tells NPR. “But I also spent summers up in the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina, and [bluegrass] was always a sound that resonated for me and felt like a connection to these places that meant a lot to me. I do think people who love banjo music are cursed in some way, because most people don’t like it and it’s kind of an obnoxious instrument, but I just get a lot of joy out of it.”

Helms’ love of bluegrass has bled into some of his acting roles in the recent years, including on ‘The Office,’ which is fine by him, as long as it keeps the audience entertained. “It’s at the point now where when I get involved with something, people are like, ‘How do we inject a song into this?’” he explains. “I’m trying to pull back a little bit, but I do love to sing. Music’s a huge part of my life, and I’ve always felt like singing at the wrong time or at the wrong volume or with the wrong energy, can be one of the most hilarious things. So I always use it for comedic effect.”

His experience on the big screen has not prepared the actor for performing music in front of large crowds, which is something he still struggles with today.

“I get staggering stage fright when I play music,” Helms admits. “I don’t know what it is. I’ve done stand-up comedy for 15 years, and I can step in front of 2,000 people in a college auditorium and just chat for an hour, but if you put an instrument in my hand — a guitar or a banjo — I desperately want to share it with people, but I have some stage fright. It makes the technical act of playing difficult. That’s something I’ve always struggled with — even at piano recitals as a kid, I would freeze up.”

When he’s not plucking away on the banjo or playing along side Steve Carell in ‘The Office,’ Helms still does his fair share of movie roles. Helms’ latest big-screen adventure is ‘Grand Rapids,’ which he co-stars in along side he likes of John C. Reilly and Anne Heche. In the film, Helms plays Tim Lippe, a naive insurance salesman who has never left his small hometown, let alone ventured into a hotel room for a night.

“I really loved this character and wanted him to succeed, and I didn’t want him to learn the evils of the world,” says Helms. “As an actor, it was just fun to tap into a really earnest and wide-eyed view of the world that celebrates optimism and hope in a way.”

Look for ‘Grand Rapids’ to hit theaters later this year. You can stare at the Lonesome Trio, and not do much else, on their official website, so here’s a video of them in action:

Watch Ed Helms and the Lonesome Trio perform ‘All Gone to Hell’

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