In real life, being an executive assistant can sometimes be a thankless job. Assistants often work behind the scenes to keep things running smoothly and effortlessly, and their work often goes unnoticed—but of course, the office would be lost if they weren’t doing their jobs. And every so often, an assistant comes into the spotlight and actually gets to save the day.
In this case, television and the movies are often our greatest teachers. Let’s explore five TV and movie scenes in which an assistant truly acted like a badass, to see what we can learn.
Grosse Pointe Blank: Marcella Takes Down the Office
Even hit men need assistants. Joan and John Cusack are siblings in real life, but in Grosse Pointe Blank (1997), Joan plays Marcella, the loyal office manager of assassin Martin Blank (John Cusack), and she keeps the office running smoothly while Martin takes care of the, um, dirty work. Marcella proves she’ll do anything to have Martin’s back, including burning down the office to cover their tracks during a pivotal scene.
POW (Point of Wisdom): The comedy in this film stems from the fact that the characters act as though it’s business as usual, even while the nature of their business is criminal. But going the extra mile still pays off, as demonstrated by the bonus Marcella receives at the end.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Gina Rescues the Internet
In the comedy series Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Chelsea Peretti plays Gina Linetti, the precinct’s deadpan civilian administrator. Even when she goes away on maternity leave, the office can’t do without her for long. In the Season 5 episode “Game Night,” the arrogant Cyber Crimes unit moves into the 2nd floor office of the building and hogs so much Internet bandwidth that the precinct office can’t function, prompting the staff to visit Gina at home to ask for help. All it takes is a few minutes of snooping for Gina to come up with enough kompromat to convince the head of Cyber to back down.
POW: Assistants don’t always get acknowledged while they’re working, but we certainly notice when they’re not there.
Iron Man: Pepper Potts “Handles the Details”
Before Pepper Potts married Tony Stark, she was his assistant, often taking care of details outside the office as well as within it. In the first Iron Man (2008), Potts (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) operates quietly behind the scenes to keep things running smoothly despite Stark’s playboy lifestyle. In a particularly notable scene, after Stark’s one-night stand with reporter Christine Everheart, Potts shows up, informing Christine that her clothes have been dry cleaned and a car is waiting outside. When Christine quips that “Tony still has you picking up the dry cleaning,” Potts doesn’t bat an eye: “I do anything and everything Mr. Stark requires. Including, occasionally, taking out the trash.”
POW: Of course, we understand this “extracurricular activity” is inappropriate (this is fiction, after all); but it’s Potts’ quiet loyalty, as well as her willingness to stand up to Stark when necessary, that eventually brings him to his senses.
The Office: Pam Beasly Saves the Dundies
Most of us remember Pam Beasly (played by Jenna Fisher) as the mild-mannered love interest of Jim Halpert. Their interoffice romance is now the stuff of legend. But first and foremost, Pam was the office receptionist and Michael Scott’s assistant, and she knew how to handle him better than most. In the first episode of Season 2 (“The Dundies”), when Michael begins to flounder at the employees’ disinterest in his “Dundie” awards ceremony at Chili’s, Pam rescues the moment by cheering him on and rallying the employees to do the same. Her own classic line during her acceptance speech after receiving the “Whitest Sneakers” award: “I feel God in this Chili’s tonight.” Not a bad save, considering Pam was completely smashed by that point in the evening.
POW: Employers are human, too, and as such they are frail. Sometimes the best thing an assistant can do is offer a little encouragement.
Mad Men: Peggy Olsen Climbs the Ladder
Peggy Olsen, played by Elisabeth Moss, has perhaps the most dramatic character arc in the beloved Mad Men series. Her bad-assery comes not in a single moment, but in a long line of moments as she finds her way from wide-eyed junior secretary to the first woman copywriter in the firm, climbing the corporate ladder in the face of a male-dominated, sexist culture, and eventually being able to stand toe-to-toe with her reluctant mentor, Don Draper.
POW: Never let your position define your potential.