The Transformation Of Ellie Kemper From 12 To 41 Years Old

Ellie Kemper is now such a household name that it feels like eons ago when she was cast as Erin Hannon, Dunder Mifflin's new receptionist on the fifth season of "The Office." Even though she was only on the show for the last few seasons, Erin quickly became one of the show's staple characters, notorious for her naive, bubbly energy.

But even before she was cast on "The Office," Kemper had already been making moves. Variety named her one of their 2009 Comics to Watch alongside Nick Kroll, Donald Glover, Aubrey Plaza, and Kristen Schall, according to Third Beat Magazine. In 2008, she even landed an audition for "Saturday Night Live."

"I can say with confidence that I would not have been good on that show," she said in Andy Greene's book "The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s" (via CheatSheet). "Strong characters and impressions are not my forte. Lorne Michaels made a very good decision in seeing that."

Although she may not have landed a spot on "SNL," Kemper carved out her own path to success, one that was actually decades in the making. Let's take a look at her transformation from 12 to 41 years old.

Ellie Kemper made home movies when she was 12 years old

Ever since she was a child, Ellie Kemper has had a knack for performing. In 2015, she appeared on "The Today Show" and shared a home movie she made in 1992 when she was just 12 years old. The movie, titled "Man Under the Stairs," was about... wait for it... a man under the stairs! "It is a horror movie," Kemper sarcastically warned the audience, "so if you have children watching, maybe cover their eyes."

In the movie, she acts alongside her friend Katie Purcell Garcia and her younger sister Carrie Kemper, who was a writer on "The Office" and "Silicon Valley," according to IMDb. "People have been clamoring for this," Kemper said, "and I'm finally going to give the public what they want." The "Today" anchors loved it, with Al Roker even giving her a standing ovation.

In the interview, Kemper said the video had 25,000 views on YouTube. Now, it has over 31,000 views — not a huge increase over six years. The video has been on YouTube since December 2008, uploaded to an account named doesthisworkdave. It is unclear what the account owner's relationship is to Kemper, but it also uploaded another of Kemper's childhood home movies, "Closet Conehead Agh," which is about ... you guessed it! A conehead in the closet. This video is even more of a deep cut, garnering only 855 views since December 2008.

At 19, Ellie Kemper participated in a controversial ball

In June 2021, Ellie Kemper (pictured here in 2001) made headlines when it surfaced that she partook in a St. Louis debutante ball when she was 19, run by an organization with a history of racism and elitism. The Veiled Prophet Organization began in 1878 as a secret society of wealthy white businessmen, according to the Daily Mail. The group banned Jewish and Black members until 1979.

In 1999, Kemper was presented as a debutante and crowned Veiled Prophet Queen of Love and Beauty, the realization of which led to a firestorm on Twitter, with one viral tweet labeling her "KKK queen." Kemper then apologized in a lengthy Instagram post. "I was not aware of this history at the time, but ignorance is no excuse," she wrote. "I was old enough to have educated myself before getting involved." She went on to say, "There is a very natural temptation, when you become the subject of internet criticism, to tell yourself that your detractors are getting it all wrong. But at some point last week, I realized that a lot of the forces behind the criticism are forces that I've spent my life supporting and agreeing with."

Kemper's family participated in the event as they are members of St. Louis' high society. According to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Kemper was "born into a family of bankers." Her father David was the CEO of Commerce Bancshares, where he now serves as executive chairman, per their official website.

Ellie Kemper acted with John Hamm when she was in high school

Ellie Kemper began acting when she was a student at John Burroughs School, an elite prep school in St. Louis, where she performed in "every play and musical [she] could," per The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. John Hamm, also a Burroughs grad, was one of her teachers during her freshman year, and had the starring role in one of Kemper's high school plays, "Stage Door." The two kept in touch after the fact, too. Hamm attended Kemper's one-woman show "Feeling Sad/Mad with Ellie Kemper" when she took it to Los Angeles, and they reunited once again on "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," where Hamm played Rev. Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, the leader of a doomsday cult who holds Kemper's Kimmy Schmidt hostage.

After high school, Kemper went to Princeton, where she performed with the improv troupe Quickfire! and the musical comedy troupe Princeton Triangle Club. She then studied at Oxford for a year, but left to pursue comedy in New York.

Upon arriving in the Big Apple, she took classes at Upright Citizen's Brigade and the People's Improv Theater while performing in improv shows and writing sketches with her friend from Princeton, Scott Eckert. She also wrote pieces for humor publications like The Onion and McSweeney's, and appeared in sketches that aired on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" and "Important Things with Demetri Martin."

Ellie Kemper initially auditioned for "Parks and Recreation"

Before she auditioned for "The Office," Ellie Kemper initially tried out for a role in "Parks and Recreation," then an untitled new sitcom. After seeing her, executive producer Greg Daniels thought she would be a better fit for "The Office." He called her in to read for that, and the rest is history.

Once Kemper got the part, the writers actually changed the role to better suit her style. "The scenes I read for the audition were more 'Office'-esque, more sarcastic and dry," she told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2009. "They've tweaked the character a lot, so now she's more of an exaggerated version of myself. It's fun for me to play her, and this is such a cool place to be."

Then in 2015, Kemper got her first major lead role, starring in Tina Fey's "30 Rock" successor, "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt." Kemper played the titular Kimmy Schmidt, a former doomsday cult member who moves to New York City after being rescued from an underground bunker. Sounds hilarious!

Kemper acknowledged that making a comedy out of such a dark subject matter was a risk, but is also sometimes necessary. "Something that I already knew, but that was reinforced [while doing the show], is that bad things happen in the world," she told NPR in 2015. "And the answer is not to shy away from them, but instead to address them." 

The show ended in 2019, but returned in 2020 with an interactive special called "Kimmy vs. the Reverend."

Ellie Kemper wrote a book, had a kid, and keeps on acting

In 2018, Ellie Kemper released her first memoir, titled "My Squirrel Days." Regarding the title, she told "Good Morning America": "I like the word 'squirrel,' first and foremost. I was like, 'That has to be in the title.'" She then revealed that after watching "Dances with Wolves" as a child, she decided she wanted to befriend nature and tried to strike up a conversation with a squirrel in her backyard. "The squirrel had no interest in being my friend," she said, "and I realized that when I fell off a tree and the squirrel laughed at me." She also discussed some of her life stories that she recounted in the book, like online shopping while working at the reception desk on "The Office."

The 41-year-old actor is now a mother of two children: James, born in 2016, and Matthew, born in 2019. "Going from one kid to two has rocked my world," she told Huffington Post in 2019. "I'm definitely still figuring out how to do it, but maybe you never really figure it out. I don't know. I'm sort of wading through it right now."

As far as current projects go, Kemper is set to star opposite Rob Delaney in the reboot of the 1990 classic film "Home Alone," according to Variety. The film will premiere on Disney+, though a release date has yet to be announced.