Considering that he’s become such a recognizable face in comedy through his roles as Mike Brady in the “Brady Bunch” movies, Bill Lumbergh in “Office Space,” and, most recently, as Will Ferrell’s father in “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” it’s sometimes easy to forget that Gary Cole maintains a healthy career as both a dramatic actor and the voice of many an animated character. As such, although we recently had a chance to speak with Cole about his turn as Reese Bobby in “Talladega Nights,” we didn’t miss the opportunity to quiz him about his stint on “American Gothic,” as well as his recurring appearances on “Family Guy” and his gig as the title character of “Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law.” But fear not: we asked him about “Office Space,” too.
Gary Cole: Yeah?
BE: How’s it going?
GC: Good, how are you doing?
BE: I’m doing great, and I’m a big fan of many of your works.
BE: I guess I’ll start by asking you about “Talledega Nights,” though, since that’s what got us to talking to each other in the first place.
BE: Now, biologically, could you even be Will Farrell’s dad? (Laughs)
GC: Uh…well, let’s see…that depends on if you go by the age in the movie or by my actual age. If you go by my actual age, probably not. I don’t know that I would’ve had all the equipment necessary. (Laughs) But in our story, yeah. I think the math worked out that he was about seventeen, or somewhere around there.
BE: How much of Reese Bobby did you bring to the part, and how much existed already? Because I know there was a lot of improvising on “Anchorman,” which Adam McKay also directed.
GC: Yeah, but for my situation, almost…90% is on the page. There are a few tidbits that were ad-libs from me, but Adam and Will wrote a great character for me…and even the stuff I did ad-lib came from the scene that they had written. I mean, we did a fair amount of it, but a lot of it didn’t…at least, a lot of stuff that I was involved in…didn’t make it to the movie. It may be floating around on the DVD somewhere, but…well, anyway, that’s the math on that one. (Laughs)
BE: You seem to almost vanish into the parts that you play, but, then, so does Will Ferrell…so which one of you, would you say, was more likely to fall out of character and break into laughter during a scene?
GC: Well, for us…there wasn’t a lot of that that occurred between Will and I, but I know there are some others, because I’ve seen some of the outtakes. Between him and (John C.) Reilly, and him and Michael Clarke Duncan…in fact, some of that wasn’t in the movie, but they used it during the closing credits. But we never really had that situation happen where we were unable to go on for any reason. It was pretty straight-ahead.
BE: Who was the funniest person on the set of the film?
GC: On the set of the film? You mean just, like, hanging out?
BE: Yeah, I mean, just in general, who tended to be the funniest.
GC: Uh, well, from my situation, since I wasn’t involved in a lot of the group stuff where all the guys were hanging out…I was pretty isolated with Will…I guess the guy who cracked me up the most was Adam McKay! Because in terms of some of those ad-libs, he’d kind of be writing from behind the camera. Sometimes, it was nothing more than you standing there and Adam shouting dialogue from off the top of his head that you’d repeat into the camera; there were a couple of those that would catch people by surprise, and they’d just laugh first and deliver later. So I’ve gotta go with McKay.
BE: My editor’s a big “Dodgeball” fan…
BE: …and, for that matter, so am I. But he was wondering how much ad-libbing went on in that film, too…and, also, if Jason Bateman was totally messing with you during your scenes.
GC: Nah! I mean, actually, there was very little ad-libbing. That was all pretty much scripted. We actually… (Pauses to take a sip of water) ‘Scuse me. I did a voiceover yesterday where I yelled a lot.
GC: We did that…Jason and I did that…before lunch. That was about…maybe four hours’ work. Maybe. Because we were sitting in the same place, so the camera was just locked on, and we just blew through everything. And there was very little ad-libbing. If it looked like there was, then, good, we did our job.
BE: And was he, indeed, messing with you during the scene and trying to make you laugh?
GC: No, not really. As much as the character did, but that was set up. It was so ridiculous to begin with, you know what I mean? When you get into situations like that, it’s not…the whole point is to take it seriously, to take the character seriously. Otherwise, it’s not really gonna matter. It’s not gonna really work that well. We had all sat around and read it before. I mean, Jason wasn’t actually in that reading, but it wasn’t like we hadn’t heard the material and stuff.
BE: Was working with Jason on the film what led you to do an episode of “Arrested Development”?
"It took forever to actually get confirmed in the part (of Mike Brady). I’m sure there were many phone calls made before someone said, 'Okay, okay, we’ll hire him!'"GC: I don’t know. Probably. I think, after “Dodgeball,” we kinda bumped into each other, and he mentioned something about it. I think it might’ve been a year later or so. He may have mentioned it to the writing staff as an idea, so I don’t know that it specifically came up because of the film, other than that, about a year later, I wound up on the show. I don’t question how I wind up places. (Laughs) I’m sure he had something to do with it, but I never got into the specifics of it.
BE: You can switch from comedy to drama about as well as anyone I’ve ever seen…
GC: Oh, thank you!
BE: …but it looks like “The Brady Bunch Movie” was the big turning point as far as you starting to do more comedy.
GC: Well, in terms of film or TV, I hadn’t really done any comedy. (Pauses) I’m trying to think if I did any sitcom work before I did “The Brady Bunch,” but I don’t think I really did. I did stuff that had humor in it, but no straight comedy. But, yeah, that really kind of opened it up…to a point where, for awhile, everything dramatic kind of went away. But, now, I’ve been able to kind of leap back and forth.
BE: Yeah, actually, I was going to ask if you did “American Gothic” to kind of ensure that you didn’t get typecast as Wacky Comedy Dad for the rest of your career.
GC: (Laughs) Uh, not intentionally. I rarely do anything intentionally. It came up right after…that was a few months later. I did the pilot before “The Brady Bunch” opened, I think…or right around the same time. I just loved the script. I just thought it was a terrific script for a TV pilot. And it was. We got a season out of it. But the material was just as unusual as I had run into at that point.
BE: Yeah, I’m glad it finally got out on DVD.
GC: Yeah, it took awhile, but… (Trails off)
BE: So, since you had no real comedic experience, how did you come to get “The Brady Bunch Movie”?
GC: Well, I had plenty of comedy experience in the theater; I had done a whole range of roles before I got to Los Angeles…but it takes awhile in this town for anybody to take a chance on something like that. It needs a situation like “The Brady Bunch,” where it was a fairly high-profile movie because of the title, but it wasn’t necessary to have high-profile people in it. As a matter of fact, it was probably desired, financially, that there wasn’t! (Laughs) I mean, they had Shelly (Long), but… (Pauses) And I’m sure they went…because it took forever to actually get confirmed in the part…I’m sure there were many phone calls made before someone said, “Okay, okay, we’ll hire him!” (Director) Betty Thomas had a lot to do with that, I think. I knew Betty, and Betty had done an episode of “Midnight Caller,” a TV series I had done years before that…
BE: Yeah, actually, I was going to say that, from my perspective, I only knew you from that show…so I was, like, “This is just bizarre!”
GC: Yeah, she…and even she was…I went in, and she went, “Uh-huh…” And I went back two or three other times, and her reaction was still, “Uh-huh…” But nobody else was getting cast. She was having trouble casting the part, but she wasn’t sold on me, either, until, finally, she…I mean, 90% of it was the shirt and a wig, anyway, so I don’t know what everybody was worried about. You really just had to put on polyester, and anybody could do it.
BE: Well, yeah, but you had that Robert Reed delivery down.
GC: Well, I did, yeah. That’s what…I think that’s what surprised her. I went in and did this kind of strange thing that…I had watched episodes, and the only thing I picked up from it was that he had this odd cadence. And then each time I went in, I became more and more vacant. And clueless. And I think she liked that.
BE: But, then, after seeing you in “The Brady Bunch Movie,” it was weird seeing you playing a real TV dad on the revival of “Family Affair.”
GC: Right. Full circle.
BE: I don’t guess it’ll shock you that virtually everyone here at Bullz-Eye is a huge fan of “Office Space.”
GC: Oh! God bless “Office Space”!
BE: And I’m sure you’ve been asked this a million times before, but do you personally have any thoughts on why it did so poorly when it was first released, given the kind of phenomenon it’s become on home video?
GC: Well, it was released in what is now…well, the industry’s changed a little bit…but that’s a traditional dumping ground time in mid-February. Not a very high-profile spot. The poster was kind of strange at first glance. That was Mike (Judge’s) argument; I think it’s kind of funny, but if you look at it, it’s, like, “What’s this about?” It had Jennifer Aniston, but it wasn’t really a Jennifer Aniston movie, so she wasn’t really used to sell the movie at all. And if something doesn’t open well, even if starts to build momentum, it gets pulled…and that’s what happened. But the reason it took off on video is because of the content, and this whole culture that Mike really pegged…which I didn’t really know anything about, because I had never worked in an office! I mean, I had other jobs, but they were all kind of blue-collar service jobs. I’d never worked in an office, and I didn’t know about memos and passive-aggressive bosses and coffee breaks and lame birthday parties and, y’know, all that shit. But he had that. And a lot of people, that’s what they do; a huge part of the work population of the country is in cubicle environments. So, for whatever reason, it hit a nerve or pressed a button.
BE: I’m hoping “Idiocracy” (also by Judge) has the same effect on video, since the studio…
GC: I know! I have yet to see it, and I wanted to…but, then again, it’s odd, because people talked that that was really good, too, but it was the same kind of thing, like it was a well-kept secret that it even opened!
BE: I couldn’t believe that they wouldn’t just slap a “From the Maker of ‘Office Space’” tagline on it and put it out there.
GC: Well, they did, but it still…it sat around for a long time, and that’s always a problem. That movie was shot probably more than two years before it opened, and that’s a long time for something to sit around…and the longer something sits, I guess the more people try to fix it, and not for the better. I wasn’t really involved in it, so I don’t really know anything about how it went down or what happened…but I hear it’s good, and that’s the main thing. Maybe the same thing will happen for it on video as “Office Space.”
BE: And as far as “Office Space,” what’s the dumbest question anyone’s ever asked you about it? Because I’m guessing it involves an O-face in some fashion…
GC: Um, well, there aren’t really any dumb questions.
BE: I guess I mean more like ridiculous questions, then.
GC: You know, I never go to that realm. Sometimes, you find that nothing’s as ridiculous as actually doing the movie in the first place. The most oft-requested line, or people’s favorite line that they’ll do to me…people come up to me and start doing my dialogue…is, “I’m gonna need you to come in on Saturday.” Or, “Have you gotten the TPS memo?” Like I’ve not heard it! (Writer’s note: no, he didn’t say the lines in full Lumbergh voice…and although it will no doubt haunt me ‘til my dying day, I just couldn’t bring myself to ask him to do so.)
BE: And how many times would you say that’s happened to you?
GC: (Without missing a beat) A hundred and fifty million times.
BE: (Laughs) You’re rounding down, right?
BE: You know, I’m actually in the middle of watching the second “Harvey Birdman” DVD set right now.
GC: Oh, there you go! We said our farewell to Harvey; we did the last one about…right around Halloween.
BE: Wow. Was that a Cartoon Network decision?
GC: I guess. There’s no rhyme or reason to…I don’t how it operates. I just get a phone call and go in and do Harvey. Months and months go by, and then all of a sudden, you’ll do three, and then another month goes by. There never was any real pattern to it. But we started it…must’ve been 2001, right at the end of 2001 or beginning of 2002. So we were doing it off and on for about five years.
BE: How did you fall into it? Was it through your work on “Family Guy”?
"The most oft-requested line (from 'Office Space'), or people's favorite line that they’ll do to me…because people come up to me and start doing my dialogue…is, 'I'm gonna need you to come in on Saturday.' Or, 'Have you gotten the TPS memo?' Like I’ve not heard it!"GC: Yes. Seth (MacFarlane) was the first guy that gave me a job doing voices, which happened…actually, indirectly, probably Mike was responsible for that, because that happened pretty much just a few months after “Office Space” had put me on a comedy radar thing. So I started going in to do voices occasionally on “Family Guy”…but fairly consistently. And then I just got a call on this thing for Cartoon Network.
BE: And I know you also do the voice of Dr. Possible on “Kim Possible” as well.
GC: Right. Although I think that may be winding up, too. There may be one or two left to do there, but I think they’re gonna wrap it up.
BE: What else do you have in the pipeline at the moment?
GC: I’ve got a couple of independents floating out there that you never know the fate of, but one is called “American Pastime,” which is about Japanese interment camps in World War II…and baseball. It’s actually combining those two backdrops. And then, keeping with my sports-themed movies… (Laughs) …the other one is called “Forever Strong.” I shot ‘em back to back in Salt Lake. It’s a rugby movie, a true story about this local club in Salt Lake that’s ranked #1 in the country and has a lifetime record of something like 900 wins and 6 losses, or something ridiculous like that. So those are out there, and I don’t know if they’ll get sold. They might actually make it to a theater, or they might end up on Cinemax or whatever.
GC: And the other film that…I’m certain it’s going to be released; I just don’t know when…is called “Breach.” Billy Ray, the director of “Shattered Glass,” it’s a script he wrote and directed about Robert Hanssen, the FBI agent who was discovered as a spy, selling secrets to the Soviets from the mid-‘80s to 2001. And Chris Cooper and Ryan Phillipe are in that, and I’m one of the FBI guys that sets up a sting. But it’s a great part for Chris Cooper. He’s usually the supporting guy, but this movie…which he carries, he’s so good in it…has him playing a guy who’s a walking contradiction.
BE: Yeah, I’ve been a big fan of his since “October Sky.”
GC: He’s great. He’s one of the best there is. And it’s called “Breach.” I mean, that’s what it was called. The title may have shifted.
BE: So it sounds like you’re focusing predominantly on drama at the moment.
GC: Well, those were the doors that were left open for me. Like I said, nothing ever happens really intentionally on my part. It’s whatever I can attach myself to.
BE: Well, we’re at our 20-minute mark, and I want to keep you on schedule, but I appreciate talking to you.
GC: You bet. Thanks a lot!