Interview Date: 07/06/2011
Run Date: 07/15/2011
Stephen Root is a classic example of a “that guy,” someone who’s been in so many things over the years that almost everyone recognizes him the second he steps onto the screen, even if they can’t necessarily remember his name. Rest assured, however, that we here at Bullz-Eye do remember, mostly because he’s been in so many unforgettable projects, from “NewsRadio” to “Office Space” to “King of the Hill.” The role that brought Root into our orbit was…well, actually, it was three roles, and all of them are in the animated film “Rango” (now available on Blu-ray and DVD), starring Johnny Depp as the voice of a pet chameleon who ends up stranded in the desert and finds himself living a real-life Western. We spoke to Root about the characters he plays in the film and how the experience of recording his parts was decidedly different from the average animated film, but we also tackled the aforementioned projects of which he’s been a part, along with a few others
Bullz-Eye: You’ve certainly done your fair share of voice acting over the years…
Stephen Root: …and I’ve had a good time!
BE: Has it reached a point where people look specifically for your voice for a project?
SR: No, I don’t think so much. But I’m just happy to be involved in a lot of different stuff. I mean, that’s kind of what I do: character stuff. I look for different stuff. It’s just a blast for me.
BE: How did you find your way into “Rango”? Did they come looking for you, or did the script land in your lap?
SR: No, they came looking for me as… (Hesitates) I think initially it was for the Doc character, because they knew I did a lot of Southern…drunks, I guess. (Laughs) But then it was fun to be able to turn around and do a New England accent with the Merrimac character, the banker character. So it was two different things, which made it fun to do.
BE: It’s a very unique animated film. I’m a fan of westerns, anyway, so I enjoyed that aspect of it. But, then, I’ve got a five-year-old who was, at best, indifferent to it.
SR: Yeah, well, absolutely. I think it’s not for a five-year-old. I think the movie was very adult-centric, like a lot of the best Pixar stuff. I think it plays on a 10-year-old level, but I think it also plays on an adult level as well, which I think will make it timeless.
BE: I understand the process of recording for the film was a bit different than the norm.
SR: Yeah, we actually shot the whole thing on a soundstage at Warner Brothers. They actually filmed us, in rehearsal clothes and using rehearsal props. But we were all doing the scenes together, which was great. So then the animators could take that film, look at our body movements and our expressions, and then animate from there. They didn’t necessarily take the exact camera angles that we shot, because it was gonzo theater, but they could get a lot better idea of what probably… (Hesitates) I kept my arms really close as Merrimack, and they used that. And they used the really long, loungey things that I did for the rabbit. So they got a lot of different ideas from everybody. But I think it especially shows in Johnny Depp’s character. All of him is in that.
BE: What was your reaction when you heard that they were going to be doing it that way?
SR: Well, I think all of us were, like, “Uh, this isn’t a voiceover job…? What do you mean I have to act?” (Laughs) “No, I’m coming over in my jammies and doing my normal voiceover stuff!” No, it’s great fun, ‘cause, y’know, it’s not motion-capture. You’re not getting hooked up to anything. You’re just basically shooting a rehearsal of the scenes. So it was just fun for us.
BE: One of the interviews online referred to you guys as being like an amateur theater troupe.
SR: That’s what it was like! We were doing amateur theater. Our saloon would be two swinging doors. (Laughs) And we’d put on a vest and a pair of fake guns, and…there you go.
BE: You had a trio of roles in the film. Did you have a particular favorite of the bunch?
SR: I liked doing the Merrimack thing, ‘cause I don’t ever get to do New England. (Laughs) I do a lot of Southern. Don’t get to do New England much. So I liked doing that guy.
BE: He had a definite twitch going on.
SR: (Laughs) He had a twitch. Which was fun to play. And I think the animators did a good job of putting it in.
BE: How much of an idea did they give you as far as what they wanted the characters to sound like, and how much did they allow you to bring to the voices?
SR: Well, Gore (Verbinski) pretty much allowed me to bring whatever accent I wanted to go with, and once we had something that he was happy with, then he would be more specific with the pace of the scene. And that’s where we worked together.
BE: I wanted to ask you about a couple of other voice acting roles. Most notable, I guess, would be Bill Dauterive from “King of the Hill,” though you were also Buck Strickland on the show as well.
SR: Well, Buck and Bill… (Laughs) I did Buck and Bill for a long time, which was a joy.
BE: I was fortunate enough to be in attendance for the table read you did on the Fox lot for the 200th episode.
SR: Oh, that was fun! I remember that! Yeah, that was a blast. It’s fun to have those every once in awhile. I think we only had a couple of really big instances where we would do that, but we were always trying to get a thing where we would do our table read and then “The Simpsons” would do theirs after that, but it never quite worked out. But it’s always fun to do that.
BE: “King of the Hill” was very much an under-the-radar show, thanks in part to Fox wanting to bury it at 7 PM on Sundays.
SR: You’re telling me…? (Laughs)
BE: I know, I’m preaching to the choir. What are some of your fondest memories of working on the show?
SR: Oh, it’s mostly about the people. You’d go there every week and joyously see Pam Adlon and Tom Petty in the last couple of years. And Brittany (Murphy), God bless her. Miss her. I mean, Brittany was 18 when she first joined that show, and she was 31 by the time we were done.
BE: I’ve read…and I don’t know if it’s true or not…that you actually auditioned for Dale first.
SR: I did, I auditioned for Dale. But I never felt good about it. But, you know, it was still a new thing for me then. Mike (Judge) just said, “Well, try a couple of ‘em.” I did Dale, and I said, “I don’t know, I don’t like that at all. What else you got?” He said, “Well, I’ve got this not-so-bright Army sergeant…” I said, “That’s me!” (Laughs) “Let me give that one a shot!”
BE: Was there ever any line written for Bill that was deemed too pitiful?
SR: (Bursts out laughing) I don’t think that’s true, although our main joke would be that whenever Bill would finally go, it would be in a very small bathroom, behind the door that you couldn’t get open to get him. He would die back there. You just couldn’t get to him. (Laughs)
BE: You were on “Batman: The Brave and the Bold” recently.
SR: Yeah! That was a blast.
BE: I talked to Tom Kenny recently, and he mentioned that they’d decided to make a few Plastic Man cartoons. Do you know if you’re going to be voicing Woozy Winks in those?
SR: I sure would love to do Woozy again, but, no, I haven’t heard that. I’ve been busy working on a couple of other things here. But I’d love to do Woozy again. Woozy was fun. And the Penguin’s also fun to do.
BE: Yeah, I was going to say: you get to play a hero and a villain. Not a bad deal.
SR: No kidding! I mean, why not? (Laughs)
BE: Do you have a favorite voice gig that didn’t necessarily get the love you thought it deserved?
SR: Um…yeah, I really enjoyed doing a show called “The X’s,” on Nickelodeon. I got to play the voice of a house. (Laughs) Which is odd. But a very proper house. I thought that was a really, really clever show that didn’t…I think we only lasted one season. But it was quite clever. It should’ve been seen more.
BE: What was it like getting to sing with Brian Setzer for the soundtrack to “The Country Bears”?
SR: Fantastic! I actually saw him do his… we didn’t do the track together, but I saw him do his part, then he walked out, and I said, “I’m the actor who’s going to ruin this track.” (Laughs) And I went in and did mine. But, yeah, it was very cool, ‘cause I was a big Stray Cats fan. That was very cool for me.
BE: Your “True Blood” character, Eddie, played a pivotal part in the show’s season premiere, even though you weren’t actually there yourself.
SR: Oh, yeah, I heard! A witch did something. Channeled me.
BE: Yep, you spoke to Lafayette through her.
SR: I didn’t see it, but it’ll be interesting to see her imitation of Eddie. If she even tries one. (Laughs) That role was…it’s the kind of thing that’s so far out of your comfort zone that you say, “Oh, I’ve got to do it. I’ve got to.” And I did, and I’m so glad I did, because I loved all the people on it. Nelsan (Ellis) is an amazing actor. Everybody’s great.
BE: Do you enjoy the opportunity to mix it up between drama and comedy.
SR: Yeah. I think that’s the point. I’m consciously trying to do that, ‘cause after all, casting directors just say, “What has he done? Oh, he’s a comedy guy.” Uh, no. (Laughs) I just happened to do that last. So I’m very specifically picking comedy, drama, comedy, drama. To keep it going.
BE: How did you end up in the Coen brothers camp? You’ve made three with them, right?
SR: I have. And I’d love to do a fourth. (Laughs) It was just a straight audition with them, and…I think I just scared them with my eye thing. But we got to work together more after that, and I just love ‘em. Plus, I’d worked with Frannie (McDormand) in theater a million years ago in New York, so that was great.
BE: When you first made it, would you have ever believed that “Office Space” would have the afterlife that it’s had?
SR: I would say that I wouldn’t have believed it, but now I have to believe it. (Laughs) Because it keeps getting rediscovered every couple of years by all the new cube dwellers. You know, it’s a great little movie. It’s really the soft underbelly of America, and it just keeps coming back.
BE: I’m a massive “NewsRadio” fan.
SR: Oh, thanks! I was…so thrilled to be able to get to do that show. That was a great bunch of character actors, too. Phil (Hartman) was the only name in that show when we started. It was great.
BE: I’m curious what your favorite episode of the run was.
SR: (Laughs) Well, my favorite episode to do was the one when I was in a coma. I didn’t have to do anything! I just had to lay on the sheet and watch Maura (Tierney) try to pick things off of my torso! So that was fun for me. But, no, I loved a lot of them. I loved the Titanic episode. I always loved the fantasy episodes. And I loved the jail episode. The D.B. Cooper stuff, too. That was all fun.
BE: How long did it take you to master the monologue in “Super Karate Monkey Death Car”?
SR: (Laughs) Well, fortunately I got to read half of it, so it was okay. But it was…that was fun. You know, you’re just standing there unless there’s good writing, and there was always good writing on that show. And they always let us write on the floor on that show, too, so everybody could write for everybody else. There was a lot of freedom.
BE: Were you intrigued by the talk of what the next season of the show would’ve been, had they continued it? I’d heard it was going to transform into something with almost a “Green Acres” feel.
SR: I know Dave (Foley) would’ve loved it. (Laughs) That’s his favorite show. And one of mine, too! Yeah, it would’ve changed dramatically. It would’ve had to. The last year, it wasn’t really the same show without Phil, because all of the rhythms were completely different, so… (Trails off)
BE: Lastly, how do you go about picking projects these days? I mean, it seems like you’re turning up in every other show that I watch, from “Justified” to “The Defenders” to “Californication.”SR: (Laughs) Yeah, you know, I really am in a nice position, being able to pick shows and roles that are interesting to me. I’ve been really lucky with that. I always wanted to work with Clint Eastwood, and I got to do that this year (in “J. Edgar”). You know, you just pick what you think are quality projects. That’s all I’m trying to do.