Gary Cole Was the Original Horrible Boss in Office Space
"Didn't you get the memo?"
So, 20 years later ... where are those TPS reports? The man who wants to know is Gary Cole, aka Bill Lumbergh, aka the embodiment of everything that's evil about Nineties office culture. He's gone on to play numerous other roles, including five seasons on HBO's Veep, but none with the cultural longevity of Lumbergh. He'll be in Austin this week for a special 20th anniversary screening of Office Space before its induction into the Texas Film Hall of Fame – just don't expect him to be wearing those classic Nineties, middle-management suspenders. "They're under glass somewhere," Cole said. "With the giant aviators."
Austin Chronicle: Do you know what TPS stands for?
Gary Cole: You got me! I never looked it up. I have no idea what it means; it might just be initials coming out of the air. Nobody's ever told me.
AC: What was the Office Space audition like?
GC: I remember I got a video. Back then it would have been a video cassette, if we remember those. It had two short animations that [writer/director] Mike Judge did; basically the only characters were Lumbergh and Milton [voiced in the short by Judge but played in the film by Stephen Root]. After watching that, I just kind of said, "This works better than anything I can think of. There's no reason to do anything other than this."
AC: What was it that Mike Judge brought to the table?
GC: Mike knew exactly what he wanted from each scene, he'd done all of his homework. I only worked for two weeks. Everything was ultraspecific. His eye for detail comes from two things: He's just a really good writer, but that fact that he's an animator, he knows how to get things across. There's nothing wasted in the film or drawn out to the point where it doesn't land somehow. He was very meticulous about that.
AC: Did it feel soul-sucking playing the boss?
GC: I actually sometimes like playing characters that have, for lack of a better word, a limitation to them. He's only one speed; it's just one annoying cadence and passive-aggressive attitude. That's what makes that character work.
AC: Do you feel like Lumbergh has been following you around for 20 years?
GC: Well, yeah, but it's been all positive. Any film that lasts this long and people still talk about, that's the exception, not the rule.
AC: You've had a long career. What's another film you'd recommend for people who only know you from Office Space?
GC: For film, I'd say Talladega Nights. I like that character a lot and that movie works really well. That was a really good experience, about five years after Office Space. It had the same kind of impact; it was quotable and it still hangs around.
AC: Why do you think Office Space resonated so much?
GC: People identify with all of those characters. There's a prototype of each of those people in an office setting.
AC: Which character do you most identify with, personally?
GC: I never worked in an office, so I don't know that I identify with any of them. I just didn't have the skills.
AC: What would you say to Lumbergh if he asked you to come in on a Saturday?
GC: I think I'd nod and let him walk away. And not come in on Saturday.
Gary Cole will be part of the Texas Film Awards celebration of the 20th anniversary of Office Space.