Interview: Stephen Root on ‘Rango,’ ‘Red State,’ and ‘J. Edgar’

The Office Space character actor discusses his career to date and his upcoming TV series Outlaw Country.

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

Audiences know the face of Stephen Root. The name? Maybe not so much, but that's what great character actors do: they play the role without calling attention to themselves. Well, it's time to give Stephen Root some more attention. The actor has graced the big screen in the likes of Dodgeball, No Country for Old Men and Idiocracy, and the small screen on shows like News Radio, King of the Hill and Justified. He took the time to talk with CRAVE Online about the Blu-Ray release of his latest film, the animated Johnny Depp western Rango, as well as his next big projects including Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar, Kevin Smith's Red State, and his new FX pilot Outlaw Country.



CRAVE Online: I gotta tell you, I’m actually a huge fan of yours from back in News Radio.

Stephen Root: Ah, love that show. Love those people.


CRAVE Online: I love that show too. It’s actually my favorite live-action sitcom ever.

Stephen Root: I was proud to be a part to be a part of it. It was kind of one of the first really “smart” sitcoms, you know? It kind of grew out of the Larry Sanders tradition, except it was network.


Stephen Root in NBC's 'News Radio.'


CRAVE Online: That’s true, and the entire series revolved around the characters more than the situations.

Stephen Root: Right, a lot of character-driven stuff and a lot of great character actors on that show, I thought.


CRAVE Online: Would you describe yourself as a “character actor?”

Stephen Root: Oh, of course. All the time! (Laughs.)


CRAVE Online: You’ve done just about everything over the last 20 years or so. It’s a really impressive resume.

Stephen Root: Oh, thanks. [I’m] constantly trying to switch it up and trying to be those character guys in the 40’s. (Laughs.)


CRAVE Online: Well, you do in your Coen Bros. movies, or even in Rango. Let’s talk about Rango since that’s obviously what’s coming out on Blu-Ray. You’ve done a lot of animation work, but had you done any motion-capture type work before this?

Stephen Root: No, I haven’t. Obviously Rango wasn’t “motion capture” but we did film the whole movie in rehearsal mode.


CRAVE Online: Oh, so that’s how it worked.

Stephen Root: Yeah, [director Gore Verbinski] shot it with a couple of cameras as if he were shooting the rehearsal of a movie. We’d wear a rehearsal gun belt and go through saloon doors, but it would all be just very much of a rehearsal session. But he filmed it all so he could get all our expressions and motions and all that, so that’s why I think Johnny [Depp]’s character is so great, because all of him is in that animation.


CRAVE Online: I like the way that worked, actually. A lot of motion-capture stuff feels so rigid…

Stephen Root: Right.


CRAVE Online: Did you know what your character – actually you play a couple of characters – did you know what your characters were going to look like before you started?

Stephen Root: Yeah, because he showed us – which is on the DVD – he showed us the storyboard reel [which] kind of sketched out what it was going to be. I mean the characters changed a little, they got very, very detailed but we knew what we were going to be. I knew I was going to be a rabbit, a one-eared rabbit, and I knew I was going to be whatever Merrimack is, which is a muskrat thing? I don’t really know… (Laughs.)


CRAVE Online: I have no idea. I just assumed they were all animals.

Stephen Root: He had hair on him, and he was a banker.


CRAVE Online: That movie was incredibly clever I thought. It never really pandered to the audience.

Stephen Root: No, it was very much a grown up movie! It’s not for little kids. I mean, it’s too overwhelming for little kids, just for that snake [Bill Nighy’s villain character]. Again, it’s built on characters, and Gore hired a lot of great, wonderful older character [actors]: Ned Beatty, Harry Dean Stanton, and a lot of people. That’s great.


Stephen Root's in that picture somewhere in the cast of 'Rango.'


CRAVE Online: What’s Gore Verbinski like as a director, compared to some of the other people you’ve worked with?

Stephen Root: He’s very specific in what he wants. We would finish a scene that we would film, and then we’d go kind of next-door. We were at Warner Bros., so we would go next door to immediately do the voice [acting] in another room. We knew exactly what we were going to do after doing that scene, and he kept it on that track. So he was very specific about what he wanted.


CRAVE Online: What would say you get recognized for the most these days?

Stephen Root: Oh, it’s always going to probably be Office Space.


CRAVE Online: Yeah.

Stephen Root: (Laughs) – It’s whatever you’ve done last, in the year before, that people recognize you for, but mostly in coffee shops it’s going to be Office Space, because it’s kind of the soft underbelly of America.


CRAVE Online: Do you ever get worried about that role being so iconic…?

Stephen Root: No! No, no… I mean it’s a cult movie. […] I was happy to do it. I’m happy it turned into something other than just a “B” comedy that never went anywhere.


CRAVE Online: Yeah, when it came out it did not make much of an impression at all. And then a couple years later it was something everyone had seen.

Stephen Root: Yeah, it was at the height of DVD, in 1999. […] And then every couple of years a new generation discovers it. Because, you know, people are still working in cubicles.


CRAVE Online: It’s very universal, about that impoverished underclass.

Stephen Root: Sure. I think as long as we have cubicles people are going to bring up that movie. We did okay. I mean I loved it, I loved doing the character, but I’m glad [Mike Judge] kept it as a one-off and didn’t try to do Office Space 2. It wouldn’t have been as special.


NEXT: Stephen Root talks about Clint Eastwood's 'J. Edgar,' Kevin Smith's 'Red State' and his new show 'Outlaw Country'…

CRAVE Online: You’ve got a role coming up in Clint Eastwood’s next movie, J. Edgar.

Stephen Root: Oh! Yes, I was excited to do that.


CRAVE Online: You play Arthur Koehler…

Stephen Root: I play Arthur Koehler, who is the wood expert who basically convicted Bruno Hauptmann of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. So he’s an obsessed guy who knew a lot about wood.


CRAVE Online: Did you do a lot of research for that role?

Stephen Root: Sure! There’s a lot out there. There’s pictures of him, and not really movies but yeah, there’s very much out there about him. I mean, the guy went to hundreds of different places to find and match this wood. He was very, very anal. (Laughs.)


CRAVE Online: Would you say that he was right? Because a lot of people say that Hauptmann wasn’t actually guilty.

Stephen Root: Well, they do, but I think even as late as the 90’s they looked at the same evidence. That came out of your [Hauptmann’s] garage. You built it on your planer. It’s pretty damning.


CRAVE Online: I suppose so. Is that a footnote in the movie or does it get a lot of screen time?

Stephen Root: Well, it was a big case for J. Edgar [Hoover]. It kind of made his name and helped him at that point get weapons and guns and really [made] the FBI. So it’s a very crucial time for him, for J. Edgar, which is what the movie’s really about.


Stephen Root in FX's 'Justified.'


CRAVE Online: What else have you got coming down the pipe? Because you’re always working…

Stephen Root: Always doing something! (Laughs.) Next I’m shooting a pilot for FX called Outlaw Country.


CRAVE Online: I hadn’t heard about that…

Stephen Root: I can’t say too much about it…


CRAVE Online: Fair enough.

Stephen Root: It’s in the vein of Justified.


CRAVE Online: Is that in any way a spin-off of Justified?

Stephen Root: No, no, it’s not a spin-off but it’s in that vein of “There’s some bad people and there’s some good people, and it’s set in Nashville.”


CRAVE Online: I don’t want to press you for more.

Stephen Root: No, it’s a pilot so..


Stephen Root in Kevin Smith's 'Red State.'


CRAVE Online: You don’t want to ruin anything. I hear Red State’s finally coming out too?

Stephen Root: Yeah, I’m excited about that. I mean I’ve been to three different premieres of it. (Laughs.) Went to the Radio City premiere, went down to New Orleans when he was doing the big tour of it. I think it’s a good movie! You know, it’s a controversial movie but a lot of Kevin [Smith]’s are. I think this just happens to be a lot better than a lot the things he’s done lately.


CRAVE Online: He’s actually really grown as a director more than people give him credit for.

Stephen Root: Very much so, and you’ll see that in this movie.


CRAVE Online: I’m really excited to see that.

Stephen Root: It’s really tremendous. And everybody in it is great. [John] Goodman is great in it. Everybody’s great.


Rango premieres on Blu-Ray and DVD this Friday, July 15th.