LOS ANGELES—Gary Cole is one of those guys. “Oh, it’s him! He’s in everything!” you say when his mug pops up on-screen.
These days it’s happening more than ever, as the actor has been on something of a hot streak, especially on the smaller screen, featuring in TV’s Veep, The Good Wife, and Suits, as well as in the newest season of True Blood. When he talks to the Straight in an exclusive interview at a Beverly Hills hotel, Cole is promoting his latest, a return to the silver screen in the Melissa McCarthy vehicle Tammy (opening next Wednesday [July 2]).
Cole has ample experience working with today’s biggest comedic actors, having played Will Ferrell’s deadbeat dad in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and a murderous drug dealer in Seth Rogen’s Pineapple Express. He took the job on Tammy—in which he plays a lowlife drunk, Earl, who sniffs around Tammy’s grandmother (Susan Sarandon)—for the same reason that he took those gigs.
“Like the two guys you mentioned, I was a huge fan of hers [McCarthy] before I did this,” says Cole, relaxing in a hotel chair, having shed the grey suit jacket he wore earlier in the day during a media conference. “That’s one of the reasons I wanted to do this, because I’ve seen a couple of her movies. But the thing that I really got to be a fan of hers through was her hosting duties on Saturday Night Live. She was one of those rare hosts who really come over and take over the show, and I don’t mean in an exclusionary way; I just mean that everything she did was pretty fearless stuff, and that’s probably one of the hardest jobs in the business, to go into that environment and really score big. And she’s done it multiple times. I just think she has that much presence and that much talent.”
Despite all the work he’s done lately, Cole may be best remembered for a small-budget Mike Judge film made 15 years ago. “People mention those [Pineapple, Talladega],” he says. “But if push comes to shove, it’s usually Office Space that gets mentioned if I get spotted.”
Indeed, the cult comedy, in which Cole portrays the ultimate douchebag boss, Bill Lumbergh, had a theatrical run that only barely recouped the $10 million it cost to make. But Office Space found its way into the comedic zeitgeist, where it remains firmly lodged to this day.
Cole is still surprised by the film’s popularity, but he’s also able to rationalize it. “I think everybody in it was very aware of the talent of Mike Judge and they knew that the movie we were doing was going to be a funny movie,” he begins. “But I don’t think anybody realized the kind of impact it would have and that it would linger like it has.”
That’s because, he speculates, “most actors” have barely seen the inside of an actual office. “Office jobs tend to be for people who want to start on the ground level and build their career and stay there,” he offers. “And actors don’t want that. They just want to make cash until they don’t have to do it anymore. So you do a lot of blue-collar jobs. I was a bartender, I sold shoes—stuff like that. And that was true with a lot of people that I knew that were in the movie. I had never stepped foot in an office in my life, had no discernible office skills, couldn’t type—nothing. So I knew nothing of that culture, I knew nothing of cubicles. And that’s why the movie broke through, because that’s a gigantic part of the culture in the workplace in this country and everywhere else too.”