Mike Judge, Ron Livingston, and other cast members talk about the 1999 cult film

By Anthony Breznican
October 07, 2011 at 04:00 AM EDT
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Reuniting the cast of Office Space for a photo shoot was no easy task, especially considering EW’s pitch went something like this: Yeaahhhhh, we’re gonna need you to go ahead and come in on a Sunday…mmm ‘kay? Turns out the passive-aggressive management style of the movie’s nauseating boss, Bill Lumbergh, is actually a great motivator. That morning, writer-director Mike Judge and his team of reluctant cubicle-dwellers — Ron Livingston, David Herman, Stephen Root, and Gary Cole — happily gathered to celebrate the movie that flopped at the box office but became sacred to all those who’ve ever come down with a case of the Mondays.

”I’ve had a lot of people over the years say they left their jobs after seeing the movie,” says Ron Livingston, 44, who starred in the 1999 comedy as Peter Gibbons, a disgruntled drone-turned-embezzler at the soul-crushing software company Initech. ”That feels like a lot of responsibility,” he adds, exhaling deeply. ”I hope it worked out for them.” Though modestly budgeted, Office Space collected only $4.2 million in its first weekend, despite the presence of Friends star Jennifer Aniston as a beleaguered chain-restaurant waitress. (Neither Aniston nor Ajay Naidu, who played Peter’s pal Samir, was available for EW’s Reunions shoot.) ”I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t bummed out it didn’t do better,” says Judge, 48, the creator of Beavis and Butt-head and co-creator of King of the Hill. He admits 20th Century Fox not only struggled to market the dark comedy but also didn’t really get it themselves: ”Here’s this weird movie where nobody is smiling. Executives did not like it.”

It was only when Office Space was released on DVD in 2000 that a fan base began to build. Eventually, the movie that had petered out with a pathetic $12 million at the box office became a cult phenomenon. ”All of a sudden you’re getting pulled aside and told, ‘You don’t understand, dude. That’s me, that’s my entire office building!”’ says Herman, 44, who costarred as Peter’s angry and unfortunately named colleague Michael Bolton. Herman, now primarily a voice actor who has played characters on King of the Hill, Bob’s Burgers, and Futurama, was the first to arrive at the photo studio that Sunday, followed by Cole — who starred as Lumbergh, the smarmy, coffee-mug-toting middle manager who casually destroys the will to live of everyone under him. ”All the jobs I had were blue-collar or service jobs. Because I had no experience, I didn’t realize the button [the movie] pushed in people,” says Cole, 55, who remains a sought-after character actor with roles in everything from Family Guy to The Good Wife. ”Then I paid attention more and heard stories about people having to sit on it and bite their tongue while getting lectured. I kept trying to think of the most annoying things people would be put off by. As people were suffering, just do a little…” He stretches and cracks his back, the way Lumbergh does while telling Peter to work on the weekend.

When Judge arrives at the shoot, he’s greeted like a fellow castmate, not as a former boss. (He did act in the movie, after all, playing Aniston’s persnickety manager who perpetually admonishes her to wear more kitschy ”flair” on her Chotchkie’s uniform.) The gang gathers around a table in the photo studio’s break room, picking at a tray of Danishes — just like anybody killing time before work starts. Soon Root comes and shakes Judge by the shoulders. The actor, known for NewsRadio and O Brother, Where Art Thou?, was another longtime regular on King of the Hill and is recognized for many roles, but his Office Space character may be his most iconic: the mumbling outcast Milton Waddams, who clings to his red Swingline stapler the way a baby clings to a blanket. ”I think Mike just wanted him to be a guy who didn’t wash much,” says Root, 59, of Milton, who was based on a character Judge created for a series of animated shorts in 1991. ”He wore the same tie every day. It was completely stained. These are guys who live in their space and don’t like to come out.”

Judge considered an Office Space sequel a few years after the cult following developed, but once Ricky Gervais’ The Office debuted in the U.K. in 2001, he decided not to pursue it. Just as well: The actors have fairly grim ideas about where their characters ended up. Peter, who finds peace trading his white collar for blue as a laborer, ”was probably killed in a construction accident shortly thereafter,” jokes Livingston, who will be seen as Sarah Palin’s debate coach in HBO’s film Game Change, based on the best-selling book. Milton, who disappears south of the border with Peter’s purloined cash, was probably killed by banditos, according to Root. ”He’s in a shallow grave,” the actor says with a laugh. Lumbergh may never have existed at all, posits Cole. ”He’s just this kind of chemical coming through, agonizing people, and then bleeding back into the wall at night.” Herman guesses Bolton is just working the same kind of job at another company, stuck in a rut. Root suggests, ”No, no, actually you’re working for [the singer] Michael Bolton now.” That no-talent ass-clown? Talk about a fate worse than Initech.

Next for Mike Judge: More Beavis and Butt-Head
Resurrect Beavis and Butt-head? That would just make the burnout duo (who went off the air in 1997) cackle, ”Heh, heh. You said ‘erect.”’ Still, creator and voice actor Mike Judge is bringing the couch-dwelling morons back to MTV on Oct. 27 to mock a new generation of music videos, reality shows (16 and Pregnant, Jersey Shore), and viral videos. ”The world’s different around them, but they’re the same,” says Judge. MTV had a standing offer for him to bring back the animated buddies, who made their big-screen debut in 1996’s Beavis and Butt-head Do America. ”Ideas I’d written down for movie sequels just seemed like smaller, funnier TV ideas,” Judge says. Whatever happens, expect the same heinous behavior. (Heh, heh. I said ”anus.”)

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