Over the years, Gary Cole has quietly — stealthily, even — become one of the most reliable and fun-to-watch character actors in Hollywood. Best known as evil boss Bill Lumbergh from Mike Judge’s cult hit “Office Space,” Cole has excelled at quirky comedic roles, playing Mike Brady in The Brady Bunch films of the ’90s and appearing in comedy hits such as “Dodgeball” and “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.”
But for all his grand comedic chops, Cole has been equally adept at drama, appearing on “The West Wing” as Vice President Bob Russell and in films such as Clint Eastwood’s “In the Line of Fire.” In his most recent role, he plays Andrew Klein, the new partner of Jeremy Piven’s Ari Gold, the talent agent on HBO’s comedy hit “Entourage.”
Bankrate spoke to Cole about his career as a character actor, and how he and Hollywood are shouldering the recession.
Bankrate: At this point, it seems like you’ve become one of the classic “I know that dude” character actors. Do you get that a lot?
Gary Cole: Sure. Some people know who I am, and some might even know my name, although I wouldn’t place them in the majority. As time goes on, I get “you really look familiar” more often, because you do more things. And whatever you do is on TV 10 times a day on cable.
Bankrate: What is the role you’re most recognized for?
Gary Cole: Right now, it seems to be “Office Space,” a movie that’s 10 years old.
Bankrate: Did the film’s growing cult sensation catch you by surprise?
Gary Cole: It caught all of us by surprise — everybody in it. We compared notes when we were reunited for a magazine interview last February on the 10th anniversary of the film’s release. … About a year after the movie came out, people started coming up to everybody doing dialogue from it — either ours or somebody else’s — and we were all kind of dumbfounded because we all thought the movie was a flop. Little did we know about video and DVD, and the way the entertainment business is different than it was.
Bankrate: Given how many great roles you’ve played, why haven’t you had your own show?
Gary Cole: Well, that’s where I started. I did a show in ’91 called “Midnight Caller,” which I had the lead in. That ran for three years on NBC. It’s just a question of taking stabs at stuff that didn’t work. I’ve done more pilots than I care to remember. There comes a point where your age can be a factor in what roles you’re offered. So I’ve converted into a character actor. Careers go through different phases, and that’s the one I’m in now.
Bankrate: Given the state of the economy, has it been tougher to find steady work?
Gary Cole: Yes and no. There’s less production on movies than there used to be, because it’s so costly to make, release and market films. So that’s down. But then television is a trade-off. People say, “There’s no work for actors because there’s all this reality television.” That’s true in a way, but then 25 years ago, there were four channels. Now, there are 118 channels. Now granted, those jobs may be worth less. … So obviously, money is going to be distributed differently.
Bankrate: Do you still have to worry about money or are you fortunate enough to just be able to look at the nature of the work?
Gary Cole: If I don’t act like an imbecile with what I’ve made so far, I should be fine. One of the great things about the business is that you’re not showing up at the same place everyday. You get to work with different people, and everything can be kind of new. But the flip side is, even if someone’s visible and working, it doesn’t mean he knows what his next two years will look like. It’s a waiting game.
Bankrate: Have you had times where you were legitimately worried about whether the next job would come or about money getting tight?
Gary Cole: I haven’t had a situation where it just shut down and there were no options, like when a year, year-and-a-half or two went by, and the phone never rang. That’s never happened. Something has always come through. So I haven’t been in that situation where I went, “Better brush up on the bartending skills.”
Bankrate: There’s been a lot written about how Hollywood “A” listers aren’t having their (contract) quotes met, and how their salaries are being slashed.
Gary Cole: Oh yeah, it’s a different ballgame out there. If people think they’re going to see the money they used to see, they’re out of their minds, and that includes everybody from No. 1 on the call sheet on down. If you’re the person who gets hired because you get the movie made, you’re going to make less money, but you’re still going to make more money than most people see in a lifetime. It’s the same thing in sports or with the gap between the boardroom and the worker. Thirty, 40 years ago, the CEO made maybe 30 times what the guy on the plant floor made. Now, he makes 450 times that. … The bottom is more expendable, and production is looking to slash costs wherever it can. And if that means salaries, then that’s what it means.
Bankrate: Do you feel you’ve done a good job of setting yourself up financially?
Gary Cole: Yeah. In the last few years, I probably had some unfortunate timing with spending, not knowing that the (writer’s) strike would hit when it did, and that the economy would basically tank about a year after that. But I’ve been cautious pretty much the whole time. Like everybody, a lot of it got eaten up, but it wasn’t all sitting in one box. So it didn’t all float away when the banks went under.
Bankrate: What’s next for you?
Gary Cole: Like I said, I have no idea. The only thing I have in the can is a movie called “The Joneses.” I don’t know what kind of release it’s gonna get, but it was a pretty cool script. I’m in it with Demi Moore and David Duchovny. It’s actually about the economy, kind of a stylistic look at excess and what can happen when people spend more than they have. This country can relate to it, I guess.