Photos courtesy of Richard Riehle and 20th Century Fox

Riehle 'Jumps to Conclusions' about Tom Smykowski

By JON SINGER

"I'm sure there's probably a lot of Tom Smykowski in me. It certainly came easy, I have to admit."

Richard Riehle, who played the aging worry wart in "Office Space," believes directors choose people that have a big element of themselves in their character.

There are some similarities between Smykowski and Riehle, except that the 55-year-old is bubbling with happiness in real life.

"I was on the set pretty much beginning to end," Riehle says of his time filming "Office Space." "My first scene was all done in full body cast. They didn't have a special effects guy there, so they actually got an EMT guy to come out and put me in a body cast. It took about two hours to do the whole thing. It took about an hour to saw me out of it. It was great fun."

He loves talking about his character, Tom Smykowski. "He's such an interesting character because he constantly worries about everything," Riehle says. "So much stuff is out of his control, but that doesn't stop him from being in a panic about it. He has grandiose ideas about what he's going to do, but he never gets around to doing them."

Riehle likes the deeper side of Tom, too. "Sure, Tom's a doofus almost all the way through, but right in the middle, he's fired, he feels like a failure, and he writes this suicide note, goes in the garage, turns on the car, and only because his wife comes out does he stop doing it and you really get a feeling of how happy he is that she cares about him that much and how he finally makes a decision to go on with his life. Which is what makes him being T-boned so funny."

The cast and crew had a tough time with the brief car scene, where Smykowski gets mauled. "You can see a little tree in the back, and it was windy that day, so we had to do it one time when the tree wasn't moving, so we would know the tree would be in the same position."

It took about six tries.

"I got out, they put the dummy in, and they waited to make sure the tree wasn't moving again, and the truck hit it. Two days later, Mike had the rough cut of it in the trailer, and he brought it in, and I could watch it over and over again and I couldn't see the edit. It was a combination of really well-done and real dumb luck to make a film perfect."

Like "Office Space" fans, Riehle gets a great kick out of Smykowski's invention, the "Jump to Conclusions" mat game.

"It's such a hilarious and amazing idea. To see it actually out there in front of me was hilarious. I'd love to know what the rules are," Riehle says.

Asked about Smykowski's job description, which the character had a tough time explaining, Riehle agreed with "The Bobs."

"[Smykowski] describes himself as the liaison between the engineers and the people they're selling the software to – which to my mind means he doesn't know either end of it very well," Riehle says. "In reality, it probably is a very downsize-able position."

Riehle gets fanfare like all other characters.

"Two girls stopped and said 'Oh my God, were you in "Office Space?"' I said, yeah. They said, 'Would you sign an autograph?' I said, sure. 'And would you write your line about the stapler?'"

"I said, you know I was in 'Office Space,' but that wasn't me, that was Steve Root who played Milton. They said, 'oh yeah, yeah. But we'd love to have your autograph… And would you write the line about the stapler? So I couldn't get out of it!"

BEGINNINGS

"I love the Midwest. I feel very fortunate to have grown up there," Riehle says.

He grew up in Menomonee Falls, Wis., about 15 miles north of Milwaukee.

"I got to know Chicago pretty well, because when I was in high school in Milwaukee I would come down to Chicago, go to Old Town on weekends, and then I went to Notre Dame, so I'd go up to Chicago whenever I had a weekend. So Chicago was the center of my attraction in that period."

Riehle wasn't interested in movies until college. "I was more of a jock until then," Riehle said.

But during his senior year at the University of Notre Dame, a friend encouraged Riehle to try out for a play. "At that time, Notre Dame was all guys – it was the only way to get any kind of co-ed activity," Riehle says. "I got cast in it, and then it was a total fluke, but I ended up being a drama major, so I could get out after one more semester."

After more encouragement from peers and faculty, Riehle went on to Minnesota on a scholarship.

Riehle didn't look to movies. They looked for him.

"I did mainly theater for 25 years, all around the country," Riehle says. "I was in New York, doing a play, and they were casting "Glory." Riehle was cast, and then headed to L.A., where he played Rooney on the "Ferris Bueller" TV series. This is where he met "Office Space" co-star Jennifer Aniston.

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