Stephen Root's "Milton" was the peculiar star of "Office Space"


Milton Waddams was hands down my favorite character in Office Space. The way he was so poorly treated by Lumbergh forced me to be sympathetic toward him. I wanted Milton to succeed throughout the movie. I wanted Milton to be the hero, and in a way he was.

By burning down Initech, he saved the lives of Samir, Peter and Michael Bolton. He didn't walk away from the burning building with his Swingline Red Stapler, but he did walk away with a nice amount of stolen cash.

Way to go Milton.

The acting behind the staple of the movie was crafty, unique and brilliant thanks to the efforts of long time actor Stephen Root.

Crafting the character

After attending the University of Florida at Gainsville, Root decided it was time to step up his career.

He got his start with the National Shakespeare Company before jumping to an off-Broadway theater and then a Broadway theater. From there, he nailed his first on screen role in Monkey Shines, a 1988 film by George Romero, a cult horror classic.

Root's next big break didn't come until 1995 when he nailed a solid role on "NewsRadio" as the owned of the radio station. The show went off in 1999, the same year Office Space made its debut in theaters across the country.

"I'm proud of how it came out," Root says. "It was just a little independent movie that become this monster. I give all credits to Mike Judge for being such a genius in coming up with the stuff, cause he came up with everything. He showed me a quick two minute short of Milton, and said, 'Do something like this.' I give all credit to Mike."

The role of Milton wasn't exactly a huge role for Root, but it stamped a character in the minds of everyone who has ever seen the film. Root, however, feels as if Milton was the biggest character he has played in his acting career, as far as how recognizable the character is.

"I can't say that I have ever played a big role. It's a goal, I have actually met most of the goals I have wanted to accomplish through theater and Broadway and coming in and doing TV and film," Root says. "Probably the biggest role I have had in film is Milton, and that's not that huge. But, it's not something that I say I have to get a big role. I'm not as interested in a big role as I am an interesting role. I would rather take a three minute bit in a great movie than do an entire terrible movie. I'm more interested in material than the size of the role."

The material of Milton was so incredibly written that it intriqued Root enough to accept the role. The language that Judge used to master Milton will forever be remembered. "Have you seen my stapler," "That's the last straw, I'm going to burn down the building," or my favorite, "And I said, I don't care if they lay me off either, because I told, I told Bill that if they move my desk one more time, then, then I'm, I'm quitting, I'm going to quit. And, and I told Don too, because they've moved my desk four times already this year, and I used to be over by the window, and I could see the squirrels, and they were merry, but then, they switched from the Swingline to the Boston stapler, but I kept my Swingline stapler because it didn't bind up as much, and I kept the staples for the Swingline stapler and it's not okay because if they take my stapler then I'll set the building on fire." No matter the line, Milton will forever be a classic in Office Space history.

"Milton believed in everything he said. It wouldn't be funny if he didn't," Root says. "In order for comedy to be funny you have to play the truth of the moment. But if you're not being completely truthful to the basis of the character, its not going to be funny."

Since Office Space, Root has avoided being tagged as just a Milton actor. He has done voiceover work in Finding Nemo, as Bubbles, and is vocal star of King of the Hill in order to show his versatility as an actor. New roles are continuing to open its door for Root as he continues to form his acting capabilities. Despite not having a role as influential as Milton, he is still pleased with the course his acting life has taken.

"On particularly long days, you go, ah, it would be nice if you could go flip burgers for a half a day, but I always know how lucky I am to be in the business. 95 percent of the industry doesn't work. That's the facts jack. So, I am very pleased with how my career has gone. The next goal would obviously to get a much more serious larger role, and I hope I will get that someday. Hopefully someday it will click."

Next for Milton, eh, Root

Root's career just might have the opportunity to go to the next level
this year, as "Anchorman" with Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn, "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story" with Ben Stiller and Vaughn," and "Jersey Girl" with Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez all come out in 2004 with Root playing a role in each movie.

In Dodgeball, Root says he had a blast working with the packed cast.

"It was called 'Underdogs,' but they are having copyright problems. It's a comedy where a bunch of guys from Average Joe's Gym are about to lose the gym, and Vince Vaughn is the guy who owns the gym, so he and us decide to save the gym by playing dodgeball to earn money. It was such a blast. We are playing dodge ball and dancing around. It was great. We had a couple of weeks of dodgeball training and we continued to do it as the filming went on. It's pretty cool. All the dodge ball guys are great."

With big films coming out in 2004, Root expects to get even more for 2005, but even with his success, he warns up-and-coming actors of getting involved in the biz.

"Don't go into it. Don't do this unless you have to. Don't do it because you think it would be cool, do it only because you feel you have to," Root says. "It's hard work mentally to go out everyday. It's a life of rejection. You have to believe in yourself so much. Don't do this unless you feel this is what you have to do in life. And I say that sincerely. Do this because you love it, you have no recourse."

Even with those words of encouragement, rather disenchanting, Root has still put together a nice career, despite not being the most handsome guy in Hollywood.

"I offer the fact that I am not astonishingly handsome, but I'm ok in my niche," Root says.

© 2004 Lumino Magazine