Exclusive Interview: Mike Judge

By Katey Rich 2009-09-07 19:04:58discussion comments
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I never realized what an impact Mike Judge had on my life until I sat in a room with him. With Beavis and Butthead he shaped half the pop culture references of my middle school years, and in late high school and college Office Space became the kind of litmus test of cool-- if someone gets the TPS report reference, they are worth your friendship.

With Extract, Judge seems set on defining another kind of phase of life, the suburban, midlife ennui that's been fodder for serious satire for ages, but which Judge pokes and prods with the same wry curiosity he's shown in all his other work. We spoke about the movie and his career last week, before Extract opened, talking about the intense marketing campaign Miramax had executed on behalf of the film, why he might not tackle another animated series after, and why he keeps putting himself in cameos in his movies, even though he always thinks it's a big mistake.

Miramax has given this movie a lot more promotion than Fox did for your last movie, Idiocracy. How has that been for you?
It's great. Actually they're doing more than I even thought. I'm seeing ads on TV a lot, I haven't had that in a while.

Is that good or weird?
It's good, because most of the ads I like. On Office Space they did some ads I wasn't crazy about, so when I'd see them on TV I'd cringe. I really liked the theatrical trailer they did.

Did it bum you out not to be filming Extract in Texas?
In some ways. But we had such a great crew, and it was such a great experience, that I wasn't sitting there going, God, I wish I was in Texas. [With both Office Space and Idiocracy] I planned so I would be shooting in the fall or in the winter, and both times it just delayed delayed and then [started filming] smack dab in the middle of summer. This was the same thing. It wasn't so bad. It's hot in L.A. too, but not like Austin.

You seem to like the hands-on nature of working in live action.
They're both hands on. The thing about animation, once it becomes a show and there's just tons of people drawing it, it's hard to get it to look [perfect]. Beavis and Butthead I drove everyone crazy. It just didn't work if it was drawn in the traditional [way]... I liked it to look all over the place. [In animation] someone can just go draw a really goofy stupid smile on somebody's face. In live action, at least you know when you shot that scene and you got a good take, it's there, nobody's going to screw it up later. But also, you can't go draw the perfect character you want. You have to find the right actor. It's a little bit of both.

I like animation. I like just messing around with it myself. I still do that sometimes, just to experiment around with something. It hasn't happened in a while. I'll get an idea and just fooling around, animate a little cycle or something, just trying stuff out. I like doing that. But I don't see myself launching a whole new network series.

Do you feel like, after King of the Hill, you're burnt out on doing an animated series?
As far as just launching a series, yeah. If that happened again, it would be because I started with some small little experiment, homegrown, and then it turned into something. I could see that happening. That's the way I started out, really.

Would an animated movie be easier in that way?
I don't think an animated movie could ever be easy. The only one of those I could see doing is another Beavis and Butthead movie. I actually really [enjoy] stuff in CGI animation, I wouldn't mind playing with that at some point. I like that. But again, they take so long. But live action, especially the shoot, it's really intense, long, hard hours. You're sitting there, you've got like a half hour, hour to get a scene, you can never go back to fix it. It's now or never. If you don't get it to work, then it's there wrong for your grandkids to see for years. Whereas with animation you get a lot of chances to fix it, work on it.

Can you talk about putting yourself in that cameo role in Extract?
How does everybody know I was in it? I was hoping no one would recognize me.Yeah, both with that one and with Office Space, I was on set going, 'Oh god, what am I doing.' I don't know how Woody Allen does it. I was really glad to do the part in Office Space. Both times I had read a lot of people. The part in Office Space, I had written in a very late rewrite, because we were getting very close to shooting. To me it was pretty simple, he's this guy who just wants her to wear a lot of flair but doesn't want to say it, he's just kind of a prick. So I just though, I could probably do this myself. I was kind of doing an imitation of an orchestra conductor I had. In this one it was the same thing, but I made the mistake of when someone asked 'Are you going to play a part?' I said 'I don't think so, but maybe if I was it would be the guy with the big mustache.' Then I think they weren't trying as hard to find somebody .They railroaded me into doing it.

Is it hard being on camera and directing as well?
Yeah, I'm having to tell people to do stuff, and I come out with a big mustache. It's hard to have some authority when you have this ridiculous outfit on.

Kristen Wiig and Ben Affleck are the most unusual casting here, because they're both doing different things than usual. How did you pick them?
With Ben, my casting director just said, 'So Ben read the script, and he's interested.' I said, 'Well no, Jason's doing it.' They said, 'No he wants to play Dean.' He just really liked that part, because it reminded him of this guy he knew growing up. He started just kind of channeling this guy and telling stories and imitating him. I was imagining him with long hair, one of those guys shaking his hair out of his eyes. We did a read-through of the script, and he and Jason I just thought were so good together. It was becoming better than what was on the page I thought.

And Kristen, she's almost like a female Peter Sellers or something. I'd seen her do stuff on Saturday Night Live, [but] because she was such a chameleon, she came in and read with Jason, and I didn't recognize her. Then later, down the line, I started to realize, oh wait, you're the--. That's kind of embarrassing, I should really know this. She's low-key, she's quiet, you're having a conversation, and suddenly she'll just say the funniest thing. It'll catch you off guard. Then there was some concern that she was so good in sketch comedy that people would be waiting for her to bust into Suze Orman.

The next project you've got planned, the Arthur Conan Doyle thing Brigadier Gerard, sounds really different for you.
To me, style and content or whatever are just completely linked. I write a certain way so the style comes from what I'm writing. That one I think I'm going to produce. I think to direct something, it's just about seeing what's in your head and getting it onto the screen. I like all kinds of movies, I think I could make different ones. This character to me is kind of like Clouseau. When I was working on the script for the Beavis and Butthead movie, I went back to those. I'm not putting it on that level, but those movies, the character is just a dumbass, so he can't plan for things to happen to him. It's kind of the same thing. I think Brigadier Gerard is kind of like that. But I would probably just be a producer on that.

But you think you would be able to direct something that you didn't write?
Yeah, I could definitely consider doing that at some point. I think that whatever that was, it probably wouldn't be another workplace comedy. There's a lot of other stuff that I like that I think would be fun.
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