Starting the 4th season of BARRY on HBO MAX this past Sunday, I was reminded of the genius of one of our best character and supporting actors of the past 30 years. To give a little background, BARRY is a show about a hitman and ex-military soldier who tries to change his life by taking an acting class. The show is not one of my favorites but is completely watchable due to its bingeable 30-minute episodes and is loaded with memorable characters like Anthony Carrigan’s NoHo Hank and Henry Winkler’s Gene Cousineau. But one of the key supporting characters is Monroe Fuches, a sociopathic and manipulative handler who organizes hits for lead character Barry Berkman while engaging in a long-term schizophrenic relationship with him. Who else could inhabit this complicated character other than the indominable Stephen Root?
According to IMDB, Stephen Root has been in 273 television shows, movies, and has voiced many different cartoon characters. Starting out mostly doing guest appearances on television shows like ROSEANNE and HOME IMPROVEMENT or having small parts in movies like BLACK RAIN, Stephen is the story of a person who worked his way to respectability. The first things I specifically remember him in was as Captain K’Vada in STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION covered in Klingon makeup. Another early performance was as the school counselor Gary Murray in BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. Working around the edges of Hollywood for years in bit parts, Root finally landed a part in a wonderful mid to late 90s TV show, NEWSRADIO, as Jimmy James, the often hilarious and ruthless owner of the radio station. With an ensemble cast loaded with talent (Phil Hartman, Dave Foley, Andy Dick, Joe Rogan, etc.), this show brought Root’s talents out into the spotlight.
So why is it that an actor like Stephen Root who has never really been the lead actor in any film or television show come to my attention? There are three primary reasons for my adoration of him.
First, Stephen Root can do almost any role. Do you need him to be a frightening cult leader? See THE EMPTY MAN. Due to an expressive and emotive face, he can be intense and hilarious within seconds of any scene. His character Gus Lacey in THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS is a great example of his intensity or playing the real-life corrupt Department of Justice middleman Gaston Means in the television show BOARDWALK EMPIRE with a perfect Carolina accent whose opinions greatly fluctuate depending on your money and influence. He can also tear at your heart while simultaneously being hilarious like he was with one of his most famous characters and present-day meme Milton from OFFICE SPACE.
STEPHEN ROOT AS MILTON IN OFFICE SPACE
Second, Stephen Root does every type of genre (Comedy, Mystery, Psychological, Historical, Drama) and every type of television show (Comedy, Thriller, Science Fiction). In fact going over his incredible IMDB profile, I have seen him in at least 70 different productions. He works with some of our best directors including memorable cameos with the Coen Brothers (In movies like OH BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, and THE LADYKILLERS). Director and creator Mike Judge has used him for some of his most famous and significant roles including the aforementioned Milton and as the voice of Bill Dauterive, the fat and depressed neighbor to Hank Hill during the 13 seasons of KING OF THE HILL on FOX. Kevin Smith has used his talent in RED STATE, JERSEY GIRL, and the recent animated reimagining of He-Man in MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE: REVELATIONS. He even has had memorable comedy roles in Ben Stiller films like DODGEBALL: THE TRUE UNDERDOG STORY where his character Gordon becomes an unbeatable player when his rage is triggered.
Third, when Root shows up in any production, it automatically brings a smile to my face. Despite the incredibly diverse number of characters he plays, there is still an aspect to his performances that makes him easily identifiable. He can mask and hide himself in any role but because it is Stephen Root, I still recognize the actor behind the character. Was I happy to see him appear in the awful BOOK OF BOBA FETT? Hell yes. His appearance as Bill Krogstad in CEDAR RAPIDS immediately brought that surprisingly solid movie some extra reputation points. Hearing him voice the corrupt and ruthless sperm whale Jeremiah Whitewhale in the brilliant BOJACK HORSEMAN allowed a one-note character to have much more depth than he probably deserved. There is just no way you can possibly hate Stephen Root.
I hope that this short analysis will help you appreciate an actor who is never the lead character, but always a supporting one. A gentlemen who can improve almost any production just by showing up for a handful of minutes. And if you are not familiar with Stephen Root, just watch a movie or television show on your streaming services or inside a movie theater. It won’t take long until he pops up again.
Stephen Root in OH BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?
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