Cole Enjoyed His 'Talladega Nights'
'Office Space' vet played it funny by keeping it real
"It was pretty clear to me what they created -- any bad choice and any irresponsible way of looking at things was the best way to go," Cole notes of the character conceived by writer-director Adam McKay and writer-star Will Ferrell. "Anything that was wrong, short of violence, was a good choice for Reese Bobby. Anything that was not nurturing, was uncaring and was short-sighted was the way to go."
Cole's "Talladega Nights" character is both a warping force and a mentor. On one hand, his drunken advice "If you ain't first, you're last," crippled the development of son Ricky Bobby (Ferrell), a talented but self-destructive NASCAR driver. On the other hand, Reese returns to Ricky's life in time to help resurrect his career, with the help of some planted drugs and a cougar. No stranger to playing over-sized characters in movies like "Dodgeball" and "A Very Brady Sequel," Cole gets laughs from Reese's paternal failings, but never goes into caricature.
"I played it for real," Cole explains. "There's no comment from me about the character. They wrote a very real character even though it's broad in a comic way. The center of the guy is a very real, flawed person. You kind of have to start there to get anything -- comedy has to come from some kind of reality or some level of reality. Sometimes it's very broad, but it still comes from somewhere that's truthful."
And if playing the character from a truthful place wasn't working, Cole could just tap into his scruffy facial hair for inspiration.
"All my performances are hair-based, it seems," he laughs. "Wigs have been very kind to me."
He continues, with a modicum of seriousness, "We arrived on a really good look. They threw a beard on me at first and that looked like makeup, it looked like a beard. So we had a little bit of a progression. We started with a cowboy hat and shaved and then they threw a disco wig with a moustache that was not great. And they threw another wig on that was more mileage and had some gray in it. And then I just didn't shave and then they built a moustache on top of that, so it looked like he just crawled out from under a rock."
Cole is talking from the set of "Forever Strong," one of two independent films he's shot in Utah this summer. One of the industry's busiest character actors, Cole has moved fluidly between regular television gigs (TNT's "Wanted," most recently), voice-over work ("Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law," most notably) and film parts. He says that when he's recognized, 90 percent of the notice comes from his turn as Bill Lumbergh in the 1999 cult favorite "Office Space," but he admits that if there's a formula to finding that kind of phenomenon, he hasn't found it.
"The more you do it, you realize that the philosophy is that you show up, you do it, you do the best you can and then you walk away," he says. "Everything else is up to somebody else in terms of how they digest it, what they think of it, whether it's good or bad. You move on to the next experience. There's no point in 'What if-ing' everything. I've been around long enough to know that you just move on and if it works, that's great, that's gravy. If it doesn't? So what. The next thing will work."
"Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" is now in theaters.