SANTA MONICA, California — In the eyes of Mike Judge's fans, he's 4-for-4. In the minds of studio executives ... well, God only knows what kind of hamster wheel is powering their brains.
"Everyone thinks they can define commercial, but they can't," the writer/director shrugged when he stopped by our studio this week. "Even though 'Beavis & Butt-Head' and 'King of the Hill' have made a ton of money, somehow I don't get thought of as commercial."
Most recently, Judge's brilliantly subversive "Idiocracy" was essentially dumped to DVD, with studio 20th Century Fox apparently forgetting the embarrassment they'd suffered after similarly burying Judge's beloved "Office Space" in 1999.
"After 'Office Space' hit the theaters, it pretty much bombed. ... They were like, 'OK, well, he just needs to do something more commercial,' and of all the ideas I had, 'Idiocracy,' which was back then called '3001,' was the only one they said, 'That's commercial, that's the one you need to do,' " Judge recalled with a grin. "By the time 'Idiocracy' was at the test screenings, these kids in the mall would say, 'Hey that's pretty funny, but we thought it was going to be something like 'Office Space'! So, that's the irony of it all — ['Idiocracy'] was supposed to be the commercial one."
Following on the heels of "Idiocracy" (dumped), "Office Space" (ignored), "King of the Hill" (canceled repeatedly) and "Beavis & Butt-Head" (censored, recut without his permission), Judge is ready to launch the next stage of his career with a new studio, production company and live-action movie.
" 'Extract' is the working title — I'd written it a long time ago, actually, like seven years ago or something, and when I first saw 'Arrested Development' on DVD, I just thought, 'Man, this is the guy, this guy is really good,' " Judge said of Jason Bateman, his recently signed lead actor for the film. "He's able to be funny and likable, and just be the rock that holds everything down while there's all these crazy characters around him."
Judge is also busy these days promoting the return of "The Animation Show," a traveling cartoon party about to once again tour theaters nationwide and come to DVD June 3. The eye-popping series has helped numerous young animators get the same sort of break that gave Judge his start in the early '90s, and the writer/director is proud to keep in touch with his cartoon roots.
Judge envisions "Extract" as an evil-twin sequel to "Office Space," but now it's the boss who has a bad case of the Mondays. "He's the owner of a company that makes vanilla extract and orange extract, and that kind of thing. 'Office Space' was sympathetic to the employees, and the bosses and the managers were the a--holes. This one is sympathetic to Jason Bateman's character as the owner, and all the employees are the a--holes. ... It's another workplace comedy."
Judge will make "Extract" with Miramax through his new company, Ternion Productions, and this time he's been awarded every director's dream: final cut. "I won't be able to complain. It will be my own fault," he laughed.
He's currently casting the film and would like to bring back old "Office Space" chums Gary Cole and Stephen Root. "I would have loved to just keep writing ['Office Space'] scenes and just keep working with these guys. It was just really fun," he said of the scene-stealers. "I haven't figured that out yet."
"These are different types of characters, because it's a factory setting and there are a different type of people that work in those places," added Judge, who once worked in factories as well as cubicles back in the day. "[I just wrote a scene] that will be one of the lamest attempts at an employee walkout ever. It just falls apart right in front of Jason Bateman, because no one has the guts to pull it off. That's going to be funny. There's a B-story of Jason Bateman's character trying, in a drunken state of mind, to hire a gigolo to have sex with his wife, so he doesn't feel guilty about doing the same thing, and that all falls apart. He wants to [cheat on his wife].
"There's not quite as many speaking roles, but it's gonna be a lot of character-actor-type stuff," he said, comparing the flick to his "Office" cult classic. "So I'm just gonna look around, like for 'Office Space.' Just do a lot of casting and have people come in and read for it."
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