Mike Judge has a special ability. Whether it was in his recently cancelled series TV , or his first major motion picture , he knows how max out on of the mundane. It doesn’t matter if it’s animated or live-action; he applies a surgical, dry wit to the commonplace and cuts its soft white underbelly wide open. His characters, ranging from Hank Hill to Boomhauer, Milton to the Bobs, emphasize how absurd the everyday world can be.
His latest effort, falls squarely in this second camp.
“I kind of feel like this movie is sort of a follow up to ”, says Judge. “I based on my own experiences working in the cubicle world, and I based a lot of this on my experience being a boss and running what was basically an animation factory on .
“I think when you go from complaining about the man keeping you down, to becoming the man, you realize that being the man is no picnic either. At one point a while back I considered doing a sequel to , but I wouldn't do one now. Since that movie came out there have been two great TV shows, the British and the American one, and dozens of commercials set in cubicles, so I kind of feel like I wouldn't want to go back to it at this point.”
Instead, Judge retooled his original concept by setting it in the blue-collar environment. The owner and founder of a successful food flavoring factory, Jason Bateman, is having second thoughts about his life. All his employees are ne’er-do-wells, malcontents or both, he has extreme difficulty being in the same apartment with his wife, and the onset of becoming middle aged is just not sitting well.
Then three key events throw the familiar ennui into the shredder. The first is a series of unfortunate events that puts one of his best employees into a litigious situation. The second is a major food manufacturer is willing to pay more than Bateman’s extract company is worth in order to own it. Finally, a truly cute grafter, played by Mila Kunis, realizes the first two events could be steered into her first major score. This incredible trifecta will leave one truly sour taste in Bateman’s mouth.
Judge gives a lot of credit to the film’s success to Bateman.
“I started writing this a long time ago, I think it was shortly after came out. I originally wasn't thinking of any actor in particular, just writing it. Jason had done and I always liked him. When I saw him in , I thought he would be perfect for this, and when I rewrote it and finished it, I was imagining him as the lead. Jason was the first actor I gave the script to and he said he liked it and wanted to do it, so it was him from the get go.”
Two other actors Judge gives a lot of time to are Ben Affleck, who plays Bateman’s best friend, and Clifton Collins Jr., who plays the injured worker, Shep.
“I love Clifton and have wanted to work with him for a while,” Judge admits. “I just never had a part that was right for him. I actually hadn't thought of him for this part either. He usually plays a Chicano gangster or a serial killer, so I hadn't thought of him, but then he walked into the room with a trucker hat on, and suddenly he went from looking like a Chicano gangster to Festus from Gunsmoke. I love him as a redneck. He also makes a great Romulan. He's a true chameleon. Now he's a big award-winning country music video director also, with Zack Brown Band.
“I think Ben had a lot of fun doing it, and it was a blast for me to work with him on it. I really liked what he did. I had never met him before this and when I heard he wanted to do it, I was surprised at first…pleasantly so. Then when I met with him, he started telling me about a guy he knew growing up in Boston and he started imitating him and I just thought it was great. We did a read through of the script early on and I just loved watching him and Jason do these scenes and play off each other.”
Yet at his core, one thing that remains consistent about Judge is his focus on working people and the absurd ordeals modern society can put them through.
“That's pretty important to me because I've worked these kinds of jobs,” says Judge, “and I remember feeling like Hollywood was sometimes out of touch with us, and always appreciating it when it felt like a movie or TV show got something right…like there was someone out there in Hollywood who understood what most of us go through. I also used to feel like a lot of characters in movies and TV seemed to have endless cash and free time and you either didn't know much about their job or they didn't seem to have one.
“Finding humor, while still having some dignity to the characters, is something that is also important to me. I don't think about it that much; I'd like to think it comes naturally. To me it's just like when I would sit around with my friends telling stories about people I work with and doing imitations of them and that sort of thing.”
So does this mean Judge is abandoning animation? From the sounds of things, it looks like he is taking a break. What is known is he and partner Don Hertzfeldt are working on their fifth The Animation Show tour. Cities it will go to are already starting to post on their website, www.theanimationshow.com.
“I think they're more similar than you might think from the point of a writer/director. I liked animation when I was just doing short films myself,” he admitted, “doing everything myself. That was really satisfying work; making a film one frame at a time, getting it back from the lab and watching it for the first time. That was about as good as it gets I think. “
But branching out is on Judge’s agenda too.
“I would definitely like to do a live action TV series,” he admitted. “I don't know that I would do another feature-length animated film any time soon…unless maybe it was a CG project. Actually they are pretty similar approaches. You can actually get pretty cinematic in TV animation I think, as has done. I think I never got too cinematic with just because of the nature of the show and the characters, not really because it was animated.”
Otherwise, comes out on DVD next week, and Judge feels pretty proud of it.
“There were some similarities from when I worked in a factory, but I probably got more inspiration from working on where I felt like I was running a factory and having to deal with all it's employees. It was a Butt-Head factory basically.”