Mike Judge sketched out the cycle: In his 1999 debut feature Office Space, everyone worked in closed-off cubicle farms. In his HBO show Silicon Valley, everyone has open seating plans. Twenty years later, do we kind of want our cubicle privacy back?
Wednesday night at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas, Judge, along with Office Space cast members Ron Livingston (Peter), Gary Cole (Lumbergh), David Herman (Michael Bolton), and Ajay Naidu (Samir), looked back at the making of the film and its unexpected shelf life. In a Q&A moderated by Richard Linklater, they discussed how, even though Office Space is known as a “Texas” or “Austin” movie (and is being inducted into the Texas Film Hall of Fame on March 7), Judge actually wanted the film to be nondescript enough to be anywhere—which included license plates with no state on them. Early on, Herman wanted to acknowledge the real star of the movie: the braided suspenders John C. McGinley’s character wears.
I hadn’t seen Office Space since college, and had totally forgotten its opening (and still resonant) scene of stop-start traffic hell in Austin. It was one of the first of many scenes that drew claps and woos from the crowd, which anticipated every joke and new character appearance. Seeing Office Space again, in the midst of media layoffs and tech-world scams, some parts certainly are outdated—landlines, clunky computers, a scam built around the looming year 2000 bug. But you can see its spirit in shows and movies that came after it: The Office, Workaholics, Corporate, Silicon Valley, Sorry to Bother You. When Peter made the speech about how “human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day,” the crowd—which included Geto Boys’ Willie D and Kinna McInroe, who plays Nina—erupted.
But Office Space almost didn’t have Livingston as the lead. Judge explained that the studio, 20th Century Fox, coming in hot from Titanic’s success, apparently wanted Ben Affleck for the role of Peter, which Judge declined. The studio head also wanted the character of Peter to “smile more” and didn’t really understand why so much rap music was in the film. However, a test audience of young people did; they got the cubicle struggle.
Asked where their characters would be in 2019, Cole said Lumbergh would probably be on the “same chemical” that kept him blissfully just above flatlining in the film. Peter would not be an engineer, but Michael probably still would. And Samir diversified his assets.