As I was looking for the right picture for today’s article, I came across someone else’s article declaring that Stephen Root is a national treasure. This is not wrong. He is an embarrassment of riches, to the point that I’m slightly ashamed that he still starts in my head as Mr. Jimmy James. Only first, though, because there are so many roles to choose from. Possibly dozens, though several of them are voicework, which by tradition I don’t do. And in fact he is the start of Coens Month here on Celebrating the Living.
I’m not sure he was the reason I decided to do a Coens Month—actually, I’m fairly sure the inspiration for it was in the next theme after this one, because there were so many people to choose from for the Coens. Root has done several memorable roles from them, though he’s never starred in one of their movies. I’m not sure he’s ever starred in a movie full stop; he’s definitely a character actor, with all that implies. But goodness if he isn’t one of the best in the industry.
Because okay, Mr. Jimmy James, insanely rich megalomaniac. But then there’s the second place I think of him, as the blind “radio station man” in O Brother, Where Art Thou? And the third, Milton of Office Space. From the Earth to the Moon. King of the Hill. Kim Possible. There is extremely little crossover on these roles, and we could all keep going. And my goodness but these are some distinct roles. You’d be surprised to discover they were all the same person, if you didn’t know.
And all that despite being, let’s be kind, a visually distinct man. You look at Stephen Root, and there’s no one who looks quite like him. And he’s got a distinct voice as well. No one sounds quite like Stephen Root, either. You cast Stephen Root, it’s because you want that particular look and sound—but within that look and sound, he can do anything. Simply anything.
We’re remarkably lucky as a society to have performers like Stephen Root, and particularly Stephen Root himself. To stand out on NewsRadio, all things considered, was quite a feat. He could walk into a room with Dave Foley and Phil Hartman and be the one who drew your attention, and that is one of the most impressive things you can say about a performer. I’m quite curious as to what he’d do with a leading role; maybe the Coens will write one for him soon.