It would be nice to believe that Milton Waddams is a singular creature, unique among other things that walk or crawl on this planet.
Unfortunately, the pimply, food-stained, mumbling outcast from Office Space — who wears glasses so thick they should see through time, and clings to his red Swingline stapler the way a baby clings to a blanket — may actually be more common than we’d like to believe. “Have you ever been to Comic-Con?” laughs Stephen Root, the actor who brought him to life in the 1999 comedy. “I think you’d find there are more than a couple.”
(Okay, Comic-Con guys, before you get all offended and start throwing 20-sided die, he was just joking. Have a laugh at your own expense, fellows.)
If there’s one thing the recent EW reunion of the cast of Office Space brought to light, it was general empathy for Milton’s sad situation — even if he wasn’t the most appealing gentleman. “[We] wanted him to be a guy who didn’t wash much. He wore the same tie everyday. It was completely stained,” Root says. “These are guys who live in their space, and don’t like to come out. He’s one of those guys.”
Like the other hopeless clock-punchers at Initech, Milton is warped by the smooth indifference of suffocating manager Bill Lumbergh (played with “umm, yeahhh” perfection by Gary Cole). As the boss-man repeatedly forces Milton to move his desk until he finds himself in a dungeon-like storage room, Lumbergh’s friendly-faced bullying makes him all the more insufferable. “To me, all that started from the baby boom generation, the hippies,” says writer-director Mike Judge. “Everybody was suddenly too cool to say, ‘Hey Milton, move your desk!’ Instead it had to be, ‘Hi… what’s happening, yeahhhh… if you could just go ahead… ’ It started with ‘We’re the laid back ‘60s generation; we’re not that ‘50s boss. We’re gonna be cool,’ and it turned into ‘Yeeeaahhh, hmmmm ….’ The ‘yeah’ that means ‘no.’”
With the recession still pulverizing the American workforce, Root recently learned of a real-life Milton, suffering a similar fate at his job. “This film is so up do date, a friend of my emailed me, and he works with some real corporate a–holes, and said literally one of his bosses moved another guy into a storage room,” Root says, shaking his head. “He asked, ‘Please, would you mind sending him a stapler?’”
On Twitter: @Breznican