Few people have had a more bizarre career in the entertainment business than Creed Bratton. He broke big in 1967 as a member of the folk rock band the Grass Roots, playing guitar on huge hits like “Let’s Live for Today.” He quit the group two years later, and his career and life went into free-fall. By the Nineties he was supporting himself by taking catering gigs on the sets of B-movies. Everything changed in 2005 when he landed a supporting role on the American version of The Office, playing a mysterious, wildly immoral weirdo also named Creed Bratton.
He never gave up on music, and this month he’s releasing Tell Me About It, a three-part “audio biography” about his crazy life of ups and downs. We sat down with Creed to talk about his music, his favorite memories from The Office and saying goodbye to the show that changed his life.
What was it like shooting the last episode of The Office?
We’d been working Saturdays and Sundays for two weeks to get this finale done. It was an epic shoot. We shot so much stuff. At 9 p.m. the wrap party already started in Culver City. The red carpet was going and nobody was there, because we were still working. We eventually got there, and then we ended up at the Chateau Marmont. We were there until 3 a.m., all toasting and hugging and crying and saying goodbye. The cast of The Office is my family now, literally and figuratively. I watched these kids grow up.
What was it like walking off the set for the last time?
It was emotional, but part of your body has gotten used to those changes, like the autumn, spring, summer thing. You know the changes are going throughout the seasons of The Office. Part of my body is saying, “I’m on hiatus. I’m not really off the show. I’ve got a couple months to relax, and then I’m gonna go back to work.” When my body says, “You’re ready to go back to work” and I don’t, then it’s gonna sink in.
Do they resolve Creed’s story in the last episode?
They do, they do. We’re gonna wrap a little ribbon around Creed. It’s pretty funny, and I hope the fans like it. I think they will.
Did you feel they didn’t use you enough on the show?
I kinda did for a while. I felt as an actor I had so much more to offer. But if you look at it, what do I have to complain about? My whole life has changed for the better. The lines they do give me are so great and memorable. So, the answer is no. I wouldn’t be here yakking with you if I hadn’t gotten on this show. Why could I complain? It would be silly.
Even scenes where you don’t say a word, I still chuckle at seeing you in the background. Just a slight facial expression makes me laugh.
I’m always in character, always doing that thing with the back of my eyes like a broken tuning fork. He’s like one of these guys that’s gonna jump off a building with a stupid pair of flying wings. You know they’re not gonna fly. So when the camera is going by, I’m the broken tuning fork that’s ready to self-destruct at any moment. That’s my B-story. That’s what’s going on in my mind, and I think the camera sees it.
Sometimes you only say a single sentence in an episode, but you really make it count.
Thank you. I’m sincere about that, since it’s a lucky thing to be able to do. Going back to your last question, imagine if they gave me a bunch of lines that were just sort of OK, sort of oatmeal-y with skim milk on it? Would you want that, or the knock-it-out-of-the park killer line? You gotta go for that. Gotta go for that.
Sometime’s it’s not even a line. There’s one where an opera record is blaring in the office, and they pan to you and a tear runs down your face. Another time everyone is puking and you’re shoveling pasta into your mouth.
Well, one of my heroes was Jacques Tati when I was in Europe. I saw these French movies, and I realized you could do so much without any dialogue. You don’t have to talk to convey meaning to people.
You can always see Solitaire open on your computer. Are you actually playing that while you sit there?
Yes! That all I can really do. I mean, I’m there checking my emails and talking to people and stuff. But when I get bored and there’s nothing to do, I’m playing Spider Solitaire. I’d like to play Mahjong and a bunch of other stuff, but Spider Solitaire is the only one cleared by NBC.
They film a ton more footage than you ever need for a particular episode, right?
Oh, they shoot hours and hours to cut down to 24 minutes. We always have over an hour, and they cut it down. They’re trying to super-size the finale. It’s going to be an hour, but they need to go 1:20 or 1:30 to make it an hour when you factor in the commercials. I hope they do that, because we shot a lot of good stuff.
Do you have a favorite Creed moment from the show?
It has to be, “I’m not offended by homosexuality. During the 1960s I made love to many women, often outdoors, in the mud and the rain. It’s possible a man slipped in. There’d be no way of knowing.”
I like when you talk about your mung beans.
Oh, the mung beans! “They’re very nutritious, but they smell like hell.”
It’s also delivered totally deadpan.
[Executive producer] Greg Daniels told me they knew they had something with me when I said “Which one’s Pam?” and “Is someone making soup?” That was after someone soiled Steve Carell’s office. He turns and gives me this great look . . . That pretty much was the one that did it right there.
And you never know the names of your co-workers.
Never. I will ad-lib all the time. They will have me in the script saying people’s names correctly since we have new writers that don’t know that little bit, so I’ll just change the names.
I heard Mindy Kaling once say that writing lines for Creed was the toughest since the character is so wacky.
Huh. I’ve heard other writers saying they want to write lines for me because they know it’s going to be funny. But I can see that. There’s no story there. No build-up. It’s just gotta come out of nowhere, pow! That would be difficult. Any actor will tell you that coming in for a one-liner is the hardest thing to do. You can talk for a while and get a rhythm going, that’s easy enough. But to just come out of nowhere, bam, it’s difficult. I’m not complaining, but it’s just difficult.
Everyone is wondering whether Steve Carell will come back for the finale, but I imagine you can’t talk about that.
I can’t talk about that.
Fair enough . . . Didn’t you just appear in that Lindsay Lohan movie about Elizabeth Taylor?
Yep. I was also in Labor Pains, so I have the dubious honor of appearing in two Lindsay Lohan movies! Oh, this is gonna kill me. Folks, don’t hate me for this! No, it was really great. In Labor Pains I was playing this really irascible character, this alcoholic writer. So I’m in character, and I had a walking stick. She’s walking right past me, and I poke her in the butt with the stick. It was unscripted, of course. Her handlers and everybody were looking at me like, “What do you think you’re going?” But she was fine with it.
Then we did Liz and Dick. I played [Hollywood producer and studio chief] Darryl Zanuck. People didn’t recognize me, but it was fun. I didn’t have any scenes with Lindsay, though.
You also just played Charles Sumner in Saving Lincoln.
Yeah, he got beat up on the floor of the Senate. It was brutal, and all the power brokers in the South, the money cats, they all sent that guy that did it a cane with a gold head on it. I researched the whole thing before we started.
On the first day, we walked on the set, me and Penelope Miller and Bruce Davison, and there was just a green stage, nothing there. There might have been a desk or a chair or something. We said, “Where’s the set?” The guy said, “Look in the camera.” There were 3D plates programmed in the camera. It had walls, windows . . . I think it was taken from the real pictures of the time. Just incredible. It looks a little jumpy at times, but they did a very brave thing. It’s worth seeing for that alone.
What was your role in the 1985 Cher movie Mask?
I played the ticket-taker who says, “You can ride, but I won’t be responsible for the retard there.” Sam Elliott says, “Sell him the ticket. Give him the ticket.” I turn and give him a badass look. That was my moment. My daughter had seen it with her boyfriend, and he didn’t know I was in the movie. He turned to her and says, “I hate that guy.” She said, “Dad, I was so proud of you at that moment.”
It’s nice that you’re getting these cool roles now and you haven’t been typecast as the Creed character.
Isn’t that great? Obviously, it could have gone that way. It would have been fine, but I was leery of that. Now I’m all over the place with different stuff.
You also finally joined Twitter.
I did. My assistant, Suzy, rules the account. Every day she says to me, “Twitter something! Twitter something!” If I don’t Twitter something, she’l put in where I’m playing or when my movie is coming up. I enjoy it, but I’m old and from a different generation. It’s just so foreign to me.
It’s sad to think that half the members from the original Grass Roots died in the last couple of years.
We lost Rob [Grill] and we lost Ricky Coonce. The only two left are Warren [Entner] and myself. I see him quite a bit. We’re still good friends.
Do you look back fondly on that period of your life?
Of course! It was the Summer of Love, 1967-1968. I was in a hit rock & roll band. It was amazing. Of course, Dunhill Records bent us over the sink, along with the Mamas and the Papas and Three Dog Night and Steppenwolf and everybody else. But you can’t be bitter about that because it hurts you. So I just let it go. I let it go.
Do you play guitar on “Midnight Confessions?”
No, none of us are playing on “Midnight Confessions.” I played on “Let’s Live for Today” and all of the Feelings album. “Midnight Confessions” is a great song, though. It’s kind of like prog rock, in a way. It’s got weird chords. People don’t understand how weird those chords are. We were a folk-rock band, but we went in a Motown-y direction there and somehow it worked fine. We were a pop factory, let’s face it.
Is there one moment that stands out in your head as the high point from your time in the Grass Roots?
Probably the first time driving down Sunset Boulevard, not long after I got my first Porsche. I turned on the radio and I heard “Let’s Live for Today” on four different stations. That was pretty amazing. I had to pull over. My heart starting beating so fast. It was pretty darn amazing.
The other was walking onstage at Oxnard when the song “Feelings” was on the charts, in the top 10. That was a song we had all played on, and the audience was singing along with it. As an artist, I felt fulfilled.
Let’s move on to your new album Tell Me About It. What made you want to tell your life in a three-act concept record?
I’ve been doing my live show for years where I do original material. In between the songs, I talk about how the songs came about and my travels through Europe and whatnot. I was thinking about doing an off-Broadway show that incorporated that stuff. And I was writing songs with a bunch of people, and my producer Dave Way said to me, “You know, this sounds like an audio biography. You’re telling the story of your life, the ups and the downs.” I realized he was right. We broke it down into three acts.
It’ll be available as a download and on vinyl if people want.
Walk me through some of the parts of the album.
It starts out when I got my first guitar and the elation that I felt. Then all of a sudden this stardom hits in my mid-20s, and then the downward spiral with the drugs and the alcohol and the unemployment lines and the crazy acid trips. There’s comedy in between, too. I have a comedy bit with P.F. Sloan. Rainn Wilson comes on at the end and does a bit with me about the Emmy Awards. It’s pretty funny.
Do you ever think about what might have happened to your life if you hadn’t landed on The Office?
I try not to. [Laughs] Well, I worked as a caterer into my 50s, and my back was hurting because I had to bend over to get things. I’d been doing stand-in work, getting bits on Bernie Mac. I was getting some lines on that show. So conceivably, something would have happened. I believe I would have found a niche somewhere in the acting world. But who knows? That’s a possibility that had The Office not happened, nothing would have happened.
Now that The Office is done, are you hoping to land on a new sitcom? Are you open to that?
I am, but I am not ready to jump . . . Everyone else seems to be jumping right into projects. If it’s right for me and feels right, I will do it. But I’m not . . . I’d like to just kind of be able to play some music and just do a couple of independent films, and then get back into it again. But if it’s a part that I know I can knock out of the park and make people laugh, of course I’ll do it.
It’s going to be hard to top The Office.
That’s a scary thing, to let people down. To do a standard sitcom would be a mistake . . . I probably wouldn’t want to be so far down the line in the cast, maybe the third or fourth banana, but nothing like the lead guy. Let the young guys do the heavy lifting.
I heard rumors a couple years ago about The Office staying on the air after the main cast left and carrying on with new lead characters, but keeping you and Oscar and Kevin and many of the others.
They didn’t do that because . . . I guess the talk is that some of the actors wanted to get out and not do it anymore, but they said they’d do one last year if it was the last year of the show. That kind of prevented some of us from continuing on. That’s OK, though. I thought we should have left when Steve Carell left, myself. I thought the show had hit . . . that was as good as it got for me.
Do you still think it was a mistake to carry on after he left?
No, not after this last season. We’ve done some really good stuff. It just took us a while to get our legs back.
How do you think the fans will react to the finale?
They’re gonna love it. They’re gonna cry. They’re gonna laugh. We’re gonna tie a big, syrupy, mushy bow around the whole thing and tie it all up. It’s gonna be great.
And TBS and other channels always show the reruns, so it’s really going to live forever.
Yeah, it’ll live forever. And we’re all in a really good position because of that. That’s another reason I don’t think people should rush into anything.
I take it that means you get points on the reruns.
We get residuals from SAG. We make a good amount of change from that.
I guess it’s not like the old days, where Gilligan didn’t get a dime for the millions of reruns.
They didn’t pay them anything! Even Lucy never got anything like that. But we get money from SAG every time it’s played, and it really adds up. It’s only on the second season in Ireland and England. It’s just starting up. So when I’m 80, I figure I can go over and capitalize on that.