‘The First Time’: Actor Stephen Root

Character actor talks Perry Mason reboot, working with the Coen Brothers and his beloved roles on Barry and NewsRadio

Longtime character actor Stephen Root is no stranger to acclaimed HBO series, having already appeared in Barry, True Blood, Veep and Boardwalk Empire. His next role for the network: A gig on HBO’s gritty Perry Mason reboot. In this installment of Rolling Stone’s The First Time, Root talks about his film debut, many of his beloved characters — Fuches on Barry, Jimmy James on NewsRadio, Bill Dauterive on King of the Hill — working with the Coen Brothers and his latest role.

“I had always known the original show Perry Mason from the Sixties, because as I said, I’m ancient,” Root said. “And Raymond Burr, always loved him as an actor. One of our producers said, ‘We’re gonna do this Perry Mason show, but we’re gonna set in the Thirties before Perry Mason is a lawyer, when he’s an investigator, and it’s going to be a period piece.’ And I said, ‘That’s really interesting. Sign me up for that.’”

Root has long portrayed offbeat characters, a trend that began at the onset of his career: After a bit part on the soap opera One Life to Live, Root scored his first big screen role as a crazed doctor in George C. Romero’s 1988 horror film Monkey Shines.

“I had never done, obviously, a movie. I had just done a little TV. So my manager made it very clear: You don’t tell them that you’ve never done a movie,” Root said. “So I went in, got the job… And I was so green.”

In the First Time, Root also talks about auditioning for Joel and Ethan Coen. Following his iconic role as Milton in the cult comedy Office Space, Root soon found himself recruited by the Coen Brothers, who cast the actor in O Brother, Where Art Though?, the first film in a now-two-decade collaboration with Root; the actor would join the directors’ go-to ensemble, appearing in their The Ladykillers, No Country for Old Men and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.

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