It’s been a decade since Mike Judge, the soft-spoken creator of animated TV hits including Beavis and Butt-Head and King of the Hill, took his first foray into live-action with the subversive workplace comedy Office Space.
At the time, Judge, 46, was already writing the movie he considers a natural companion piece: Extract, in which an embattled boss, played by Jason Bateman, struggles to save his flavor-extract factory and his marriage after a series of dubious decisions leave him on the brink of ruin. As the film’s Sept. 4 release date approaches, Judge doesn’t seem the least bit nervous – he’s confident that making movies like Extract is what he was born to do – but he’s quick to admit it almost didn’t happen.
“The success of Office Space was the sweetest thing in my career because it was such an uphill fight for me to get it made,” he says with an audible sigh. “The studio didn’t want the music that I wanted, the gangster rap, and they didn’t want half the cast. Then when it came out and tanked [at the box office], you could just hear the chorus of ‘I told you so’s.’ The fact that it became a hit on DVD was a real vindication.”
Discouraged by the initial failure of his live-action debut, Judge shelved Extract and moved on to Idiocracy (2006), a comedy set 500 years in a dumbed-down future in which the Fox News Channel is the world’s only news source. The irony? Test audiences complained that Idiocracy was too extreme a departure from Office Space, and the movie was unceremoniously buried by its distributor, 20th Century Fox.
This time, Judge wasn’t taking any chances. He owns Extract and knew early on he wanted Bateman to play its beleaguered protagonist, whose professional ups and downs reflect the director’s own experiences as the Beavis and Butt-head boss.
“I’ve had so many jobs over the years, Office Space was told from the perspective of the workers,” he says. “When Beavis and Butt-Head happened, suddenly I was the boss of about 30 to 90 people, and that’s where Jason’s character comes from.
“It’s tough being the boss. If you’re too nice, people take advantage of you. If you’re too harsh, they hate you.”
While some might regard Judge’s more management-friendly follow-up as a mellowing of sorts after watching him savagely skewer soulless corporate types in “Office Space,” the director argues he’s always been fairly mellow, even back in the early ’90s when Beavis and Butt-Head was arousing the ire of conservative pundits like Michael Medved as well as Democratic senator Fritz Hollings, who famously blasted the wayward morality of “Buffcoat and Beaver.”
Judge professes love for all his creations – and, for the record, he has no plans for an Office Space sequel, though he was tickled when Fox asked for one and remains satisfied that he made the movie he wanted to make despite studio meddling – but he still considers Beavis and Butt-Head his proudest achievement to date. They’re the incorrigible twosome he never gets tired of.
That doesn’t mean he’s ready to commit to a big-screen sequel to 1996’s Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, though he seems much more open to that prospect than another Office Space or a feature-length take on King of the Hill, whose final episode airs on FOX on Sept. 13.
“The other night Beavis and Butt-Head were on Spike TV at midnight,” he says wistfully, “and I just kept watching. I still think of different scenarios to put them in, and sometimes I wish the show was still on the air so I could explore their universe more.”
“I’ve been approached about doing a live-action movie based on those characters, and I think it would be funny to see them in their 50s or 60s, just these two dirty old men. I’ve had some pretty funny drawings of them as old men, just sitting around on the couch, smoking cigarettes and watching videos. And I still love doing their voices.”