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Stephen Root on His Comedic Role in Owen Wilson’s Paint

Apr 11, 2023


Stephen Root has left an indelible impression on American pop culture with his memorable film and television roles. Who can forget the mumbling and bespectacled Milton Waddams from Office Space? You’ll rue the day stealing his treasured red stapler. Root also achieved voiceover stardom in King of the Hill and sitcom success with the ’90s hit NewsRadio. He’s flexed dramatic muscles as a regular for the Coen brothers and can currently be seen in HBO’s Emmy-winning Barry. Root excels in bringing oddball characters to life.

Paint has Root starring opposite Owen Wilson in a hilarious satire of the legendary Bob Ross. Wilson plays Carl Nargle, a soft-spoken and bushy-permed PBS Vermont television painter who beds admirers in his old van. His reign as the station’s biggest draw comes to an end when director Tony Krut (Root) hires a talented new artist (Ciara Renée) for a competing show. Tony needs to boost ad revenue and Carl’s many interpretations of majestic Mount Mansfield aren’t driving up ratings.
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Root took the role as an opportunity to work with Wilson, who he admired since his debut in Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket. Paint was shot in a lean 20 days under strict COVID protocols. Root and the experienced ensemble thrived in the fast-paced environment. They deliver big laughs on a schedule that only allowed one or two takes per scene.

Paint’s portrayal of Carl Nargle as a whispering lothario doesn’t sully the revered Bob Ross. Root sees the film as a “tribute” to Ross and goofy ’70s culture references. The actors stuck to the script but did improv on occasion for humorous effect. Tony’s firing of Carl in the second act will have you laughing out loud with its dry and understated humor. Root delivers the bad news in classic fashion with a gentle touch but comically sly delivery.

A Special Place with Carl Nargle

IFC Films

MW: How do you go to a special place with Carl Nargle? Why play Tony in this film?

Stephen Root: I’ve done a very small part in another Owen Wilson picture and love working with Owen. I’ve been a huge fan of his since Bottle Rocket. So the fact that he was going to do the lead character in this was an easy yes. Also, at this point in my career, I say yes to really good scripts as opposed to anything else, and I thought this was a really good one, even though it was a first-time film for Brit [McAdams]. He’d had it in gestation, shall we say, for 13 years, so he knew exactly what he wanted to do. He put together an incredible team of actors and production people, and if anything else, Owen’s hair is a separate character.

MW: Bob Ross is revered and loved. You’re parodying him here. What can you tell our audience to expect?

Stephen Root: I think you have to put it in terms of a tribute to Bob, as opposed to being about Bob himself. Obviously, physically, Owen is representing him, but I think the spirit of the film is very old-timey. It’s got the ’70s van, ’70s hair cut, the ’70s clothes, and even the town in Vermont is very ’70s. So I think what Brit is using of the Bob Ross milieu, as I say, is that sense of old-timey peace in the Northeast, you know? I think he’s using more of a tone than anything else.

Related: Paint Review: A Hilarious Satire of Bob Ross

Tightly Scripted

IFC Films

MW: The scene with Tony firing Carl in his office reflects one of my favorite things about your acting, that subtle “F you,” like, “Hey, we like you, but we don’t really like you.” Talk about building that particular scene?

Stephen Root: I think it was pretty tightly scripted. We did, throughout the film, change some stuff and do some improvising, “Where are we going to do it?” We ended up doing it in the office, and I’m really glad we did because it felt very constricted for Owen. That’s my lion’s den. Even though I’m going to smile and look you in the face and tell you, “You’re so great — you’ve gotta go.” I just think the constrictive space helped that scene.

Stephen Root: But gosh, we had so much fun doing it, but you have to realize we did this in 20 days for the whole thing. I was up there for maybe a week and a half, two weeks. It’s just boom, boom, boom, you’re here, and you’re done. It’s maybe two takes a piece, so you had to be ready to go and prepare. And Brit obviously was, because he’s had his thing for 13 years on his head.

Related: Stephen Root’s Best Performances, Ranked

Filming During COVID

MW: What’s the best and worst days shooting Paint?

Stephen Root: The bad was COVID, because we were doing it during COVID and that was hard. Any kind of thing that I filmed during COVID was difficult. You have to separate people, and you had to separate the actors from the crew. The only time you saw the crew and were talking to them was just when you are on set and doing something with them. That was a separation that I just hated so much during filming, that was bad.

Stephen Root: But the good was being in a bubble with these great people. Because we could work every day and go back to whatever hotel or motel we were staying in. Gather in a bubble in the front room and have a glass of wine, and still have a lovely time. So the good and the bad, I guess, was COVID. It forced us to be together.

Paint is currently in theatrical release beginning April 7th from IFC Films.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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