What’s so interesting about Gary Cole is that he can play it all, without changing his appearance. Save a few minor costume alterations (suspenders, after all, really do go a long way), the man almost always looks the same, yet his characters are wildly diverse. From the shady FBI agent to the low level Chicago thug, from a guy to one of comedy’s most entitled douchebags, there is no end to the satisfaction I get from Cole’s work.
A Simple Plan (1998)
But there’s more going on here. Though, fully highlighting the subtitles of Cole’s performance would ruin the movie. What’s important is this: A Simple Plan is a masterful little film that deserves to be seen by everyone. And Cole’s performance is an chief reason why.
One Hour Photo (2002)
Interesting, then, that Cole is responsible for One Hour Photo’s most devastating moment, when he fires Sy Parrish (Robin Williams) from his job as a photo technician. Too many extra photo prints have gone unaccounted for, and Bill has to let Sy go. Thing is, this job is Sy’s life, literally. So firing him is, in effect, killing his will to live. It’s a delicate scene that Cole plays with perfect apathy… the way a guy would.
Cole is no stranger to extended arcs on popular television shows (perhaps his stint as The West Wing’s Vice President being the most popular), but his work as Andrew will always be my favorite. Rags to riches to rags, in all its pathetic glory.
The Last Rites of Joe May (2011)
Dennis Farina, never better) goes to Lenny begging for some work, Lenny makes it a point to openly prey on Joe’s humiliation. But Cole doesn’t deliver Lenny’s smugness with hyperbolic glee; he’s far more understated than that. Instead, he lets Joe sit and suffer in his own self-pity, occasionally offering a word or two about how Joe is no longer cut out for this kind of work. Cole’s is a brief role (the film is really Farina’s show, and it’ll make you miss him dearly), but he does wonders with the little time Lenny is given.
And then something interesting happens. Just as the film is about to conclude, it curiously gives Lenny one final moment. A moment that I like to call a “huh” moment. Not “huh” like a question, more like, “Huh, that was actually perfect.” You know the one. It’s that little grunt of satisfaction; of knowing that the film simply couldn’t end any other way. Huh.
The Best of the Best
Office Space (1999)
One of the reasons Office Space continues to live on is that everyone involved completely owned their roles. Absurd though they may be, the players kept their mumbles and stutters and exaggerated “Yeaaaaahs” intact throughout. Very few of the performers in the film are actually going for the joke. Most, like Cole, are playing it straight and letting the audience do with it what they will. Initially, the joke appeared to be on the filmmakers, as Office Space bombed with audiences and critics when it was released. Now, try to find a person who can’t quote the flick endlessly.
Whenever I watch Cole’s hilarious performance in this film, I’m reminded that it really shouldn’t have worked. Yet it does, almost miraculously. It’s one of the most iconic comedic performances of the ‘90s; a performance so confident and ridiculous, that the mere sound of the first half second of (several) voicemails is enough to send us over the edge with laughter. Gary Cole’s work will be remembered long after we’re all gone, but Bill Lumbergh will live forever.
Other Notable Roles
In the Line of Fire (1993)
The Brady Bunch Movie (1995)
American Gothic (1995–1996)
From the Earth to the Moon (1998)
The Gift (2000)
Family Guy (2000-2014)
The West Wing (2003-2006)
Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! (2004)
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004)
The Ring Two (2005)
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)
Pineapple Express (2008)
Desperate Housewives (2008)
The Joneses (2009)
The Good Wife (2010-2013)
True Blood (2011)
The Chicago 8 (2011)