Interview: Stephen Root on Character Actors, Specificity, & THE MIGHTY ONES

The beloved character actor lends his pipes to the second season of The Mighty Ones, which premieres this Thursday, July 1st on Hulu and Peacock.

By: Jun. 29, 2021

Interview: Stephen Root on Character Actors, Specificity, & THE MIGHTY ONES

You most likely know Stephen Root's face, and you most definitely know his voice.

The beloved character actor lends his pipes to the second season of The Mighty Ones, which premieres this Thursday, July 1st on Hulu and Peacock. The Emmy-nominated actor plays Bernard, a frog.

In every backyard exists a secret world filled with tiny creatures, and The Mighty Ones follows the hilarious misadventures of the smallest of them: a twig, a pebble, a leaf and a strawberry. Living in the unkempt backyard belonging to a trio of equally unkempt humans - who they mistake for gods - these self-proclaimed Mighty Ones are determined to live large and have fun in their wild wonderland, despite their diminutive stature.

In season 2, the misadventures of The Mighty Ones continue as they explore their backyard wonderland and learn more about the strange creatures they share it with. A flood forces the group to live as pirates searching for dry land, Rocksy dabbles in a home makeover, and Very Berry makes a new feathery "friend" who may or may not see her as food. These mighty little beings are relatively fearless, a little misguided and always have each others' backs come snow, wind or any atmospheric phenomenon that threatens the yard they call home.

BroadwayWorld had the pleasure of talking to Root about his long career in theatre, TV, and film - Root even reveals when the next season of Barry is scheduled to start shooting.

Read the full interview below!

Just to get this out of the way, I'm a huge fan of yours. You're so much fun to watch on your own, and you're especially fun to watch as a scene partner. I know a lot of the time voice actors aren't recording in the same room - how do you keep your performances fresh? Where do you find scene partners when no one else is in the room?

That's a good question. You do have, though, a director - someone who will read with you. It's mostly through the director's reading, if you're alone, that keeps your performance fresh. It's always better to be with people, but during COVID, you maybe could have a couple, or maybe three people, in a room, but that was unusual. Anything during COVID was pretty much all by yourself, so it was a good director's job to really keep it fresh and do different performance.

How was COVID for you? I mean, it was terrible for everyone, but how was it for your career? How was working remotely?

Yeah, I was doing an on camera show that was supposed to start literally the day everything shut down. We're gonna start that up again in July, but, you know. I would say the first - March through December, I really didn't work except for a couple of voiceover things where you would go to a studio and you would be the only one there, and you'd finish your read or whatever and they would air it out for half an hour and clean it. But that was few and far between - the voiceover jobs. And no on-camera work for COVID.

But then, by late December and early January, it started opening up a little bit. I felt comfortable doing work - a day or two on something. I didn't really want to do two weeks in Atlanta or somewhere. I would do work here in L.A. - that was what kept me going. And then, the last couple of months have been fairly busy.

Voice actors always tell me they love to do it because it allows them to kind of transcend a physical form. Can you speak to that?

As an actor, you're not just using your voice - as a voice actor. You're using your whole body to be the character. I'm always in character, physically and vocally. It's almost kind of replaced theatre for me, because it's easier to do. You don't have to book out a month. And I love theatre! I came up through theatre for many years in New York. But now, I do more film and TV work, and it's easier for me to do more of an outrageous character you'd never do on camera, but you can do in a voiceover.

It's never just your voice! You have to be more specific with your voice, but your body should be into it to be in character while you're doing it.

Do you ever apply what you learn voice acting to your live action roles? Vice versa?

Specificity, I think, really. Because before I was doing a lot of voiceover, you could get - vocally - a little lazy. And I think doing, like, thirteen years of King of the Hill made me be very specific about voice. And that translated over, certainly, to on-camera work - to be better heard. It's not like theatre where you're projecting to the back of the room, but you can be clear and specific both ways. And that's helped me on camera, I would say.

You mentioned King of the Hill - thirteen years on that show!


It's amazing.

We saw babies born, we saw people pass. It was like a family thing.

In terms of your brain and how you work, what does a longterm project like King of the Hill look like for you as compared to something more short term like The Mighty Ones?

It's not hugely different, because as long as you're happy with where you are character-wise - if you're kind of nebulous about that, you're not going to have a solid base. But I felt like, even with The Mighty Ones, I knew exactly what they were thinking about for this frog! And it was fun to create that, because it was more of a throwback to something I don't get to do very often.

So, on a longterm animated show, you just get deep. As in anything, even in a long-running TV show, you get deeper into the character, and the backstory. It's a richer experience.

Coming up as an actor, who were the people you looked to for inspiration?

I always looked to the character actors of the '30s, '40s, and '50s films. I would want to be Frank Morgan in The Wizard of Oz, who did five roles in that. Those kind of guys. I loved that - I loved Peter Lorre. I loved all the people who were sometimes the reason you'd come back to a film - it wasn't because of the lead, it was because of the interesting character actor. You know, Struther Martin. Something like that.

Those were the guys that I wanted to emulate. I wasn't interested in really being a lead guy - though a lot of lead actors are character actors. Gene Hackman is a character actor who's the lead, Dustin Hoffman is a character actor who's the lead. But it didn't matter to me as long as the role was interesting.

I would say really good character people from the '30s to the '50s, and then a few beyond that.

I feel like you can draw a direct line between those kind of actors onscreen and theatre actors. You mentioned you have a theatre background - can you tell me a little about that.

I got out of the University of Florida - I did their Bachelor's program, and I was fortunate enough to get a job right from college to New York. It was a traveling Shakespeare company. We would put up three plays in a twelve person company. You were always playing multiple roles, and we were on a Trailways bus, zooming around the country for nine months, playing many different-sized houses. There'd be a community college, and we'd play one show. And then the same show, you'd play a 5000-seat house at West Point.

So, it was always a different show. That's where I got most of my really good experience - those years doing that on the road. Playing multiple characters and everything else.

And then, after I left that tour, I stayed in New York, and did the typical off-off-off-off-off-Broadway stuff, and finally off-Broadway, and then finally Broadway. I did a couple of Broadway shows, and then I did the national tour of Driving Miss Daisy with Julie Harris. And that was a two-year commitment on the road

By the time I finished that, I was in L.A. doing the show - a three person show. And, you know - you're gonna see me if you're a casting agent! There's only three people in there! So I thought that was probably a good time to come, because you're not just a body. You've actually seen the work.

And then you kind of start from the bottom! Even though you've done Broadway, you start with doing guest roles on sitcoms, and dramas - L.A. Law, Roseanne. I did a lot of those, and finally got to be a regular on a show called NewsRadio. Then I started doing a lot more TV.

That's an amazing trajectory.

It's a long one! When I think back on it, it's crazy. But it was doing character work, you know? You'd come in and do your little bit. This whole family was set up on any show you were on, all the L.A. Law people had their own family thing going. And you were a guest. And then you came in, you did the best you could, and then you left.

It was a very gypsy-like existence. It wasn't much different than doing a different show in a different place every night.

So you have this incredible, long career built over time, and all these amazing credits and amazing people you've worked with. My last question for you is: when people come up to you and recognize you, what are they most often recognizing you for? And do you have a project that you love to be recognized for above all others?

It's almost always either Dodgeball or Office Space, depending on how old you are. There's a lot of people who actually recognize my voice from KING of the Hill - they'll stop me, like, wait a minute, I know that voice.

I'm very proud of the show I'm on now called Barry, and I'm proud to be recognized for that. But it's so different for different people. You'll do a movie that you've forgotten about from twenty years ago, and then somebody will say, "Oh, my favorite part of that movie is when you did this and this and this!" You never know with people what sticks with them.

But I think I'm probably proud of people recognizing me from the Coen Brothers movies [O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Ladykillers, No Country for Old Men, and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs].

Well, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me. And - for the record - I think Barry is the best show on TV. It's just a thrill to hear your voice.

Thanks a lot - I think we're starting up Barry again next month, so I hope you'll continue watching that!

The Mighty Ones premieres this Thursday, July 1st on Hulu and Peacock. Check out the trailer here:


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