Stephen Root and Chode (inset) Stephen Root and Chode (inset)

Familiar funny man Stephen Root is Tripping the Rift, as he has been on the animated Sci Fi Channel series (Wednesdays at 10 pm/ET), but this time Chode and the gang are in glorious DVD splendor. (Season 1 hits stores this week.) What is Tripping the Rift, you may ask? And what does it have in common with the 9/11 Commission report? chatted with Root about that, his Office Space legacy and much more. OK, so sum it up for people who haven't seen Tripping: Who are you, what are you and what are you doing?
Stephen Root:
[Laughs] I would have to say that Tripping the Rift is an R-rated Star Wars-type extravaganza. I'm a purple-tentacled ship captain who is a total reprobate, with gay robots and sex slaves — all the kinds of R-rated fun that you can have on the Sci Fi Channel. It's beautifully, digitally done. They do a gorgeous job with it, and we're just having fun doing it! But what is Chode?
Root: Well, the literal translation is not for publication, really. [Laughs] It's an actual part of your anatomy close to your nether regions. And I was lucky enough to have it for a name! But he's your basic reprobate with a heart of gold. And Gina Gershon plays android sex slave Six.
Root: Well, we had Gina, but now we've got Carmen Electra [who took over as Six in Season 2]. Gee, it only gets worse, right?
Root: [Laughs] Yeah, it's so tough. I actually did a couple of sessions with Gina the first year, but we record separately now, so I haven't seen Carmen. But I've worked with her on King of the Hill, so I know her. I guess Tripping the Rift has been flying under the Parents Television Council radar, eh?
Root: Yeah, I think so. It's on late enough, so.... Unlike American Dad, which you have also done and which made the PTC's latest "10 Worst" list.
Root: Well, I wouldn't doubt it. It's kind of an adult show. Fox has kind of put all their money on Seth MacFarlane. I hope it works out for them! King of the Hill is family fare, and American Dad isn't. The Tripping DVD packaging has a critic calling the series "a cult item in the making." You're no stranger to that, having been in Office Space.
Root: I was just going to say, I seem to have been "cult boy" for the last few years. [Laughs] Which is great. People seriously love [Office Space], and you can't fault them. Will passive-aggressive office drone Milton Waddams be your legacy?
Root: Uh, strangely, yes. I'm hoping that people will see me in another light, but I think it's easily the most visible thing that I've done. Hopefully this thing I'm doing now will give me a little more visibility in another direction — I'm playing Richard Clarke in a 9/11 piece. Very different fare. How has that been going?
Root: We've been shooting since July. It's a six-hour ABC May sweeps miniseries, so it's a bear. I'm just about finished — I have a couple more scenes to do with Harvey Keitel on Tuesday, and then they go to Morocco to shoot a bunch of terrorist stuff. It's going to be huge. We're literally running four cameras at all times, shooting super-16 and digital and film.... We've gone well over a million feet of film. It's the most expensive miniseries ever, in terms of film. This is the project based on the 9/11 Commission report?
Root: Yes. It starts with the '93 bombing and follows the backstory of the terrorists, the backstory of Richard Clarke and how he and John O'Neill from the FBI came to the same conclusion that Bin Laden was funding everything, and it goes through to the day of 9/11. It's huge in scope — 250 speaking roles, a totally international cast.... Penny Johnson Jerald (24) is playing Condi [Rice]. [Laughs] I just did a couple of scenes with her yesterday. Everybody is great. And Carmen Electra as Osama!
Root: [Laughs] No, Carmen isn't in this one. I started watching Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, have it saved on my TiVo. Is it true that the second half turns into a Merchant Ivory-type tearjerker?
Root: That's exactly what happens. Yes, it becomes a very serious film. I loved NewsRadio, where you played station owner Jimmy James. Do you feel it was underrated?
Root: I think it's still underrated. I think it was one of the best shows on TV in terms of the cast and the writing. We were under the radar, trying to do the best show we could do. NBC moved us around, but it didn't really matter to us. We knew it was special. It kind of got the "workplace sitcom" bandwagon rolling.
Root: Yeah. Strangely enough, it was actually going to be called "The Office" in the beginning. We said, "No, no, we won't let you!" Wouldn't it be a wonderful, worlds-colliding event if Milton popped up on NBC's The Office?
Root: [Laughs] Yes, it would. Steve Carell is... God, I think he's fantastic. They're all amazing. But no, as far as I know, there's nothing [in the works]. It's a character [Office Space writer-director] Mike [Judge] loved doing and he certainly didn't want to do it again — and that's great. It's a little jewel. Actually, an expanded version of that DVD should be coming out pretty soon; we did do commentary for that. And there are at least three scenes that got cut, including a Milton scene. You have a recurring gig on The West Wing....
Root: Yeah, I'm going to do another one next week, actually. I'm shooting this miniseries with white hair for Richard Clarke, getting it dyed the next day, and then I'm on the West Wing set with my normal hair. Are you in the live Nov. 6 episode? Can we trust you to be?
Root: Oh, I would think! I did 10 to 12 years of theater before I ever did film or TV. I was in New York in the mid-'70s through the '80s. I would love that. But I haven't heard yet. I don't know whether I'm in it or not. What type of fan encounters do you have?
Root: It depends on where I am. In L.A. it's all Milton, all the time. In New York I get more for NewsRadio. And down South I get people talking about King of the Hill. It really depends. Here in Toronto I have white hair and nobody knows who the hell I am!