Gary Cole, who currently stars on “Veep” as Selina Meyer's senior strategist Kent Davidson, is — for those who've been keeping track — one of the most eclectic and slyly kooky performers alive. The 58-year-old actor netted his first major nomination last year (an Emmy nod for guest-acting on “Veep”), but his career has been a long, ascending spiral of dead-eyed caricatures and commanding dramatic roles. His august screen presence suggests a comfort playing white-collar blowhards, but that's the magic of Gary Cole: He's absolutely comfortable playing anything. That's pretty astounding when you realize he's played everything.
Interviews with Cole, including ours from 2014's PaleyFest below, reveal that he's not a Crispin Glover type who's as unnerving (and nervous-making) as many of his signature roles. In fact, he kind of seems like a milder version of Kent. Perhaps it's his education at Illinois State University alongside fellow thespian veterans John Malkovich and Laurie Metcalf that set him up for a life of shape-shifting, but however he's achieved it, Cole's range is startling and thrilling.
Let's celebrate Cole's work with glimpses at a few of his personae. We've waxed poetic about “The Brady Bunch Movie” before, but it must be said again: Cole managed to locate and recreate Mike Brady's charm while hyper-inflating his dimwittedness. It's so nonchalant that an Uncanny Valley effect comes into play; it's like Robert Reed is back, except this time his eyes are crossed and his tongue is forked.
“Office Space” might be the most quotable film of the late '90s, and Cole's performance as Bill Lumbergh is a huge reason for it. That snide, confident prick who smiles politely as he ruins your corporate life? Cole made him a riot.
Here he is in “In the Line of Fire,” where he starred alongside his old colleague John Malkovich. He's gritty and straight-faced in a way that foreshadows his work as a cool presidential confidant on “Veep.” Let this also serve as a reminder that Clint Eastwood was performing stunts in his sixties.
Ah, “Midnight Caller” — arguably the first TV show to know that the craze of talk radio was legitimate. Check out how even-keeled Cole is as that emcee. He manages to be a completely conventional protagonist who's never boring.
Naturally his most cherished roles are the battier ones. As Ricky Bobby's father Reese in “Talladega Nights,” he's a rootin'-tootin' southerner who teaches his son to conquer his fears by driving with a live cougar. If we've learned anything from this role, it's that Gary Cole can make unabashed absurdity still seem organic.
And finally: In a continuation of the silk-voiced radio host he played on “Midnight Caller,” Cole voiced “Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law,” a Y2K-era revamp of an old Hanna-Barbera cartoon hero. In this iteration, Harvey's a lawyer alongside a few other characters from “Birdman and the Galaxy Trio.” Cole's ridiculous patois basically encapsulates everything great about Adult Swim, where the show eventually ended up: It's nutty, but accomplished.
What's your favorite Cole role?