When it was released 20 years ago, Office Space was something of a flop. It was a small budget ensemble comedy directed by Mike Judge, who at the time was only known for animated shows like Beavis and Butt-Head and King of the Hill rather than live-action films. But in the last two decades, the movie has become regarded as the seminal workplace comedy, a precursor to The Office (British and American), and a beloved cult classic.
In a new oral history to celebrate the movie’s 20th anniversary, Entertainment Weekly outlines Office Space‘s hilarious and hectic origins. But one really fascinating anecdote from the story is that Matt Damon almost played Peter, the film’s disgruntled lead character. At the time, Fox was pushing Judge to pursue Ben Affleck and Matt Damon shortly after Good Will Hunting, when they’d rocketed to instant celebrity status. Judge didn’t agree with that casting choice—telling his manager, “Peter doesn’t have star energy.”—but tried to get Damon on board anyway. As casting director Nancy Klopper told EW:
Mike agreed to go to New York and meet with Matt, who was a fan of his. Then Ron Livingston’s agent asked if he could audition. He’d been in Swingers and a few TV comedies, but wasn’t well-known.
Livingston’s audition blew them all away. I did a damn good audition,” he told EW. “I commandeered Nancy’s desk and started using her drawers, files and phone.”
Klopper FedEx’d Livingston’s audition tape straight to Judge in New York (this was the ’90s!). As Judge tells EW:
I asked the hotel for a VHS player. I called Nancy immediately. “I could make this movie today with Ron.” I met with Matt, who was really nice and liked the script. But I’d found Peter.
So Damon got beat out for the job before he’d even had time to audition. But the studio pushed getting a big star on board, and thankfully Jennifer Aniston loved the script. And the rest is history.