… James Urbaniak, Actor
Wasn’t the guy who played Rolf, Dwight’s best friend in “The Office” episode entitled Company Picnic, a dead on match for Dwight? Did you say to yourself, “I bet that actor could have played Dwight”? Well, it could have happened!
After the Season Five finale, ScrantonBranchOffice.com caught up with James Urbaniak, who played Rolf, and got his feedback about the episode, Rolf’s possible future, his work on the episode and a lot more!
ScrantonBranchOffice: Could you please tell our readers a little about yourself and how you got your start in “show biz”?
James Urbaniak: I was born and bred in New Jersey. After high school I spent a couple of years at a local community college called Brookdale where I took acting classes and did a ton of plays but never graduated. Around that time I also started taking part-time classes at a well-known acting school in New York called HB Studios. I studied with a great old character actor named William Hickey who plays the old mob boss in “Prizzi’s Honor”. I related to Hickey because he was a skinny character man like myself. He was full of showbiz stories; those classes were very entertaining.
After my time at Brookdale and HB, I spent about three years working in an office in New Jersey and doing community theatre at night. In the mid-80s I met a theatre director named Karin Coonrod who lived in Asbury Park and was in the directing program at Columbia University. We ended up co-founding a theatre company called Arden Party and in 1988 I moved to New York City to run that company with Karin. I acted in all the shows and did everything else: raised money, painted sets, designed the posters, etc. I temped in offices during the day to survive.
I worked with Arden Party exclusively for about six years during which time we carved out a pretty good reputation. I went on to work with many other small, off-off-Broadway theatre companies and one thing led to another and I started performing off-Broadway and eventually Broadway. Meanwhile, I had met the independent film director Hal Hartley who cast me in a movie called “Henry Fool” in 1997 which pretty much jump-started my film and TV career. Since “Henry Fool” I’ve made a full-time living as an actor doing everything: theatre, TV, movies, voiceovers, commercials, etc. Two years ago I moved from New York to L.A. to try to concentrate more on film and TV work.
SBO: You’ve done a lot of television including a role on the recent series “The Starter Wife” and many know your voice as that of Dr. Venture on “The Venture Bros.” What path led you to the Office Universe in the role of Rolf – Dwight’s best friend?
JU: Amusingly enough, when the Office pilot was first being cast several years ago I auditioned for the role of Dwight. I was so psyched about that audition that I came in sporting a Mackenzie Crook “Gareth” haircut (the Dwight character from the original British series). The audition went well and I was called back but told that for the second audition I needn’t worry about looking like Mackenzie Crook. Which made sense. So I went in again, with my hair a little more normal, and did the callback. Needless to say I didn’t get the part which was a bummer at the time but when I found out that Rainn Wilson got it I thought “Well, Rainn will be great.” We both ran in the same New York theatre circles for years and knew each other.
Anyway, I moved to L.A. in 2007 and Rainn, who unlike Dwight is a all-around mensch, recommended me to The Office’s casting director, Allison Jones, who brought me in to audition for Rolph. (The character was spelled “Rolph” in the script but is spelled “Rolf” on the IMDb and many other places. So I’m not sure which is correct at this point.) I read the Rolph scenes for Allison (including the immortal line “They’re gonna wipe their asses with your serves and piss all over your faces!”) and later that day I got the call saying I got the part. I started shooting the next day. So several years after auditioning for the role of Dwight I got to be Dwight’s unleashed id, which would be one way to describe Rolph (or Rolf).
SBO: How do you feel about playing a quest role that seems to so instantly become a fan favorite, and being in the mix of the Dwight and Angela saga?
JU: Well, it’s great. I thank the writers, they wrote a really funny character. He sort of out-Dwights Dwight, if such a thing is possible. Rolph inserts himself quite deliberately into the Dwight-Angela saga which certainly gets him noticed by the other characters and the viewers. The last time I got such a response from a TV guest shot was probably when I played the foot-fetishist shoe salesman on Season Two of “Sex and the City.” I still get recognized from that.
SBO: Other guest actors who have appeared on The Office mention how wonderful an environment it is to work in. Do you have some favorite moments with the cast and crew of the season 5 finale you’ve appeared in – either on camera or behind the scenes?
JU: The atmosphere on that set is fantastic. Relaxed, funny, collaborative, it’s really an actor’s dream set. My first day there John Krasinski came up to me to tell me what he fan he was of “The Venture Brothers.” Then a couple of days later he came up to me and rather sheepishly asked if I could leave a voicemail for a friend of his in the voice of Dr. Venture. I was happy to oblige and later that day John showed me an email he had gotten from his friend after hearing my message. It said “No f*^$ing way!!!” It was kind of Bizarro World: to John Krasinski and his friend, I was the celebrity. Everyone on that set was really nice. I spent a lot of time chewing the fat with Creed Bratton who is my new hero. Creed and Ed Helms play guitar/banjo duets on the set. I wish they’d come to every set I work on and do that.
SBO: What future projects do you have coming up that the fans can look for you in?
JU: I just got a fun, recurring part on “Weeds,” I’ve shot one episode so far. I’m in a couple of movies that will be coming out eventually: “Drones” and “Hello, Lonesome.” We’ve recorded half of Season Four of the Venture Brothers. And some friends of mine and I just shot a pilot for a webseries I created called “Right Jab, Left Hook,” which is a comedy about a subject dear to my heart: political bloggers. Check my Twitter page for details! (@JamesUrbaniak)
**SBO Bonus Question!!**
If someone were to climb off a desert island and only have time to watch five tv shows to learn what American television is all about, what five tv shows (Of all time) would you show them?
JU: I’d try a chronological survey of the last 50 years so I’d go with “Father Knows Best,” “Sesame Street” (first season),”The CBS Evening News” (circa Watergate), “Knight Rider” (80s, duh) and “The Sopranos.”
Many many thanks to James for taking some time out to share with the Office Universe. Be sure to look for the new season of Venture Bros. and everywhere else you may see James pop up!