H. Jon Benjamin Talks 'Archer' Season Three

Thursday, 19 January 2012 13:32 Written by  Jordan DeSaulnier
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H. Jon Benjamin Talks 'Archer' Season Three

Even at the start of its first season, the FX series Archer had a clear, well-defined identity and an irreverent sensibility, but it was over the thirteen episodes of the second season that the animated show became one of the very best and funniest series on television, animated or not.  Created by Adam Reed, Archer takes place in the familiar world of espionage, following the unabashedly selfish, vain, libidinous, and inconsiderate staff of the International Secret Intelligence Serice (ISIS).

A talented voice cast that includes Aisha Tyler, Jessica Walter, Chris Parnell, Judy Greer, Amber Nash, and Reed himself all do superb work as the ISIS crew, but the honor of voicing the title character, Agent Sterling Archer (codenamed Duchess) falls to H. Jon Benjamin.  You might just recognize Benjamin from his Comedy Central series Jon Benjamin Has a Van or his appearances on Human Giant, Important Things With Demetri Martin, or Parks and Recreation.  While some folks might not be able to immediately identify him by his face, odds are they'd know his voice.  Benjamin's deadpan delivery has been featured prominently on many an animated series, from Adult Swim fare like Home Movies, Venture Bros., and Aqua Teen Hunger Force to Fox shows Bob's Burgers and Family Guy.

With the third season of Archer set to premiere tonight, January 19th, at 10:00 pm on FX, Benjamin engaged in a conference call with entertainment journalists from all over the place.  Throughout, Benjamin maintained his unique sense of humor, practically declaring his intent by mocking the moderator during his introduction.  Read on for the interview in which H. Jon Benjamin discussed the series, his relationship with Sterling Archer, obscure allusions, wearing black turtlenecks, and the perils of pretending to cry.

How do you balance all these projects and how do you differentiate, especially when you’re doing Archer and Bob’s Burgers, how different is it for you?

H. Jon Benjamin: Well, it’s a constant—tons of protein shakes and a very regimented workout schedule that keeps me energized. And the rest I just leave to my rabbi and my group of people who I consult with.

You’ve been the voicing Sterling Archer for quite awhile now, and I just wanted to ask what’s your favorite thing about voicing the character? What do you like best about him?

Benjamin: I like the way he looks. He’s handsome. That’s a big advantage. I’m not so handsome, and I like all the stuff I get to say, obviously. I like being rude, and it gives me a good opportunity to do that.

We just wanted go back to the beginning and find out how you got your part on Archer.

Benjamin: It’s not a great story. Adam Reed, the creator of Archer, God rest his soul [he's kidding, Reed is very much alive], he called me—I think he had heard me do some other work on Adult Swim Shows, and he called me to read the part. I don’t know if other people had been asked. I don’t know if I was first choice or like literally last resort—probably last resort, right? Right? So, yes, and then I accepted and then it worked out well. But I was tentative because I didn’t think I could pull off a spy. If you knew me, you’d know all the reasons why.

How did the Burt Reynolds thing come about?

Benjamin: Which Burt Reynolds thing?

In the season premiere.

Benjamin: Wait, he was in it?

Yeah, unless I had a dream about that.

Benjamin: Oh. Man, no one tells me anything about this …. That’s great. I can’t believe he’s still doing stuff. He should take a break. It’s been like 60 years. Like just stop. I think, they mentioned him—I think it was the natural—well, not the natural progression, but Archer’s obviously referenced Burt Reynolds a lot, so I’m sure it popped into Adam Reed’s head to just to try and cast him. It’s funny that I shouldn’t be calling like these people and you must think like they’ll never do it and then they’re probably like, “Of course, I’ll do it.”

I know with Bob’s Burgers that you said that there is a fair amount of ad libbing. How much of Archer do you get to do any adlibbing with?

Benjamin: Very little. There is not a lot of room. The scripts are tightly written and he encourages sometimes on occasion, he’ll be like do you want to add anything, and I’ll say no. So it’s not the same kind of production as Bob’s Burgers, which is a lot improvising all the time, but the scripts don’t really require it.

For Archer, it’s not really that apparent, but there’s a lot of yelling involved, which must get tiring at some point. So has there ever been a point where you want a few scripts which just has Archer whispering and not talking at all?

Benjamin: I would love to in parentheses …. Just once. It is, and I have to say, like I recently, whenever I finish—it’s not grueling or anything, but my vocal cords don’t recover for like a day after an Archer session. So they owe me. And it’s not like I’m at war, but it’s hard on the throat. But, yes, I would like to do … someday.

One of my favorite things about Archer are those hidden references like to “Bartleby the Scrivener” or “Lord of the Rings,” things of that nature. But some of them are pretty obscure like I have to bring up my computer and Google things while I’m watching.

Benjamin: Yes. I occasionally do as well.

That was my question is there anything—

Benjamin: Yes. There’s like a 50/50 ratio of me knowing and me not, but I’m always getting questions about that, and occasionally I don’t have the answer. I forgot to check. Fortunately, I’ve read some Melville, so that’s good, and some …, so I knew a couple, but there is some stuff like the guy who invented or who started eugenics—I didn’t know that was him. So I’ll oftentimes be asked, and the first season I always got the question about Jonny Bench or … that was said, which I did not know about him, or why—a lot of people asked me "Why did you say that?" Nobody knew, but it’s a relatively educational show.

That constant running gag on the show is Archer is continually deprived of being happy and his happiness. Do you think that Archer will finally get his happiness and what will that look like?

Benjamin: Well, I don’t think it would behoove the show for him to be happy, so I assume that will be avoided. I think, by nature, he’s like a troubled character, so I don’t think he’ll ever be happy, but I got asked this recently, and I think my stock answer was that if his mother died, I’m not sure he’d be happy, but it would change everything for him and maybe he’d be happy. So there is some, but I just think that his mother created a lot of problems.

Besides Archer’s strong jaw line and dashing good looks, what other qualities do you feel you share with your character?

Benjamin: Besides those. Well, obviously, personality wise, I can be a little shrilly, and that comes from the way I look and just having to go out in public is a struggle. So, yes, I think that my tension for anger and my general attitude—poor attitude—and failure to recognize authority and my sense of entitlement in my life and being American and white and rich, those things I share. And I drink a lot in real life.

How many situations have you found yourself in since Archer or any of your other prominent voice work where you’re in just some random spot and you get really weird stares become people recognize your voice?

Benjamin: It happens all the time in the steam room where I do most of my talking. It happens, actually, very rarely, obviously, because nobody cares. But, on a few occasions, I’ve been recognized for my voice, and it’s just kind of hard—you have to be really keyed into that. Like there has been an occasion where like I’m ordering a tea at the coffee shop and the person behind the counter will get excited like, “Oh my, ‘Archer’s’ voice is ordering a green tea.” But, that being said, very rarely happens.

So, now if you could tell Adam Reed anything as far as your hopes for your character, like if you could say, “Gee, Adam, I’d like to have my character to x—Archer do—” what would it be and why?

Benjamin: That’s a tough question. There is so much, obviously, like spy world stuff to explore and I’m sure he hasn’t gotten to all the possibilities yet. I guess I would want him to sing more, maybe. Maybe start a band, like a really bad blues band or something. You know like Jim Belushi style.

Why do you think that adults now are being attracted to prime time animated shows like The Simpsons, The Cleveland Show, and your show. Why do you think people are accepting it now?

Benjamin: Well, I don’t think it’s specifically been begging for acceptance. There have been tons of animated shows geared toward adults, I guess, in the last 20 years or something hasn’t there? I don’t know. I don’t think it’s any more part of the cultural fabric. I mean maybe because of the success of shows like South Park and The Simpsons, for sure, probably did start a reason to copy that formula because they were so unique. Then I guess because it was a very niche world before that. Not the whole world but adults who would read graphic novels or something like that. So in that world, I think it was pretty common and so it just sort of spun off. Now everybody. So I don’t know what I just said, but I think you’re right.

In the first season of Archer, the character was controlled by a microchip. The second, you had cancer. For 2.5 he kind of loses everything or he abandons everything and becomes a pirate, so is it just going to get crazier from this point on?

Benjamin: I think it does get crazier—not crazier, but there are definitely moments of pure craziness, as there always is, I guess, in the show. But I think, he returns back to his regular life, so he doesn’t go off the rails completely. The show gets back to what it did in the second season which is focus on all the characters who work for the spy agency and stuff like that. So he doesn’t have any more like crazy flights of—but they go to space. They get to go to space, but I think that was part of the mission, so it’s not like he was just like I’m going to go to space and take off.

Does Archer have any unfinished business with Barry Dillon, the guy who killed his wife?

Benjamin: Yes. Somebody actually asked earlier if, like who I’d want to see as a villain, and I think I’d want to see that character—he’s sort of the most prominent nemesis to Archer, but I, as well as the baby, I don’t think that character comes back as much after, but I’m not certain. I don’t remember, and I am sorry. I don’t think he comes back, but that character’s really funny and bionic.

We’re also wondering with Archer’s wardrobe preferences, I’m curious, how do you look in a black turtleneck?

Benjamin: It’s been awhile since my Bar Mitzvah. So, I’m in…used to be when I was 13. I can’t imagine I would look good. I don’t think anybody does. Archer does look good and maybe Sammy Davis Jr. looked good and a few more—Bert Convy, but I think nowadays it’s probably a huge fashion faux pas to be walking around like that, unless you like work at a club called Turtlenecks.

Do you just prefer doing the voice work or if you plan on branching more into live acting?

Benjamin: Well, we are waiting to hear if this Comedy Central show that I did [Jon Benjamin Has a Van] is going to get a second season. I hope that it does. I liked doing it a lot. But, you know, voice work right now is predominantly what I do. But it took a year to make that show, and it was a lot of work, but I enjoyed it,so I would probably like to do more stuff on camera, but with this, it doesn’t bode well.

Now the show does a lot of story arcs and then it does a lot of one-off episodes. Which do you prefer in terms of the story? Do you like singled-off stories or an overall arc going on?

Benjamin: I think it’s very successful when they try and do more longer arcs, but I don’t necessarily think it’s a detriment when they don’t. The television I watch is probably more story—more narratives. But I don’t know—Adam Reed is so good at crafting narrative threads that run throughout everything that like it’s kind of always a combination of one-offs and I guess it’s like any sort of really good sitcom where you start to love all the characters. He does such a good job keeping it vibrant. I’m sorry I said that—keeping it vibrant. I never wanted to use that. I never wanted to say those three words, but I think like when Archer got cancer and this sort of first of three-parter—those were really fun to do.

What was it like to have a little more of those serious moments like when Archer got cancer and when his wife was murdered. Was it a bit more challenging or was it something you were waiting for?

Benjamin: Well, it’s always sort of difficult to—I don’t know—I can’t discern anything about acting when you’re doing—there’s acting when you’re doing voice overs, but it was definitely strange to do that. It’s always odd when you have to like cry or something—like for real, when he was like, whatever—your woman dies or something and you’re crying. Like I’d always be was that terrible? It’s not like a movie, I guess, where everybody’s standing around and people are watching and you really got to do it. There’s something odd—very false about just standing in front of a microphone. So hopefully the cries are believable. I actually cry. I actually cried a couple of times.

Catch Archer's third season premiere tonight on FX at 10:00.

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