DANGER ZONE: A Conversation With ‘Archer’ Star H. Jon Benjamin

By January 10, 2014
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It’s a beautiful time to be alive. We’re two weeks into a new year, the sun still rises every day, and FX Network is continuing to deliver the goods to viewers everywhere. Season 5 of “Justified” just premiered, “American Horror Story: Coven” just delivered its 10th episode, and coming next week is the premiere of the new season of the hilarious animated spy program “Archer.” If it sounds like I have a mad crush on FX, it is probably because I do.

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of sitting in on a conference call with the voice of Sterling Archer himself, H. Jon Benjamin. The conversation touched on everything from the show’s new direction this season, to the origins of the character, H. Jon Benjamin’s continued work in front of the camera, and more.

On the show’s new direction this season:

Well, I think there’s a lot of changes and a lot that stays the same obviously, but I think Adam Reed probably got very drunk one night while he was writing on his computer. I mean I’m not exactly sure why is the real answer, but I assume it has something to do with wanting to kind of change the environment a little bit. But, the good thing is the characters are pretty much the same dynamics. They’re the same. It’s just more confusion, more of the same confusion.

The first episode really defines the whole change of what’s going on in the season. We haven’t finished recording the whole season yet, so there’s more to come. So, I can’t really pick the favorite except for the first one, which I think is a real—I don’t know if you’ll be shocked, but you’ll be hopefully duly surprised. So, be prepared. It’s really fun to see what happens to ISIS.

On his own reaction to the series change: 

We all went to the briefing room, the briefing chamber underneath the briefing room and no, for the last couple of seasons, he’s had very kind of high concept ideas. So, I think he tells everybody individually. I don’t think we’re ever all in the same room for anything. So, yes, like last season with the “Bob’s Burgers” crossover, I think he had called me to tell me about that. So, I was forewarned about this change. But then, when he told me in detail what was going to happen, I was thrilled. I mean I loved the idea. But in fairness, I couldn’t reject it. I couldn’t say, “Don’t do that.” I don’t have that kind of power.

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On the influences in creating the Sterling Archer character: 

It wasn’t really based on anybody in particular, any celebrity. I think I had the initial idea to make him—try and portray him as suave, but I couldn’t really do that. So, I just played it by ear. I mean I kind of pictured him in a tuxedo a lot like James Bond. I just don’t embody that. I can barely get into a tux. Everything is odd fitting lately. Yes, I just kind of played him as a very hyper-aggressive version of me. So, it really had to kind of be me. “Archer” was, I think, initially inspired certainly from Adam Reed’s perspective. I think he wanted a spy version of “Coach McGuirk.” So they share a lot of traits. Well, they both drink a lot and just Archer has a lot more physical talents.

On which characters from his past he’d like to have in another crossover episode:

Wow. I suppose Katz or something, or maybe like Jason from “Home Movies” should walk by, but all grown up now. He’d be like 18 now. That would be fun, to see him grown up.

On the biggest challenges he’s encountered in voice acting: 

Well, it was very hard initially when I first did it, but that was like a long time ago. It’s hard to be sort of physically restrained. I mean I’m not tied up or anything, except on occasion from the night before. Well, whatever. That’s a little bit difficult when I started, but I guess I’m just kind of used to it now. I’ve been doing [it] for so long. I get kind of used to just working alone in a booth. But at first, it was definitely odd. I remember feeling that way, like how do you negotiate this. Like can I yell?  Like am I too loud? Yes, so there’s a lot of like natural restraints, like being extra careful, which I wouldn’t do in a live performance.

On his working relationship with Loren Bouchard and Brendon Small:

I work so closely with Loren still. Brendon I haven’t worked with since “Home Movies.” So, I mean he was great to work with, but with Loren, I certainly read that he’s made the claim that he won’t do a show without me. I’d hold him to that. I don’t know how many more shows he’ll do, but it’s great working with Loren. We sort of started together doing what we do now. So, it’s been a pretty parallel trajectory. Loren started at editing my improvisation for “Dr. Katz.” Now, he’s making his own shows and I’m still doing the same thing. So, he’s really progressed. I’m just still doing the same thing. So, now I’m mad. Now, you’ve got me angry at him. But yes, I’d always be happy to work with Loren. He’s very passionate about what he does and that’s really a good foil for my dispassion.

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On his interest in pursuing more on camera work :

I do on camera work when I’m asked to do it. So, yes, I have no problem with it. I’ve worked on live shows of my own and I’m working on one now. Hopefully, you’ll see me in that. So yes, I don’t rule it out. I just rarely get asked.

While on the topic of on camera work, he spoke briefly about “Icelandic Ultrablue”:

That was unfortunate. I loved that show. I wish it had gone further. So, yes, that’s one of my big regrets besides having a son. No, I like him. But, “Ultrablue” was great. We made it. They aired it for like a month, I think, at 4:00 in the morning and they just never made more. We were excited to make more. I think people were confused. That was our essential request to Adult Swim at the time, which was to not peep a word about what it was or who made it, or any information about why it was there in that landscape at that time, which is not a huge sell for a network. Maybe that’s why. We tried to not—in good part, they did sort of do that, but they didn’t continue with it.

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But, we knew that once it had aired, we would give it away and then people would just enjoy it for what it was. But, people didn’t kill themselves, but I think there was a lot of like, “What the hell is this? Where’s the ‘Squidbillies’ rerun that I want to watch” or whatever. So, there were a lot of angry e-mails to Adult Swim and a lot of it was confusing. I think at 4:00 a.m. when you’re that high, you really don’t know what’s going on anyway.

On why he thinks “Jon Benjamin Has A Van” failed and which one celebrity he’d want on Cash Stall:

Well, I guess I’ll answer the latter first. Cash Stall celebrities, it would have to be male I feel like just out of respect. I’d like somebody older, somebody—so, who would I like to interrupt while taking a sh*t? That’s really the bottom line, right? Who would I like to … next to the most and who would I like to talk to while they go to the bathroom. It’s so hard – Warren Beatty. Yes, why not?

And then, why was it a failure? Well, it got canceled and that’s the obvious reason, but I think it was also a show that was kind of finding its footing and we were kind of just getting going as it was dwindling in favor, if it ever had any favor with the audience. So, I think it just sort of never took hold and that was the sad fact. But, I really wanted to do more. The failure part comes from deep inside. I don’t know if it was ahead of its time, but yes, I think a lot of people disliked it for valid reasons. It was a bit all over the place. That’s what I’m like. I’m a happy little mess.

On his favorite drink and who would win if Coach McGuirk, Sterling Archer ,and Bob Belcher got into a drinking contest:

I don’t mix a lot, but I like beer and wine mostly. If I do have a drink drink, it will be I guess bourbon. It would be bourbon.

I’d say Coach McGuirk I guess. He’s bigger. Bob Belcher would lose by a long shot. He would be in real bad shape, but Archer and Coach McGuirk I think would have a good go at it, but I think Coach McGuirk just solely based on alcohol weight and the ability to process.

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On what one life lesson he thinks Sterling Archer needs to learn: 

I think he probably needs to sort of get over these issues with his mother, but that’s hard to do. Most people can’t. I think he probably needs to cut the line with his mom and just go somewhere and write an autobiography.

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There are a few other “Archer” related items that hit my radar this past week. First off, check out these scandalous images of the members of ISIS that made their way onto Reddit’s “gonewild” forum. Sexy.

And speaking of sexy, if any of you male readers live in the New York area, be on the lookout for the “Archer” custom-branded glass truck that will be handing out “Man-Overs” throughout the city’s streets. Get your mind outta the gutters, people! The truck will be equipped with two barbers and a shoe-shine expert. Those lucky enough to take part may receive a complimentary black tactileneck (turtleneck) – Sterling Archer’s favorite espionage garment – or a bottle-opener key chain while supplies last. So if that’s your thing…keep your collective eyes peeled!

http://youtu.be/dW0baYDlsQo

Season 5 of “Archer” premieres this upcoming Monday, January 13th at 10:00pm only on FX.

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Aside from throwing words onto your screen here, he has written for the likes of FEARnet, Examiner, Dread Central and MTV Movies Blog. And yes, he was Percy on VR Troopers.