H. Jon Benjamin discusses Season 3 of the hit FX animated series Archer
The raucous FX animated series Archer returns with Season 3 on Thursday, January 19 at 10 PM ET. H. Jon Benjamin returns as super-spy Sterling Archer, and he recently held a conference call to talk about what's in store this season, including special guest star Burt Reynolds in the season premiere The Man From Jupiter. Take a look at what H. Jon Benjamin had to say about Archer.
So, you're doing, of course, Archer and Bob's Burgers and you have the Comedy Central Show. 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 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?
H. Jon 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.
I just wanted to go back to the beginning and find out how you got your part on Archer.
H. Jon Benjamin: It's not a great story. Adam Reed, the creator of Archer, God rest his soul [said jokingly], 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.
I was just wondering how the Burt Reynolds thing came about?
In the season premiere.
H. Jon Benjamin: Wait, he was in it?
Yeah, unless I had a dream about that.
H. Jon 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 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.'
H. Jon 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.
How much input do you have on the dialogue, and the interactions with the other cast members? Why do you think each individual show has been so popular with the masses?
H. Jon Benjamin: Well, the masses are idiots, so they don't know any better. They're too busy just staring at the light and cartoons are colorful. So don't get me started about the masses. I'm really not a fan. But as far as interacting with the cast, I really don't do any of that. They record everybody separately.
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?
H. Jon 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 that 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.
H. Jon Benjamin: Yes. I occasionally do as well. 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. 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. The first season I always got the question about Johnny Bench. A lot of people asked me why did you say that. Nobody knew, but it's a relatively educational show.
There's a bonus feature on the latest DVD set where you sort of become Sterling Archer in the animation. I was wondering whose idea was that and how did you feel about doing that?
H. Jon Benjamin: It was my idea, I believe, so I felt bad about it. I think it was my idea because it was actually made for this comedy festival that this comedian Eugene Mirman does, and I wanted to-Adam wrote the entire thing but I said we should do something to show-they were doing an Archer event, so it was made for that and then they spun it off to ship it on DVD. But I think initially it was my idea.
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?
H. Jon 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. I just think that his mother created a lot of problems.
How does it feel being the Mel Blanc of adult cartoons? I was going through your stuff and it seems like you've been on everything I've watched since high school.
I was wondering besides Archer's strong jaw line and dashing good looks, what other qualities do you feel you share with your character?
H. Jon Benjamin: 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?
H. Jon 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.
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 do this.' What would it be and why?
H. Jon 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 John 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 and everybody's. Why do you think people are accepting it now?
H. Jon 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. So I don't know what I just said, but I think you're right.
Now, Archer has done a number of bad things in all these seasons so far. Has there been something that Archer has done that you've wanted to do in real life?
H. Jon Benjamin: Sleep with a prostitute, I guess. I just never had the courage and I think that would open the flood gates for me. And I'd like to yell at a butler someday.
Do you record as a group for Bob's Burgers and if so, do you have a preference as to recording along or with the whole cast?
H. Jon Benjamin: I don't. It's much more efficient to record alone, obviously, so Archer is quicker to do, which is a benefit, I guess, if I wanted to go shopping. It doesn't take as long. It's not as long of a process, but there are occasions when being amongst a group of people is a benefit for the show, not for me but for the show. So, it just kind of depends on the day, I guess. Once I recorded Archer and then had to go record Bob's Burgers or vice versa, and that day was too long.
In the first season of Archer, the character was controlled by a microchip. The second, you had cancer. The first part of Season 3 or I don't know 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?
H. Jon 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 fancy, 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.
Will we get to see any more of the ocelot or the Wee Baby Seamus this year?
H. Jon Benjamin: I don't think so. Ocelot, I forgot about that. I think Seamus is... I hope he's all right. I don't remember doing a lot. I know we see the tattoo a lot. He has a tattoo of Seamus' name, I think, but I think that's all you get of Seamus.
Does Archer have any unfinished business with 'Barry Dillon,' the guy who killed his wife?
H. Jon 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?
H. Jon Benjamin: It's been awhile since my bar mitzvah. So, I 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. 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.
I wanted to find out if you just prefer doing the voice work or if you plan on branching more into live acting?
H. Jon Benjamin: Well, we are waiting to hear if this Comedy Central show that I did 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?
H. Jon 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.