“I’m always trying to play that truth even if the comedy is extreme” – Aisha Tyler on Voicing Lana Kane on ‘Archer’
Aisha Tyler is back as Agent Lana Kane for FX’s hit animated comedy, Archer. Now in its sixth season, Tyler said on a recent conference call with press that “the insanity is nigh” for Lana this year.
In the Q & A below, she talks about the show, finally meeting her castmates, those Daily Show rumors and how she is so darn productive.,
Archer airs on Thursdays at 10pm on FX
We know that an episode is coming up where we finally get to meet “Lana’s” parents. Is there anything that you can tease about that a little bit?
Aisha Tyler: Well, if it hasn’t already been in print we got some pretty amazing, well I didn’t do anything I just showed up, but we got some pretty amazing actors to play my parents, CCH Pounder, who you guys know from a million things, including The Shield and, gosh, she’s on something fantastic right now that’s not in my head and Keith David. I think we’re going to find out a little bit more about “Lana’s” background and kind of see her as a child and see her formative years. This is going to be really fun. And also find out that her parents may not entirely approve of her line of work, so it should be interesting.
As you know, a baby often smooths over all family differences, so I think that baby is going to [indiscernible] kind of either conflict and/or resolution between Lana and her parents. And I think we get to meet “Archer,” too, which of course is going to be a good show.
You’re so busy all the time. How do you manage both your time and your energy and do you think “Lana” is the same way or would she go, geez, calm down?
Aisha Tyler: I’ll answer the second part first. I actually strangely think “Lana” is very much like me. She’s just dedicated to excellence. She really wants to do a good job. Whenever they go on a mission, she’s always read the mission dossier, she’s always packed the proper equipment, she’s always got her go bag. I think she just wants to be excellent in everything she does and so in that way I think we’re probably very much alike. I don’t get to carry around double holster automatic weapons in my daily life, but in that way I think we’re pretty similar.
How do I manage my time? Well, let me just say first of all that I realized probably in the last 18 months that I’m probably a clinical workaholic. That’s not entirely an enviable way to live your life. I’m really only happy when I’m punishingly busy and it’s less about me being kind of work slutty and saying yes to everything and just needing to be constantly kind of mentally occupied.
I love being engaged and I feel like the harder I push myself the better work I do. So, the way I manage my time is that I’m an obsessive list maker and I get a lot of satisfaction in crossing things off of my list. I don’t sleep very much and I work seven days a week. But I had a [indiscernible] in my Podcast once say how do you get everything done and I said, well, I get up in the morning and I start doing stuff until I’m exhausted and drop to bed and then in the morning I get up and start doing stuff again.
I really don’t have some kind of elegant system or algorithmic workflow. I just am constantly executing and sometimes well, sometimes not so well, but I do believe in the power of industry. I come from a working class family and a dad who worked very hard and I just believe in the power of hard work. So, there’s where that comes from I think.
I had a non-Archer question for you. I’m sure you’ve heard that Jon Stewart is going to be leaving The Daily Show and while you are, obviously, very busy I wrote up a list of five people who would be great replacements and you have a lot of experience in a wide variety of different mediums. You were actually tops on my list. Would that be something you’d ever entertain, taking over on The Daily Show?
Aisha Tyler: Well, first of all, thank you. That’s really flattering. I really appreciate it. And Jon is, we’re friendly and I think he’s an incredible guy and has left some massive, like honking shoes to fill for whoever takes that seat over. Even though, actually Craig Kilborn hosted that show for a little bit, really Jon elevated it to such an extraordinary level and whoever follows him I think has got their work cut out for them.
There’s been a lot of buzz online about me taking over that and it’s insanely flattering and very gratifying. I have three series on the air right now, so there’s a logistical barrier to me taking that job in that I am contractually obligated to three other series, Archer, The Talk and Whose Line Is It Anyway?
So, that said, it’s really flattering to be thought of in that way and if I was ever in a position to take that job, I would, of course, entertain it because it’s such an influential, just a seminal show. It’s been so instrumental in helping people develop a deeper and, what’s the right word, a deeper and more robust sense of skepticism about American politics, but also I think it’s [indiscernible].
So, that show would both be an honor to host and, obviously, a big responsibility. At this point in my life I don’t even have time to pee. I literally just save up all my pee and go on Saturday afternoons, which is, by the way, incredibly satisfying.
In the scope of Archer you’ve got a bunch of eccentrics and incompetents and “Lana” is basically, as you said earlier, the focused one. Do you ever want the writers, though, to just give you something that’s insane to match everybody else?
Aisha Tyler: I think the insanity is nigh on Archer for “Lana.” That’s about all I can tell you, but she’s about to enter a world of reckless pain for in a few episodes, so I think that will be very fun. And I did kind of beg for this storyline, so I’m really excited to see it coming to fruition.
I think that “Lana” is really, she’s like a lot of professional people and especially, probably, a lot of professional women, but men as well. Actually I have a lot of guy friends that are like this, too, who are incredibly effective in their professional lives and just ape-sh** bananas in their personal lives.
She doesn’t have a really well, I would say, personal life. She doesn’t make great decisions about the guys she’s dated and I don’t think she’s a bad decision-maker. I think it’s just more that she’s drawn to danger and to recklessness in her personal life because she has to be so buttoned up professionally in her work life, otherwise she might get shot to death.
Yes, she is kind of the straight man in a lot of ways, but she has to be somewhat nuts to have dated Archer and then also to have absconded with his sperm and made a baby with his genetic material. So, she’s not entirely sewn tightly.
Watching H. Jon Benjamin and yourself interacting with each other at last year’s New York Comic-Con was basically a live version of Archer. Did your relationship with him and the rest of the cast take a long time to develop or is it something that happened early on?
Aisha Tyler: That’s such a good question. First of all, for those of you who don’t know, we never record together as a cast. We never see each other when we’re working on the show. Three of us, Chris Parnell and Judy [Greer]and I are in LA, and Lucky and Amber in Atlanta, and Jon and Jessica are in New York.
We never interacted with each other. We never saw each other and Jon and I met right off the bat, I think maybe after we recorded Season 1 at TCA, Television Critics Association’s winter event, but we really didn’t know each other. It wasn’t that the relationship was frosty; it wasn’t. We didn’t really have a chance to get to know each other until we started making more personal appearances as a cast.
I think that the first time that we really got to hang out together as a cast might have been when we did a performance at Eugene Mirman’s Comedy Festival in Brooklyn, and this was maybe in Season 2 or 3, but what’s been lovely is – and we got to hang out at Comic-Con Season 2, which was also great, that might have been the first time we all got to spend time together – what’s been really lovely is that because we don’t spend that much time together as a cast, when we do get together it’s just a kind of kitten pile in a basket of affection for each other.
We don’t get a lot of time together. It’s always very precious, everybody gets very drunk. There’s a lot of hugging. It’s really, really a fun group of people that are incredibly smart and talented and Jon and I have developed a king of strange “Lana” and “Archer” ghost banter that has evolved over the season. I love his company and I think he’s one of the funniest people that I know and we also just somehow have found a way to improv up these really weird scenarios.
One year at New York Comic-Con week just got in this really prolonged argument. I know what it was about and it was just like a totally fake argument and I think we really alarmed the woman who was interviewing us. I think they’re pretty incredible. Every once in a while we do Archer Live! where we’re all performing together on stage and that’s just a bourbon soaked like love fest and always immediately goes off the rails.
It did take us a while. It wasn’t work. It was just that we didn’t have a lot of face time as a cast and now we’re always begging to spend time together and they’re all pretty superlative people and as funny as their characters on the show only without all of the alcoholism and the nudity.
Your vocal range for this season has just been stellar. In seasons past you’ve always shown the stern and the somewhat sarcastic parts of “Lana’s” personality and with the baby you’ve definitely brought on way more of a motherly, softer personality and it’s interesting to see you kind of walk that thin line between the Lana that goes nuts over Sterling, but at the same time is a mother and is remembering that she has someone to care for.
Was that a challenge for you to kind of figure that out for “Lana?” Did you have to do some personal research to be like, okay, this is how I would tackle these kind of themes even though I really maybe have never seen this dynamic of her before?
Aisha Tyler: This is a really nice question and a lovely compliment, so thank you. I actually think that the softening of “Lana” started to come at the end of Season, I want to say Season 4, but I might be wrong because I’m sitting in my car and my brain doesn’t work, when we did the Sealab episode and “Archer” sacrificed himself for “Lana.”
I think Adam [Reed] started to write more emotional material for “Lana.” She wasn’t always pissed at “Archer.” And because she wasn’t always angry at him or angry at the situation I just had more to play with and more to do. What’s been nice is as the relationships on the show have evolved and they’ve deepened and they’ve become more complex, we have more to do.
And I think in a first or a second season of any show you’re just trying to fire as many bullets as you can at a target as possible because we’re a comedy and we’re a half-hour comedy and we’re a cartoon, it’s just about dropping bombs, dropping 22 minutes of bombs. But as the show has evolved and people love the characters and they love the relationships we’ve been able to add more complexity to those characters.
So, I really feel like the moment where “Lana” got softened was when she realized that “Archer” was willing to die for her at the end of that Sealab two-parter and that would have been, that was in Season 3. And then in Season 4 she decides to have a baby and then in Season 5 she’s pregnant, so I just had more to do. I didn’t have to do any research. Luckily I’ve been acting for a very long time and the nice thing about Archer is that there’s nothing to do but the emotional work because there’s no props and no wardrobe and no make-up and no marks to hit, so it’s just about your interior life and trying to think and feel the things that your character thinks and feels.
Again, even though it’s a comedy and sometimes we’re working at peak intensity, I always try to really work on “Lana’s” interior life and how she truly feels about her job, how she truly feels about her co-workers and how she really feels about “Archer,” which is that this is someone who she ultimately loves and loathes and who I think she has a lot of compassion for, she’s the only one that probably sees his soft side and remember when he had cancer and she was really there for him. They’re bonded in a way that we don’t always give them credit for.
I think they really love each other. I’m always trying to play that truth even if the comedy is extreme, so it was just a joy. I do remember when we did the stuff where “Lana” got to tell “Archer” about “A.J.,” that was at the end of Season 5, that was really fun to play and we did it a few times because the guys wanted it to be really, really tender and I think I did have to do a little bit of work to get to that really, really tender place. She had never been quite that soft and lovely towards “Archer.”
It’s fun; it’s just fun to have a variety instead of just always screaming “Archer.” If somebody did a mash-up or an [indiscernible] remix of me saying “Archer,” it would probably be 97 minutes long. I’ve yelled at the guy so many times, so it’s nice to have the diversity of emotional range now.
You’re on Whose Line Is It Anyway? and I think a lot of us grew up on that show in the 90s and the 2000s, but is it a real struggle to kind of promote that and get the word out that you’re on, that it’s there? It’s certainly not as high profile as it was back when it started.
Aisha Tyler: It’s on a different network, obviously. It was on ABC and now it’s on CW and also between when it was on ABC and now the viewing landscape has become much more fragmented. There are more networks and more shows. That being said, it was the highest rated show that CW had debuted in three years when it premiered and it’s a huge hit for them.
So, it hasn’t been hard to promote it at all because it’s doing really well and every season they’ve ordered more episodes. I think they ordered like 18 or 19 the first season and 22 the second season and this season we’re at 26. So, it’s doing very well for them. We’re all really proud of it and it wins its time slot, so for them it’s a very big hit. I don’t kind of lament, I don’t really think about it that way because it’s been a hit for CW and it’s been working great.
Of course, it would be great to have more fans of the show find it, but I think they will as time goes by and the show is working very well for CW so in that way I’m just super, super happy because it’s getting great numbers for them, so I think it’s only going to grow from here.
Friends just celebrated its 20th anniversary last year and you had a very memorable arc towards the end of the show. Do you have a favorite moment from your time on the show?
Aisha Tyler: Oh yes, let’s see. It was an amazing experience. It’s rare to be a guest on a show that’s that big. I mean it was the biggest show on TV when I got to be on it and I was a fan before I got the job, so I knew exactly how special it was and how lucky I was. This might be in the bloopers, but there were a lot of really great moments, but I think the one that I love is when I’m actually breaking up with “Ross” and I’m about to kiss Greg Kinnear and there’s just this moment when David Schwimmer is standing between us and he says, “This is making me a little uncomfortable.”
And the way he said that is so funny that we did that probably 30 times before we were able to not laugh. It was just the funniest, weirdest. They were all so incredible on that show and I learned so much from all of them, but David Schwimmer had this thing with these line readings that was just, he could just tweak a line and make it so funny just with inflection and tone and he’s standing right between us and we’re staring at each other’s eyes and he’s saying, “This is making me a little uncomfortable.”
We just could barely, we never really made it through the scene properly and you can probably see us laugh a little bit even in the scene that made it into the show. But the whole thing was incredible. The cast was incredibly kind to me. Guest stars had had a history of cracking up on that show because it was the biggest show on TV and everybody on it was so good at what they did that a lot of people would come on and get intimidated and kind of fall apart.
They were really, really kind about making me feel welcome and just letting me know that I could ask any question or ask for help if I needed it and it was just an extraordinary time and I’m still really good friends with a couple of the cast members and really great to say it.