Q & A: H. Jon Benjamin talks ‘Archer’, Yelling and Burt Reynolds

Jon: "There’s something odd - very false about just standing in front of a microphone"

h-jon-benjamin-archerH Jon Benjamin is the voice of Sterling Archer on Archer, Bob of Bob’s Burgers and also has his own show on Comedy Central, Jon Benjamin Has a Van. Each one of them are great fun to watch and Jon’s dry-humor is evident throughout.

I got a chance to talk with him on a conference call where he chatted about Season 3 of Archer, how he does a lot of yelling as the character, hidden references in the show and Burt Reynolds.

Archer airs on Thursdays at 10 on FX

For the full interview, click the audio link above or download it from iTunes

You’ve been the voicing ‘Sterling Archer’ for quite a while now. What’s your favorite thing about voicing the character?  What do you like best about him?

Jon: 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. 

How did you get the part?

Jon: 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.

How did the casting Burt Reynolds come  about?

Jon: Which Burt Reynolds thing? Wait, he was in it? 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.”

How much improve or ad-libbing do you get to do on the show?  

Jon: 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.

As Archer, you seem to do a lot of yelling, which must get tiring at some point.  Has there ever been a point where you wish a few of the scripts just has ‘Archer’ whispering and not talking at all?

Jon: 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 thing that is great about the show 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.

Jon: Yes.  I occasionally do as well.

Jon: 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 what …, 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.

Do you think that ‘Archer’ will finally get his happiness and what will that look like?

Jon: 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—I guess that’s not…, 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?

Jon: 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.

Do you record as a group for Archer and if so, do you have a preference as to recording along or with the whole cast?

Jon: 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.  I have done, I think, once I recorded Archer and then had to go record Bob’s Burgers or vice versa, and that day was too long.

Do you prefer doing voice work or are you also planning on branching more into acting?

Jon: 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.

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?

Jon: 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.  It’s so easy to do a … but it’s weird to—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 ….

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