One of the joys of being an entertainment journalist is meeting the people who play your favorite characters in person. When it’s an animated show, just hearing their voice is like being in the presence of a fictional character.
The distinct voice of H. Jon Benjamin greeted the press in an “Archer” conference call earlier this week. As he answered questions about the show’s current season, and a few about “Bob’s Burgers,” there was no mistaking the voice of Sterling Archer and Bob Belcher.
Q: How did the idea of the worlds of Bob Belcher and Sterling Archer colliding come about, and what was it like filming that?
H. Jon Benjamin: It basically came about from Adam Reed the creator of the show had the idea to do it. Apparently he was a fan of “Bob’s Burgers” and mine. So he came up with the idea to do it and he asked me to ask Loren Bouchard, the creator of “Bob’s Burgers” so I was like the middle man.
But it went really smoothly. I think it was right around the 15-20 second phone call. Then they turned it over to hundreds of thousands of lawyers and they hammered out a deal. So yeah, it all came from Adam wanting to open the season like that, which was really well done, I thought.
Q: Is it ever odd or confusing switching between Bob and Archer?
H. Jon Benjamin: Well, a lot of people complain how I don’t do anything different for either, and f*** them. No, it was funny to do. I did notice finally that Archer’s a little bit different, when I had to do him as Bob, but it got very convoluted. Some real subtlety there.
Q: Has playing Archer improved your sex life?
H. Jon Benjamin: Yeah, I have not had sex now in four and a half years, so it’s an improvement.
Q: That’s an improvement?
H. Jon Benjamin: Well, if you knew how I had sex, not having it is one step above. I can live vicariously through an animated character. I haven’t tried yet to use Sterling Archer to have sex and I don’t know if that would work out.
Q: Is Archer maturing in any way?
H. Jon Benjamin: Yeah, maybe in really glacial progress, probably. At some point I think he has to and I just feel like his lifestyle’s going to catch up with him if it in any way mirrors real life. I just feel like I want him to gain like 15 pounds. Like he won’t metabolize alcohol as well soon, right?
Q: Is he better looking than season one?
H. Jon Benjamin: He is pretty rock solid appearance-wise. That doesn’t change. Maybe he’s gotten in better shape. I haven’t checked under the shirt.
Q: What has been your experience meeting “Archer” fans? Are they disappointed you don’t look like Archer?
H. Jon Benjamin: Yeah, there’s been a bunch of people who have not done well to disguise their disappointment. So you have a lot of people going oh, too bad. I think it was more shattering hopes.
Q: What was your best fan experience?
H. Jon Benjamin: As a fan, it would be f***ing Mick Jagger. With a fan, this was what I thought was a good idea at the time was in New York, I happened to be walking through Central Park, sort of the south side. Two guys came up to me and it was right next to where they do the hansom cab rides, the horse drawn carriages.
So for some reason, they were like, “Oh my God, Archer, Archer.” So I was like, “Ok, everybody get in.” It happened the guy was right there so I could give him money. So the guys got in with me. The unfortunate part is, it’s like a 45-minute ride through the park, so it got awkward after the first 10 minutes. They were two college guys like, “Why are we doing this?” I don’t know, because I thought it was funny we were right by the guy.
Q: What was your take on Archer in the pilot and has it changed over the years?
H. Jon Benjamin: In the pilot, it hasn’t changed much. I think I was probably less confident in my character at the time. So now I’m really just full voiced, full on arrogant a**hole. I think I didn’t know if that was the case in the pilot. So yeah, I think I’ve just gotten more aggressive in general and I try to be less nasally than I used to be.
Q: What funny stuff is coming up later in the season?
H. Jon Benjamin: There’s a really good storyline with his new stepdad, Ron Cadillac and Archer is immediately put off that his mom is getting happier. Then there’s all this, Ron Cadillac character is not what he seems. That’s pretty funny and then theres’ a big two part season finale which is a pretty grand story that takes place underwater.
Q: So you’ve gone from space to underwater?
H. Jon Benjamin: There was not much more to do. Maybe Middle Earth.
Q: Was Mick Jagger really a fan?
H. Jon Benjamin: No, that was just random. that was when I was young and he was old.
Q: Do they give you a chance to ad lib on “Archer?”
H. Jon Benjamin: No, they’re not slave drivers. Depending on the scene, sometimes we can fool around a little bit. On the whole we pretty much keep to the script because the nature in which it’s written, it’s pretty tight and there’s a lot of jokes that have to do with scenes cutting against each other, so there’s not room for it but I’ll throw in a few things.
And a lot of things I assume other characters ad libbed end up having been written. Sometimes they’ll rewrite scenes when once you hear it they don’t work as well as we thought, on the spur of the moment. That’s when things change.
Q: Is there anything you’d like to do in real life that Archer does on the show?
H. Jon Benjamin: There’s a lot. I’d like to work for my mom. She’s a ballet dancer. No, I wouldn’t. That would just be really tedious office work. I don’t know what you do for a ballet dancer. I would like to kill people. Yes, I would like to indiscriminately kill people sometimes. And I’d like to go to Abu Dhabi and Morocco. I’d like to travel a lot like Archer. That would be fun.
Q: With the new stepfather, will we see some Daddy issues?
H. Jon Benjamin: Yeah, I don’t think Archer responds to the stepfather the way he would his real father, that’s for sure. But I think Archer has major oedipal inclinations, so yeah, I think no matter who fills in for the father role, he’ll want to kill him.
Q: What is your favorite thing about playing Archer?
H. Jon Benjamin: Well, I really like the show I think is probably my favorite thing, so I like seeing them. So it’s a bonus to be in them and then seeing the final product. I do like that a lot, so I do end up watching, I haven’t seen the current season yet so I’ll watch them all at once, but it’s fun that it’s me. It’s fun that I’m the guy.
When I watch it, I’m the guy. But I’m a real conceited a**hole so I’m not sure. I like celebrating myself. It takes up a lot of my time looking in the mirror.
Q: Do you have a favorite episode?
H. Jon Benjamin: I don’t know. That’s tough. Name a couple. I haven’t watched them in a while, so like I said I haven’t watched the current season. I know what it was about, I just don’t know what it was called and I can’t remember right now what it was about. Sorry. Probably let’s just give a number, episode 206.
Q: Did you ever think “Bob’s Burgers” and “Archer” would both go simultaneously?
H. Jon Benjamin: No, I’ve gotten that question before. Definitely “why are you doing them both?” Like I would have potentially turned one down to do the other. It was just happenstance. I can’t remember which came first. I think it was “Bob’s Burgers,” but “Bob’s Burgers” with Fox had a very long development process, over a year or more, a year and a half where they kept making this demo.
“Archer” was really, I had done it, I had just recorded the pilot and then heard that the show got picked up maybe eight months later. So “Bob’s Burgers” I think started long before “Archer” did. It just took a long time for “Bob’s Burgers” to get on air and it was just coincidence they came on at the same time.
Q: What funny stuff is coming up on “Bob’s?”
H. Jon Benjamin: We just started taping the back end of the third season. Then also I believe that some of the cast members will be writing some episodes coming up.
Q: What will your script be?
H. Jon Benjamin: I think it’ll be much darker. I haven’t figured out what my episode will be about but I’ll go very dark.
Q: How do you like going between the two shows?
H. Jon Benjamin: I like how different they are. It’s nice to sort of get payback for Archer’s attitude. Bob sort of gets shoveled on where Archer doles it out all the time. It’s a good balance.
Q: When you get the “Archer” scripts, do you like when they build on older plot points? Are you excited about callbacks or do you prefer the one offs?
H. Jon Benjamin: I don’t really care I guess on the whole, but I do like obviously when thematic stuff happens, it’s fun to read. Adam is very good at that. He’ll plant a seed and then that seed will grow three episodes later.
Yeah, it’s always nice to forget about a character and then realize, especially the Barry stuff, where he’s in space now. Then you sort of forget about Barry and an episode comes up where Barry was surveilling Archer all along and it makes sense why he’s doing it. Especially for people who watch the show a lot and appreciate that.
Q: Are you told the seeds will become something?
H. Jon Benjamin: I don’t get the script until basically the day or night before. There’s no way to tell so there’s been occasions where I read it for the first time while I’m reading it, while I’m saying it.
Q: Is there anything about Archer that wasn’t originally scripted that you added?
H. Jon Benjamin: You mean like I want him to have black hair or something? No, not really. It might be the case where Adam Reed, the writer of the show, maybe started writing stuff based on what I’m like but no. If that were the case, he’d be Jewish by now.
Q: What do you think makes “Archer” such a fan favorite?
H. Jon Benjamin: Well, I think the colors are really nice. I think it’s because it’s really funny and really well done. I imagine people appreciate it. When it first came out, there was no sense that it would be this much of a hit, I think even for Adam, although Adam Reed had done prior shows, that I think had a big following. Maybe not as big as “Archer,” but big in terms of people really loving what he does, so I think it’s very much because Adam creates really great characters and really funny stories.
Q: Do you ever want to do live action at all?
H. Jon Benjamin: Yeah, I have done it before. I don’t get as much work in live-action that I do. I’ve had a live action show on the air on Comedy Central which a few people saw. So I’ve done some stuff and I continue to try to do it. I think actually live-action comedy is what I sort of started doing so I’m always surprised I keep doing animation.
Q: What is the wildest thing you’ve been asked to do on “Archer?”
H. Jon Benjamin: Well, I only pretty much do Archer, so there’s been occasions where they’ve made Archer pose as another character and I know I’ve failed sometimes because I think there’s been attempts when I’m in deep cover where I play a Russian businessman or something. Or Swiss or something. I remember I couldn’t pull off the accent and Adam Reed was like, “Forget it.”
Q: Are you ever shocked by what you read?
H. Jon Benjamin: No, no. Nothing ever shocks me, even from the very beginning. I’m not easily shocked, so no. No.
Q: What are the keys to satirizing a genre like the spy genre, or on “Bob’s Burgers” with the family comedy?
H. Jon Benjamin: I feel like “Bob’s Burgers” doesn’t really satisfy another genre of animation, and I don’t think it’s satirizing. It kind of is a family sitcom in a way. If anything, “Bobs’ Burgers” will sometimes satirize culture and movies. I think “Archer” doesn’t even do that. It’s pretty much like an office comedy more than anything else I think. The spy stuff, albeit it’s a big part of the show, I don’t think it’s winking at the spy genre. I think it’s a much more character based comedy and it’s not high concept in that sense where it’s not trying to take the piss out of James Bond anymore. I think that’s probably the least important part of the show to Adam although I’m not totally sure about that.
Q: How does it feel to walk into a Comic-Con room with 2000 screaming fans?
H. Jon Benjamin: You should see my apartment. I live with maybe 1700 roommates, but that’s New York. The market is really awful.
Q: Walking into the hall last year, you looked stunned.
H. Jon Benjamin: Well, the first time we were at Comic-Con I think was maybe the second season and I don’t think I’d even met the cast at that point because everybody did the show from their respective cities and countries.So I didn’t have any sense of the popularity of the show at all. It’s gotten more and more as you said, but I remember the first year it was in a small room and a huge line. We had to turn lots of people away. We were like, this show? This past time was probably because I was high.
Q: Are you a fan of James Bond movies and what’s your favorite?
H. Jon Benjamin: I was a big fan when I was kid and I have a kid now, and he’s a pretty big fan of all the Bond stuff. As far as a favorite Bond movie, I actually just watched, my kid is a big fan of thrillers, so we’ll go back and watch Day of the Jackal. It’s really funny watching a ‘70s style sex scene with a nine-year-old. But my favorite Bond movie is Dr. No. The first one’s always the best I guess, although I have to say I like On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. George Lazenby was a pretty good Bond. I liked him.
Q: Have you heard the news about the “Archer” action figures?
H. Jon Benjamin: Oh, they do. I didn’t know that. Wow, when did that happen?
Q: They’re in development. They come out Spring 2013.
H. Jon Benjamin: In development. Are they organic? You mean they’re making them. In development sounds really like they’re sentient. I’ll buy you one.
Q: Which figure are you most interested in getting?
H. Jon Benjamin: Pam. Pam is my favorite character so I hope they make a Pam one.