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By Suzanne

H. Jon Benjamin

Interview with H. Jon Benjamin of "Archer" on FX 1/6/14

Final Transcript
January 6, 2014/10:00 a.m. PST

Kristy Silvernail, FX Networks / Senior Manager, Media Relations
H. Jon Benjamin, Archer / “Agent Sterling Archer”


Moderator: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by. Welcome to the Archer conference call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. There will be a question and answer session on today’s call. As a reminder, today’s conference call is being recorded.

I’d now like to turn the conference over to our host, Kristy Silvernail.

Kristy: Hello, and welcome to Archer conference call with series star, H. Jon Benjamin, who voices ultra-suave master spy, “Agent Sterling Archer.” I’d like to thank all of you for joining us today and remind you that this call is for print purposes only. No audio may be used.

Archer premieres its fifth season on Monday, January 13th at 10:00 p.m. eastern and pacific, only on FX and as many of you know from watching the advance screeners, fans are in for quite a ride this season with several exciting plot twists. As always, we respectfully request that you do not post spoilers pre-air to help protect the viewing experience for our audience. With that said, let’s go ahead and open it up for questions.

Moderator: Our first question today will come from TV Megasite and the line of Suzanne Lanoue.

Suzanne: I watched all the shows last night. I was blown away.

Jon: Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Yes. I haven’t seen any yet. So, I’m glad that you were blown away.

Suzanne: Oh, yes, like from the first part. I don’t want to give a spoiler.

Jon: No. I’ve seen the first episode. So, yes, I know what you were saying.

Suzanne: Yes. I was wondering; do you know why they decided to go in such a completely different direction this season, sort of changing so many things?

Jon: 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.

Suzanne: Watched too many episodes of Miami Vice late at night or something?

Jon: Well, I assume he’s of the age where he grew up on that show. I know I was, maybe, right, mid-40s. I don’t want to give away his age in case he’s been lying to people.

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.

Suzanne: More craziness.

Jon: Yes.

Moderator: Next, we’ll go to Will Harris from TVWeek.

Will: Obviously, as noted, many changes to be had, but what was your reaction when Adam first broke the news to you about how dramatically the series was going to be changing? Was everyone briefed at once, or did you get a late night drunken phone call?

Jon: 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 Burger’s crossover, I think he had called me to tell me that, 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.

Will: Was there any particular aspect of the changes that really surprised you or you just kind of roll with the punches with Adam now?

Jon: Yes, it was more like not punches, but slight slaps and I rolled with it. I really love the idea that they’ve been operating without a license for all these years and also maybe the underlying idea that at any point in espionage as a whole, the organizations can eat themselves kind of thing. So, I thought it was a great way to change the show.

Moderator: Then next from Agents of Geek, we’ll go to the line of Leslie Stewart.

Leslie: How did the character of “Archer” come to be? There seemed to be a lot of really interesting personality characterizations that make him up. So, did one person or celebrity influence how you play him, or is there a lot of yourself you see in “Archer?”

Jon: 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.

Leslie: So, any of the other really memorable and hilarious characters you’ve played in animation like “Coach McGuirk” or “Bob Belcher,” do you really see yourself in any of those one characters particularly?

Jon: Well, I mean “Coach McGuirk” probably was…. 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, I they share a lot of traits.

Leslie: That’s awesome, the spy version of “Coach McGuirk.” That’s so cool.

Jon: Well, they both drink a lot and just “Archer” has a lot more physical talents.

Moderator: Then next, we’ll move to the line of Niki Cruz and USA Herald.

Niki: You have such a brilliant way of balancing dry humor with absurdist humor and I was just wondering how do you keep that balance so fresh season after season?

Jon: Well, I really don’t. I think Adam Reed has a lot to do with that and the writing has a lot to do with that. So, I defer to that mostly. I think maybe I add drier elements, but the absurdist stuff is all in the scripts. So, there you go.

Niki: And he has no edit button whatsoever. So, that must be a gratifying experience for you, right?

Jon: Well, yes, it’s really fun to play. He’s a spy. So, he can do what he wants. I mean I guess he announces that he’s a spy a lot, which he shouldn’t do, but I guess when you’re carrying a gun, you feel better about yourself, but that doesn’t suggest carry a gun; just to feel better about yourself.

Moderator: Next, we’ll go to Matt Rodriguez of

Matt: As we’ve already said, season five is probably the biggest departure for the Archer series. What did you enjoy most about recording for Archer Vice this year?

Jon: The outfits. The outfits I wore were much better; all Miami Vice stuff that I wore while recording. So, that was fun to do, finally to get back to the way I used to dress.

Matt: You had mentioned earlier about Bob Burger’s episode that you did from last season. Are there any other characters from your past that you’d like to see do another crossover episode? Like what other characters would you like to see done?

Jon: You mean like in Archer or anything?

Matt: Yeah, in Archer if you could.

Jon: Oh, man.

Matt: ...which character?

Jon: Wow. I suppose that and “Katz” or something, or maybe like “Jason” from Home Movies should walk by, but all grown up now.

Matt: A spy in training perhaps?

Jon: He’s be like 18 now. That would be fun, to see him grown up.

Moderator: Next, we’ll move to the line of Sabienna Bowman of TV Equals.

Sabienna: My question is what can fans kind of expect from season five since I know we’ve seen some of it, but they haven’t, and is there a particular episode you’re excited for them to see?

Jon: Well, the first episode, obviously, 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. I would say definitely the first episode. It’s really fun to see what happens to ISIS.

Sabienna: Can you talk a little bit about how “Lana’s” pregnancy will change the dynamic with “Archer” this season since usually they’re partners?

Jon: Yes. Well, she’s moving a little slower and carrying some extra weight. Doing what she’s doing this season and being pregnant, there’s a fairly huge conflict of interest.

Moderator: Then next from, we’ll go to the line of Rich: Milko.

Rich: Do you prefer the mystery around “Sterling’s” father, or do you feel that he should be revealed?

Jon: I prefer the mystery I think. I think it fuels his anger. It’s both what makes him good at what he does and bad as a human being, which is fun to watch. So, yes, I mean maybe it will get resolved, but I’m not sure “Malory” knows.

Moderator: Then next from SciFiAndTvTalk, Steve Eramo.

Steve First off, I’ve got to tell you, loving your work on both Archer and Bob Burger’s. You do a terrific job with both characters.

Jon: Thank you very much. I love your accent.

Steve I wanted to find out what perhaps have you found have been some of the biggest acting challenges would you say in creating a character using just your voice.

Jon: 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 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.

Steve And then just as a follow-up, a general question; I wanted to find out did you always want to work in this industry while you were growing up, or did you have other professions in mind?

Jon: I had a lot of professions in mind when I was younger I think - a fireman, arsonist, insurance adjustor, a lot to do with fire and fire making and fire prevention, tobacconist. I mean I definitely didn’t want to get into voice acting. I just was interested in acting and that was what I was good at early on. So, the voice acting part of it came just as a coincidence I guess.

Moderator: Then next from HereIsTV, we’ll go to the line of Bruce Pisen.

Bruce: I’m wondering; what do you like to watch on TV?

Jon: Well, what have I been watching? I try to watch things sort of—I don’t watch a lot of nightly television I guess. I kind of watch it as a whole now like most people do. I watched Homeland recently, all of it and the British Shameless I watched all together, which is great. What else? And then sports and the occasional news program.

Moderator: Then next from the line of Leslie Stewart of Agents of Geek.

Leslie: For the record, I think “Jason” all grown up from Home Movies definitely would join ISIS. So, that would be great to see.

Jon: Well, yes, like as a janitor or something.

Leslie: Yes. I don’t know. I could see him being a really epic agent. I don’t know. Maybe that’s just me.

Jon: Yes, I was never sure whether he was precocious or just really dumb.

Leslie: He’s pretty adorable. I love him.

Jon: He is adorable.

Leslie: So, you have worked really extensively with Loren Bouchard on some of the best kind of adult cartoons that exist. What do you love about working with Loren so much and do you see yourself working with him past Bob Burger’s or even with Brendon Small again?

Jon: I don’t know. 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.

Leslie: How much of Bob Burger’s with Loren is improv? Do you do a lot of improv in that set?

Jon: We do. I mean I think I’ve heard Loren claim it’s about 90/10. They do a lot of improv obviously that they don’t use, but I think they use about 10%-15% of the improv that we do. I mean the show is really well written and they’ve had I think pretty much the same writer since the first season. So, they do a great job, but Loren always encourages improv for pretty much every take we do.

Moderator: Next, we’ll go to Todd Gilchrist of Comic Book Resources.

Todd: Is there such a thing as too much or over the top with Archer?

Jon: It doesn’t seem so. I mean it lives pretty within itself I have to say. So, as much as it’s over the top, it feels organic. You know what I mean? I haven’t seen them go way outside themselves, and that was a slight concern with like a Bob Burger’s crossover because that can get like, “Oh, why are you ruining it?”

But, he pulled it off. It was seamless. If you didn’t know Bob Burger’s, I don’t think you would have even batted your eyes at that. So, even when they do things very conceptual, it somehow still works for Archer.

Todd: Is there anything either in your performance character or the story as a whole that you feel like ... more or something that just intrigued you that maybe did not get pushed to that limit, to sort of explore as much as they could?

Jon: I had to cry a couple of times. I’d like to see more of that. That’s hard to capture in voiceover work. But I like to cry. I really like to cry.

Moderator: Then, our next question will come from the line of David Crow of Den of Geek.

David: One thing I’ve always really liked about the show but wondered; have you ever talked with Adam about when is it really set? Not to give away the spoiler of what’s to come, but they have the Internet, they have cell phones, but at the same time, they’re fighting the KGB for ... the coding machines and “Woodhouse” is talking about World War I. So....

Jon: Time is pretty fungible in Archer I feel, yes. Sometimes Burt Reynolds seemed like he was of his time, but the car that he was driving was from the ‘70s. I mean they preserve cars. So, that’s maybe a sad example, but yes, there’s pretty much a very broad sense of time in Archer. I think it was that was from the onset. So, that was the world the way they structured it and I don’t think it’s ever really changed.

David: The one follow-up I had on that was another thing I always thought was interesting about “Sterling Archer” is that he’s actually very well read. It’s almost deceiving. He can be talking for hours about the dangers of alligators, but then he’ll drop a Herman Melville quote on his enemies.

Jon: Yes. Well, I think he was prep school educated it seems like, at least from the flashbacks. So, he had the luxury of probably some very expensive East Coast prep school and they’ll make you read a lot of books.

David: Does it come somewhat from your background, or was that just something you and Adam created for the character?

Jon: Well, I mean Adam Reed, I think, was a literature major in college. So, I think that mostly comes from him, although I’ve read Bartleby. I can tell you that.

Moderator: Our next question will come from TVWeek and the line of Will Harris.

Will: I was just curious; I know that you did a one-off appearance on Suburgatory a bit ago. Do you have any interest in pursuing any more actual on camera work, or are you quite happy living the life of a voice actor?

Jon: I do. 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.

Will: On a whim, I’m curious; could you talk briefly about the experience of Iceland Ultra Blue?

Jon: 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, Ultra Blue 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.

Will: Did anyone actually believe that it was in fact a real infomercial?

Jon: Well, 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.

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.

Moderator: Next, from TV Megasite, we’ll go back to the line of Suzanne Lanoue.

Suzanne: Last year, I interviewed the guy who does the voice of “Porky Pig.”

Jon: Wow.

Suzanne: Yes, and he’s the only other voice actor that I’ve spoken with.

Jon: How did that go?

Suzanne: It went well. He was really funny actually, but he wanted to be “Porky Pig” since he was really, really little. So, it was—

Jon: Wasn’t that Mel Blanc?

Suzanne: No. He’s the guy that took over from Mel Blanc who died.

Jon: Oh, okay. Good. I was going to say if you talked to Mel Blanc, that would be really....

Suzanne: No. I would have liked to talk to Mel Blanc, yes, but anyway, so he said that he basically doesn’t get recognized by people because he only does voiceover work pretty much except for when he goes like Comic-Con and then people who really know what he’s like....

Jon: You can’t walk around talking like “Porky Pig” all day unless—

Suzanne: No. So, I was wondering since you’ve done a lot of non-voiceover work if you do sometimes get recognized by fans.

Jon: I do. Yes, I do a lot. Yes. Maybe just because I had TV shows and I’ve been on live shows a lot. I think combined with people who love Archer and stuff like that, they’ll know what I look like if you do a little research. But, I Will promise to look up what the guy from “Porky Pig” looks like. The next time I see him I’ll be like, “Hey, there you are.”

Suzanne: That’s right. Well, he does other voices too, like Luke Skywalker and some other things.

Jon: All right. I get it.

Moderator: The next from, we’ll go to the line of Liz Raftery.

Liz: So obviously, the whole season so far is kind of a throwback to the 1980s and Miami Vice. ...recurring jokes ... cocaine addiction. So, I was wondering what sort of aspects of that whole ‘80s cop show would you most looking to ... this season in your discussions with Adam.

Jon: What was it? I’m sorry. I didn’t hear the last part.

Liz: Which aspects of those ‘80s cop shows were you most looking to spoof this season in your discussions with Adam? Does that come up at all?

Jon: Well, I mean it certainly seems like a lot—yes. Archer seemed to start in the ‘60s, late-‘70s in a way with this kind of nod to James Bond and that’s sort of progressing through the decade. I can’t wait for the ‘90s. But yes, I was a teenager, I think, when Miami Vice came out and that was such a huge show. So, I was excited when I heard that the whole format was sort of—but I think it’s sort of like the James Bond backdrop or landscape. It’s not necessarily—the show kind of maintains itself. It just sort of transitions into this kind of ‘80s world more so, but it’s not really a lampooning of Miami Vice I think.

Moderator: Next, we’ll go to Rich Milko and the

Rich: Have there been any discussions about further Archer live tours?

Jon: They do them very like sporadically. There’s one coming up in Austin, Texas I believe this weekend. I think so. And then, I think it depends on the availability of the cast. I know Aisha works during the week every day. So, it’s hard to schedule a tour, but we’ve been doing them kind of as one-offs. So, I assume they’ll do more. It’s just that they’re sporadic.

Moderator: Next, we’ll go to the line of Leslie Stewart of Agents of Geek.

Leslie: So, my question for you is what your favorite drink?

Jon: Favorite drink?

Leslie: Yes.

Jon: Like drink drink or any drink?

Leslie: No, like drink drink.

Jon: Drink drink. Not like soda water.

Leslie: Not like grape juice.

Jon: I hear you. 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.

Leslie: So, if “Coach McGuirk” and “Sterling Archer” and “Bob Belcher” got into a drinking contest, who do you think would take home the gold?

Jon: “Coach McGuirk,” “Bob Belcher” and “Archer?”

Leslie: Yes.

Jon: 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.

Leslie: Yes, he’s a tough guy.

Jon: He’s bigger.

Moderator: Then we have time for a couple more questions. The next question, we’ll go to the line of David Crow of Den of Geek.

David: One question I have about the new season going forward is can you foresee “Archer” sincerely trying to become a would-be father to “Lana’s” child in the future?

Jon: I think that there’s always the hope or there’s always the desire to probably do that, although I just don’t have a lot of confidence in “Archer” as the character to commit to that kind of thing yet. I think he’ll be more like one of those guys who might be able to raise a child when he’s in his mid-60s. So, I think he wants to do that, but I think his emotional issues, deep, deep emotional issues would always get in the way.

David: Speaking of the emotional issues, if there’s one life lesson “Sterling Archer” needs to learn, what do you think that is?

Jon: 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.

Moderator: Next, we’ll move to the USA Herald and the line of Niki Cruz.

Niki: Since we covered drinks, who makes a better burger, “Woodhouse” or “Bob?”

Jon: I don’t know. I guess “Woodhouse.” “Woodhouse just seems like he’s really—I don’t “Bob” runs a tight—apparently, “Bob” is really good at making burgers, but I don’t have total confidence in that.

Niki: What is the fan response? I mean you said that you do get recognized, but do you get like high-fives from bros and stuff like that and free beers?

Jon: I will get an occasional high-five from some bros, yes.

Niki: When you’re in the booth, is there a different sense of collaboration by working off of other performers?

Jon: Well, the way it works with Archer is I really just work off this guy named Matt: Thompson and this guy named Casey who are producers of the show Archer. They’re on the line. So, I always work off them and sometimes we’ll do scenes together; like we would read together a scene and sometimes I’ll just do line reading, but they’re very good at directing me as to what they want. So, that works out well.

Moderator: Then our last set of questions will come from the line of Leslie Stewart of Agents of Geek.

Leslie: I did want to ask you about Jon Benjamin Has a Van because it was such a hilarious show and it was a completely unique setting for us to see you in, but it ended only after ten episodes. In a few days, I know you’ll be talking about it in LA at the Celebration of Failure. So, why do you think it was a failure, and if you had to choose one celebrity to be on Cash Stall, who would it be?

Jon: 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 shit? That’s really the bottom line, right?

Leslie: Yes, really.

Jon: 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.

Leslie: I think it was kind of ahead of its time. I don’t know. I think they should bring it back. I thought it was really great.

Jon: Thank you. 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.

Kristy: Thank you, everyone, for all joining us today and especially Jon. We always have such a blast speaking with you and greatly appreciate your time.

Jon: No problem.

Kristy: As a reminder, Archer premieres Monday, January 13th at 10:00 p.m. eastern and pacific only on FX.

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