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August 29, 2015

Will Arnett: The TV Squad Interview

by Joel Keller, posted Aug 2nd 2006 11:43AM
Will Arnett as GOB BluthArrested Development might be gone -- for now -- but Will Arnett is still basking in the show's afterglow. Last month, Arnett, who played illusionist and ne'er-do-well "Gob" Bluth, was nominated for an Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for his role on the defunct cult classic. In addition, the 36-year-old actor has been extremely busy shooting a number of different movies, from the Will Ferrell-starring comedy Blades of Glory to two projects being directed by Bob Odenkirk of Mr. Show.

The man was so busy, that I only had about twenty minutes to talk to him. But we were able to cover a lot of territory when we spoke, from his Emmy nod, to why he thought Arrested didn't make it, to the prospect of an AD movie. And, of course, he was very funny, even rolling with my lame jokes when I dared utter them.

The interview was conducted by phone on July 24.

Joel Keller: I just heard from your publicist that you've just come off filming a movie.

Will Arnett: Yes, I finished last week. It's called Brothers Solomon.

JK: He also mentioned a movie called Blades of Glory, too...

WA: Yeah, well we're still... I've actually got to go back on that. We still have about five weeks left to complete that.

JK: So what is Brothers Solomon about?

WA: Brothers Solomon is a script that was written by Will Forte of Saturday Night Live. And he and I play brothers, we play the brothers Solomon, John and Dean Solomon, who are... hmmm... who are... slightly naive, and their dad goes into a coma right at the start of the movie. And they find out from the doctor that their dad has expressed a sort of a wish, which had never been fulfilled, of having a grandchild. So the bros go about trying to figure out how to get a kid. And, again they're not that smart... so they end up getting this woman to be a surrogate and blah blah blah.

JK: Who else is in the movie?

WA: It's me and forte and Kristen Wiig, also from SNL, and Bob Odenkirik, of Mr. Show fame, directed.

JK: And Blades of Glory has Will Ferrell and your wife, Amy Poehler, and a bunch of other people, right?

WA: Yeah, that's right, it's Will and Jon Heder, and they play a men's figure skating pair for the first time ever (I laugh). They find a loophole because they've both been banned from singles skating for life. And my wife and I play their evil counterparts, four-time reigning world champs.

JK: Are you guys playing Americans, Canadians, Russians, or what?

WA: We're Americans but we have a little of a Euro flair to us.

JK: Have you noticed that since Arrested Development ended, or even during its run, you've been getting more of these kind of movie roles?

WA: Yeah, for sure. Arrested Development opened a lot of doors for me, and once I sort of became, I guess what you'd say "available," there was a lot of opportunity out there, and it's been nice; a lot of people have found it in their hearts to offer me movie parts.

JK: I've been looking at your IMDb profile and I notice you're doing a lot of different projects lately. How many of them are you attached to right now?

WA: Well, um, you know, we've got a film coming out in November -- I say "we" I mean "all of me" -- this prison film I also did with Bob Odenkirk directing (Let's Go to Prison). And then we've got Blades of Glory, and we've got Brothers Solomon, and I've got a script in development with this guy Chuck Martin who used to write on Arrested, and, you know, we have a few things in various stages of development. Another one is this idea that we sold in the spring to Dreamworks called The Ambassador, and that's something I'm working on with a guy named Mike Schur, who's a writer on The Office -- actually, Emmy-nominated writer on The Office.

Mike Schur's an incredibly funny writer, and so he and I are working on this thing right now, which I'm really excited about.

JK: Where were you when you found out about your Emmy nomination?

WA: Um... I was... I was on a plane just taxiing into the airport in Stockholm, Sweden.

JK: Doing a location shoot, I guess?

WA: No (laughs). No, I was there for the Swedish Meatball Festival.

JK: (laughs) Okaaay. Seriously?

WA: (laughs) No, that's not true.

JK: (Laughs) I was going to say... I mean, they have good meatballs there, but..

WA: The Swedish International Meatball Festival. (laughs)

JK: You could just go to IKEA, Will.

WA: I know! That's what everybody kept telling me! It's so much closer!

JK: And the meatballs are right where the cafeteria is, away from all the furniture.

WA: I said "No! I'm going to the horse's goddamn mouth!"

JK: (laughs) The source of the meatball.

WA: The source of the meatball.

No, I was going out there for a family wedding. So you know... honestly? I was just turning on my phone, kind of as a reflex; it's what you do now as soon as you land. And I ... I was shocked to see that I had 13 voice mail messages.

JK: Weren't you shocked to realize your phone worked in Sweden?

WA: (laughs) Well, yeah, first of all, I didn't know that I had quad-band technology on my phone (I laugh). Immediately, I was ahead of the game on that.

JK: So I guess when you saw the 13 messages, you realized...

WA: Well, no, I didn't because I didn't even know the nominations were coming out. I gotta say, it wasn't even on my radar. I hadn't... I hadn't even thought about it. I didn't even realize... it wasn't something that I was... planning on... being a part of, to be honest. So it came as a complete... At first, my initial reaction was that somebody died.

And then I... I'm loath to admit that I carry two devices... the other one is a BlackBerry, and I turned that on, and all of a sudden the inbox started filling up, and it kept saying "Congratulations," and I was wondering why people were congratulating me on a death in the family (I laugh). And then I opened the first one from my manager, saying that I'd been nominated. And I was... I gotta say, maybe it was the jet lag, I was so shocked that I closed the message and put my BlackBerry back in my pocket and just sat there for a second, because I really didn't understand what was happening.

JK: Right, because this is your first nomination; you weren't nominated the first two years the show was on. Did you find it kinda weird that the show ended and now you're getting nominated for it?

WA: Yeah, well, for sure. And that's part of the reason that it wasn't even... that even more so, it wasn't something that I expected, because we stopped shooting episodes the day before Christmas and our last episode aired in like February. So to turn on your phone in July, when you're not expecting it, and hear you've been nominated is so weird! I don't know... Luckily, I have a very limited vocabulary and I can just throw out words like "weird."

JK: (Laughs) When did you feel that you moved on from Arrested? At what point did you think to yourself, "OK, I'm done with that; that was a chapter in my life," and let it go?

WA: Um... Probably when I drove onto Pico Boulevard after shooting our last episode... the Fox lot.

JK: (gullibly) Really, that quick, huh?

WA: No, that's not true (both laugh).

JK: As soon as you collected the paycheck, right?

WA: (still joking) Yeah, the moment they said, "That's a wrap."

No, Arrested Development was such an amazing experience in every way, and you know it was very unique in that it was a show that received a lot of critical acclaim, and yet we didn't ever achieve the ratings that we wanted... so... But as a result of that, there was, once the show ended, there was this talk for sort of four, five months about what was going to happen, and if we were going to move to Showtime, and if we were going to be bought by ABC or whatever. So there was never an actual moment of closure, like "that's it." The whole time it was just out there.

JK: Did you kind of feel you were being led on... Not led on, but you were kind of drifting, with little bits of news floating around that you might or might not be getting picked up?

WA: I thought, not unlike the biblical Job -- spelled with a "J" -- I felt like I was being tested. (I laugh)

Yeah, it was.... It's hard. Since moment one, since the first episode aired back in 2003 -- remember that? Remember 2003? Way back then. Oh, man... Good times...

JK: (laughing) Those were the days.

WA: Those were the days. And we... right from moment one, we were always kinda up against the wall a little bit when it came to the future of the show. There were always rumors. I mean, I gotta say one of the greatest victories on that show was when we got picked up for the back nine of the first season, and they made it a full order. We were, all of us, totally shocked, and it was such a great celebration for us, and sort of vindication, because we felt like we were making a really good show and that we deserved a chance. And I remember so clearly the moment that we found out; it was really a great thing.

But since day one, we've always been kinda up against it. So at the end, it's not surprising that we were kind of led along for so many months and didn't know what the fate of the show was gonna be. It was... in a weird way, just kind of that was the way it's always been.

JK: It was kind of a shocker that it got picked up for a third season to begin with, right?

WA: Mmm hmm. (Takes a drink) I've always suspected that had a lot to do with the changing of the guard over at the network. I think it would have been difficult for Peter Ligouri (Current Fox Entertainment President) to cancel the show and go to his first upfront being besieged by critics who were fans of the show. (laughs) Those are the only fans of the show, so... That may have taken a lot of focus away from what he was trying to do with the new schedule... I imagine. I mean, not that I really know how all that works, but I think that that probably had a lot to do with it -- and, by the way, not that he wasn't a fan of the show, he was always very nice about it -- but I think it was about him not wanting to initially rock the boat.

JK: But it won an Emmy for Best Comedy Series (in 2004) then won an Emmy for writing (in 2005). So was there pressure on them, because it won all those Emmys the first two years, not to cancel the show?

WA: Yeah, I think that that would... It doesn't look great if you cancel the reigning Best Comedy Program, you know, you're gonna take a hit from a... from sort of a public relations standpoint.

JK: I've never seen a show get strung along to the degree that Arrested Development did... where it was like, "Well, we don't know... it's on hiatus... we may bring it back." For literally like six months, until (exec. Producer) Mitch Hurwitz decided to say forget it, it was on life support. So when that (Hurwitz ending it) happened, were you relieved or were you disappointed?

WA: Well, I think that... you know... it's really... your emotions are very mixed at that point, because for everybody who's a part of the show, it's the end of an era. And we all felt like the show itself was really great, and we all operated at a fairly high level, and we really loved making the show. So to let that go was not easy. When it sort of finally sets in that you're not going to be doing that anymore... it's disappointing.

To know that you're not gonna have all this second and triple-guessing, that certainly there's a ... you do have a bit of a sense of a relief from that standpoint, that at least you know what the fate is. 'Cause you're not living in limbo. You're constantly living in limbo; it makes it very difficult to do anything.

JK: Were there projects you had to turn down because you weren't sure what Arrested was going to do?

WA: Yeah, there were things you had to kind of... be careful about what you scheduled, and you'd have to inquire with the network and say can you do X, Y and Z, and they'd say, "Well, we don't know." So it becomes a little tricky. So at least knowing is good.

JK: Who's responsibility was that? Was it Fox leading you along, or was it the whole Showtime thing?

WA: Well, we were never coming back to Fox... that was clear. The show had run its course on the Fox network. But, you know, there was obviously interest from Showtime and there had been interest from ABC... And I think that it became about the show... it ultimately came down to Mitch of course, and he is the captain of the ship, and... You know, it was a very difficult process making that show; especially by the end, it had become increasingly difficult to get the scripts in and to produce these shows at the level that he wanted to. And I think that at a certain point, after all the time and all the conjecture and everything that had kind of gone on surrounding this show, I think that Mitch just felt like it was time to let it go. It was best for the show. I don't think he felt like he could come back and give it what he wanted to. He didn't think that the shows could be what he wanted them to be.

JK: Was it a pressure thing? Because if this show came back after all this press and conjecture, the pressure would be on him to come flying out of the gate, especially if the show was on Showtime, where there'd be no restrictions.

WA: Yeah, of course. And I think... Not that he couldn't meet that pressure; I mean if there's anybody who can do it, it's Mitch. I mean, he's proven time and time again (that) he's a incredibly gifted and imaginative writer, and just the different directions he took the show in the three years it was on were so interesting, and the storylines, and the... So I don't think that... I don't know if he felt like he couldn't do it. I just think that at a certain point, he felt like it was taking too much of a toll on him and on his life. It was such a huge undertaking for him. More than anybody, it dominated his life.

JK: I'm a huge fan of the show. I watched from episode two and I was hooked...

WA: Well, you gotta go back and episode one, then... it's great.

JK: I did... I did...

WA: Okay.

JK: What do you think was the reason why it just couldn't get over that hump, ratings-wise? I mean, after a while, people realized that show was just not going to get that mass audience. What do you think was about it that people didn't want to embrace?

WA: I think there were a number of factors. I think that A, it wasn't necessarily a sexy show (laughs) by any stretch.

JK: Unless you count all the stuff David Cross' character (Tobais Fünke) was doing.

WA: David Cross has proven time and time again that he is an incredibly sexy performer.

JK: (Laughs) Yeah, right.

WA: And a lover, for that matter, just for the record.

JK: (Laughs) I'm sure he's very gentle.

WA: And generous. Very generous.

JK: Does he at least take his glasses off before he...

WA: Whatever you want. (Laughs)

But I think that you've got over on the ABC, you've got all the gals all sexed up and doing stuff, and then over on our show, you know, you're in Weirdo Town, and things are just kind of bizarre, so I think that A, there's that.

B, I think that... the one sort of saving grace was, for us anyway, for a long time, was all the critical support we got. And in a strange sort of a way, it was almost our undoing, ratings-wise. Because I think a lot of people felt like, ultimately -- and this isn't the first time I've said this, so I'll bore you again with it -- but ultimately it was... I think it felt like homework a bit for people. It's one of those things when you're constantly getting hit over the head with the fact that, "Oh, you've gotta watch this show! It's so good! It's so interesting!" I think that people feel like, "Alright already! I'll watch whatever the hell I want!" Also they feel like, "Ohhh, you know what? I missed it. I didn't get in early enough. I can't just turn it on now. I'll never get it."

JK: That's how I feel about Lost, by the way.

WA: Well, you know what? That's how I felt about Lost, and then I downloaded it on my video iPod, and now I am a full convert.

JK: Oh, I thought you were going to say you downloaded it via Bit Torrent...

WA: No, no, no... I pay for those episodes... gladly. It's fantastic. That show is excellent.

JK: I felt there were two reasons why Arrested Development didn't make it; firstly, what you said, that everybody who came in the show in the middle might not get the jokes. But I also think people felt that the Bluth family -- though they were funny has hell -- were kind of hard to like in a way. And that's important to people.

WA: Yeah, you know, within the context of TV families, these are pretty unsavory characters. There's a lot of lying and these are people who are incredibly flawed, and not in very sort of empathetic ways, either. Some of the things they do are pretty awful and some of the things they do to each other are pretty awful.

So, I think (chuckles) I understand -- and by the way, I don't blame people for not... it's not like I think "Oh.. Stupid, stupid people for not getting this show. It's fantastic." Look, I get it; you come home, you work hard, and you turn on your TV... You kind of want to escape a little bit and be taken away by something. Our show required you to pay attention, and if that's not what you wanted to do, then it wasn't going to be for you, and that's OK.

JK: Two more quick questions. You and Alia Shawkat (who played Mabey Fünke) both said there might be a movie in the works. Is that still true?

WA: Well... I don't know... I mean, Ron Howard said it in the final episode... You know, there have been... people have discussed it. It really would come down to a question of what that would be, and it would be a question of Mitch coming up with a story that he liked, that he felt was worthy of making it into a film.

JK: But nothing's concrete just yet.

WA: No. No, no no no.

JK: The second quick one involves your wife Amy. Has she heard anything about what changes are going to be made at SNL? I just read the article about Lorne Michaels saying there will be a lot of changes next year (I had posted the link on TVS that morning).

WA: You know what, to be perfectly honest, I have no idea. I don't think she really has any idea. She's been busy making this movie right now with Rachel Dratch (Spring Breakdown), so she's been kind of out of the loop on it. I don't think that anybody exactly knows what that means. I saw that online myself today. I don't really know; it's always kind of a mystery how that process works over there.

JK: But she's getting a new partner on "Weekend Update", I'd imagine.

WA: I imagine. I don't think she has any idea how that's gonna, you know, take shape. At least not yet.

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Tim in Augusta

Well, since Arnett won't say it, I will: "Stupid people for not watching the show!"

What's funny is that I totally don't see it as being one where you have to know backstory to get the show. With the narrator giving us everything, we, the audience, can easily sit back and enjoy the silliness. Then, as you go along, you get to enjoy even more humor as you get below the surface.

And, if actually LIKING the characters was required to like a show, how did Seinfeld go on so long? OK, perhaps we can relate better to Jerry & pals who are selfish, but they are kinda everyday shlubs. The Bluths are _rich_ selfish people, so everyday shlubs can't relate.

August 08 2006 at 6:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Andy DC

Hey Brother!

August 02 2006 at 5:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jeff stiefer

great job, Joel!!!

August 02 2006 at 5:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Good interview. I'm glad to see Will Arnett in so many new projects.

August 02 2006 at 5:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
P. G. Sample, III (Krwlngindarkness)

Fabulous interview. AD was an amazing show, but i will admit that i did not watch it on TV, so i'm part of the problem.

August 02 2006 at 2:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

SJ, you're right. Actually, that's how I initially asked the question to Will. But I changed it in the editing process after looking at IMDb again. I guess I misread it. I'll fix it.

August 02 2006 at 1:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Great interview Joel. Although you did make a slight mistake: Arrested Development won a Best Comedy Series Emmy only in 2004, not 2005.

August 02 2006 at 1:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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