The Twisted Genius Behind Sterling Archer
DS: It’s perfect casting. But all the casting is fantastic. When you come up with story ideas, how do you determine when to bring along the supporting characters? The ensemble is so central to the show.
AR: It became more of an ensemble piece very quickly. I didn’t set out for it to be like that. Judy Greer’s character Cheryl was originally going to be killed off in the pilot. Not killed off, but made to disappear. There was going to be a running gag that Archer kept getting Mallory’s secretaries pregnant. They would wipe their memories and just dump them on the street. Then Judy agreed to do the show, so we rewrote the pilot so that her character would stick around. The character of Pam, who has become one of my favorites, was just going to be this small, whatever comes after “tertiary” character. But Amber Nash is so great that Pam became much bigger. I think it’s the strength of the cast that as a writer makes me want to spend more time with everybody. The trick is finding room for everybody in an episode.
DS: How did you come up with Krieger? Where did he come from?
AR: He’s obviously based on Q but we wanted to make him a little darker and scarier. The model that we use for his face is a good friend of mine who is actually a doctor. Lucky Yates, who does the voice, brings this inherent mystery. He’s got this great, deep bass voice. He can easily be scary, but he always sounds like he’s smiling. Even when he says these ghoulish things there is a boyish enthusiasm about it. Once there is a crack in the wall of these characters and they say something weird, it opens the door and you can, every once in a while, keep dropping in these little asides. Or, somebody will mention one of the creepy things one of the other characters did.
DS: Where did the idea for the show come from? Where did this percolate up from?
AR: Well, I took a year off after Frisky Dingo. I was traveling, trying to think of a genre that was familiar, just like we did with Sealab and Frisky Dingo, where we could subvert the genre a little bit. In those shows, one was a workplace comedy [Sealab] and the other was just a buddy picture [Frisky Dingo]. They have these larger than life backdrops that are pretty much ignored so that the characters can just bicker among themselves. I just kept coming back to espionage and spy fiction as the one I was most familiar with. That’s where I started. I did tons of research, reading the James Bond novels, watching Matt Helm movies, OSS 117. I holed up in my house for weeks, watching movies and reading books. The “Eureka moment” was having his mom be the boss of the spy agency.
DS: It’s stroke of genius, especially cast with Jessica Walter.
AR: She’s fantastic. She’s just so wonderful.
DS: Animation is pretty new to FX. After seeing the first Archer promo before Season 1 aired, I was intrigued. Early on, before the show debuted, did you ever sense any sort of buzz that this show was going to do well?
AR: No. But another great thing about working with FX has been that they’re not afraid to put their massive PR machine muscle behind the show. Which was another nice change. People would send me an email saying, “Hey, I’m in Los Angeles and a bus just drove by with Archer’s face on it.” People send me pictures of billboards in New York and it’s like, “What? This is the real thing.”
DS: The upcoming 3rd season has 16 episodes?