When "Archer" creator Adam Reed first sold his hit animated series, he billed it as "James Bond meets 'Arrested Development.' " So it only makes sense that when it came time to cast the show, Reed turned to "Arrested" alumni Jessica Walter, who plays Malory Archer (essentially Lucille Bluth if she ran an international intelligence agency), and Judy Greer as her secretary Cheryl.
Originally conceived as a supporting role, Greer's character became an instant fan-favourite as she morphed from a lovelorn secretary into a glue-chugging sociopath. And while Cheryl's gone by a number of different self-appointed names over the course of the show, one thing she's never been called is "well-adjusted."
With Season 4 of "Archer" premiering on Teletoon At Night on Thursday, September 5th, HuffPost TV Canada spoke with Greer about playing the craziest character on a show that's packed with them, and what lessons she thinks fans learned from "Arrested Development" that will hopefully benefit "Archer."
HuffPost TV Canada: In the beginning, Cheryl was supposed to be a relatively minor character, but obviously ended up becoming a central one in the series. Did you ever talk with Adam Reed about what made him decide to expand your role?
Judy Greer: I know when I read the script, in the pilot I was like a weepy secretary who was pining for Archer. Maybe we'd had sex and then he blew me off and I was crying all the time, and nervous around him. I don't remember the shift, I don't know why it changed, it just did. I'm not ruling out the idea that maybe Adam was like, "I want to do something different, is that cool with you?" and I said yes, because it's been a while. But I was super happy. I would've done it the other way. That seems like a character I'd play in a live-action thing, but this way is way more fun and way more crazy.
Have you enjoyed watching the character become increasingly unhinged as the years have gone on? How complicit are you in taking Cheryl down that road?
One-hundred percent. I think it's really fun, it's just nothing I probably would ever do in a live-action show, so it's so fun for me to play this character. Also, the fans just really love her, and the crazier and weirder she gets, I feel like the more people respond to her. And one of those great things about doing a voiceover is you feel really free in that dark little room all by yourself, I have to say. [Laughs] Like, things don't bother me. I don't mind saying the things that they write because I feel like I'm not myself. It's always strange when the episodes come on the air and I'm like, "Oh yeah ... that is a crazy thing to put in a TV show." [Laughs]
Is there a line you can't cross on this show, or does that not really apply here?
No, I never felt that there was ever a line. I don't think we ever had one. I mean, if we did, we definitely crossed it. I think some viewers might feel we've crossed the line, but I don't know, I never felt like anyone was like, "You can't do that." I'm not on the phone with FX and Adam Reed, but it does feel like everything stays pretty true to the script.
Is it difficult to play a role like this when you're limited to just using your voice and don't get to add in all the physicality that you might in a live-action performance?
I think in some ways it's easier, because I do kind of act it out in that room. I'm obviously not having sex and getting strangled, but I will put my arms around my throat. And if I'm screaming or freaking out or jumping, I do it all. I feel like that maintains the integrity of the scene and my voice. It just helps. It helps me and it helps get my energy level where it needs to be. And it really is all about energy. I never feel like I'm pushing or I'm trying to be over-the-top, but it is important to have the same amount of energy that you would have if you were doing it live.
Do you enjoy the chances that you've gotten to explore Cheryl's backstory on the show, and do you get to do more of that in Season 4?
Well actually, I'm recording Season 5 and we definitely get to do more of that in Season 5. I love learning her backstory. Like the episode where I found out I was super rich [in Season 2], I was like, "What?!" It was so funny. And then it just all sort of made sense in a way. It's also changed her relationship with Malory a lot, and that is super fun. Seeing the control that Cheryl got when everyone found out she was loaded, it really changed the dynamic.
But it's interesting, and I think Adam Reed is a genius, because I felt like it changed everyone else's dynamic, but it didn't change Cheryl at all. My character just got a lot more fun because people were treating her differently. Like they wanted to scream at her and get rid of her and tell her she's a freak, but now they can't. But she doesn't even know the difference; to her she's so in her own world. She's such a freak, but yeah, that was a really fun change for me when that happened.
Between you and Jessica Walter, and Jeffrey Tambor and David Cross guest-starring, it's almost like a mini "Arrested Development" reunion in some episodes. Do you think that's purely coincidental or are there some similar comedic sensibilities that drew you all to "Archer?"
It's sort of a cop-out, but I think it's both. I think that tonally it's very similar to "Arrested Development," so I feel like it makes sense that the casting directors would gravitate towards those actors, but I also think it's a little bit of a coincidence. Because there's this group of funny people and we just continuously try to get them to do the show. I think it's maybe like 70/30, 30 being the coincidence part.
The show seems to inspire a similar cult following online. What do you think makes something like "Archer" inspire such devotion in fans, to the point where they're watching and re-watching episodes to break down all the references and callbacks?
I think it's just so smart. You have to watch the episodes a couple times to get it. It's really layered, and that's what makes it fun, like a puzzle when you're watching it. It really challenges your brain. And when you do find that new thing in an episode you've seen three times, it feels like you've found a secret, like you've found Waldo. [Laughs] I think that's why the fans are so devoted. And I think everyone -- I might regret saying this -- but I think people learned a hard lesson when "Arrested Development" got cancelled the first time on TV. Because people found "Arrested" very late. We had a real cult following when we were on the air, but it was the #1 TiVoed show or something. People weren't really watching when it was on air, they were watching it later. Or like so many people, discovered it later. So I think fans are now becoming very obsessive about what they love. I hope anyway, in order to keep it going. [Laughs]
You've got a book coming out next year, "I Don't Know Where You Know Me From." After all the voice acting that you've done now, do you find that people are recognizing your voice more these days?
Not really. But people do recognize me from "Archer," which I always am floored [by] and I think it's so cool when people are like, "You're in 'Archer,' right?" Because to me, if they're calling me out from "Archer," that means that when they were watching "Archer," they looked up the cast in it, and they remembered the cast and their names. It means that people did their homework. It means they really love the show. When that episode was over they didn't just turn off their TV or computer. They were like, "Who's that person, who played this, who did that?" So I'm so flattered when that happens.
Season 4 of "Archer" premieres on Thursday, Sept. 5 at 10:30 p.m. ET on Teletoon at Night in Canada. "Archer" Season 4 already aired on FX in the U.S.
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