On the new NBC sitcom Up All Night, actor Will Arnett plays a new dad who decides to put his law career on hold and stay at home with his newborn daughter while his wife, played by Christina Applegate, goes back to work.
Adjusting to being a dad on screen wasn't hard for Arnett, he says, mainly because he has two young kids at home. What was harder, he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross, was explaining to his 2.5-year-old son what it meant to have a "TV wife" and "TV baby."
"My wife [Amy Poehler] and I were watching the first cut earlier this summer at home in New York and our son came in the room and he looked at the TV with a puzzled look on his face because on the screen, I'm holding one of the babies," he says. "And I paused the show ... and he said 'That's Dada's baby?' and I said, 'No, that's Dada's baby but it's not real.' And he said, 'No, that baby's real.' ... And I was thinking 'How do I explain this to a 2.5 year old? It's just very difficult."
The character Arnett plays in Up All Night is funny, but not nearly as over-the-top as some of his earlier roles on TV shows like 30 Rock, where he played Jack's rival Devon Banks, and Arrested Development, when he played Gob Bluth, a magician and the oldest son in the dysfunctional Bluth family.
"I love characters who are really confident and dumb," he says. "I just love that combination. But even I tire of it. When I read for [Up All Night,] it was the first time that I really identified with a character. ... It's nice to play these real moments in the show and not have to pay it off with some grandiose statement or say something dastardly."
And Gob Bluth, his character on Arrested Development, was particularly dastardly, says Arnett. He remembers doing scenes where his character would say something like 'You're my brother. And I love you. And I will always love you.'
"And then the person walks out of the room, [and Gob would say] 'Because I know you're going to die soon,'" he says. "And [series creator] Mitch Hurwitz went to town with the soap opera music playing underneath to crescendo. Mitch never lets a moment [stay] — he always undercuts real moments. And he feels like that's his job as a comedy writer."
Hurwitz, who also worked with Arnett on the FOX sitcom Running Wilde, brought actual magicians to the Arrested Development set to help Arnett learn his tricks for the show.
"Because Gob was a terrible magician, he was always, in great comedic moments, messing up his magic act," he says. "We used to have magicians come in to work on these tricks to actually get them wrong. But they still had to work. We had to bring magicians on to make magic not work."
On doing voice over work
"The first paying voice over gig I ever got was for a company called Harvard Community Health Plan, which is a Boston-based New England healthcare provider. I inherited a deep, gravelly voice from my dad who has always claimed that if I ever get injured, he'll just take over for me. Even when I was 23, I had a pretty gravelly voice and I looked pretty young. I think that particular job, because it was quite a big job — and I had to fly to Boston — and I think they were pretty shocked to see how young I looked. I probably looked like I was 18 at most when I was 23. And the copy was all reassuring healthcare-stuff. Like 'Don't worry, we'll take care of anything you need.' And here comes this young punk."
On the pace of 30 Rock and Arrested Development
"Those scripts are always hilarious. I get to show up and play this really fun, insane character and be unapologetically awful. It's really fun to do that. ... Each scene doesn't necessarily have a beginning, middle and end. ... Sometimes you can't let them breathe and it's all about pace. It's about understanding where that scene fits within the context of the show. On Arrested Development, the scenes would be even quicker and even shorter. The scenes were really paced up. I forget the most number of scenes we had in one day but it was north of 100."
On his wife Amy Poehler being very pregnant on the set of Saturday Night Live
"The last show she did before our son Archie was born was the show that Sarah Palin came on and Amy rapped. ... I remember her dancing up and down and I thought, 'Oh no. This could really happen.' And I guess, on one hand you could say it was terrible and on the other hand, you could say it would have been crazy-interesting TV. I certainly didn't want my child born on TV, but who knows?"