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H. Jon Benjamin, Voice Of Sterling Archer - Exclusive Interview

H. Jon Benjamin is one of most distinct voice actors of our time, both in spite and because of his instantly recognizable tone. He voices the title role on Archer and Bob's Burgers, each in their 11th seasons. He still books live-action parts, including his starring role in the Short Trek episode "The Trouble With Edward," and he also moonlights as Jon Benjamin – Jazz Daredevil, playing piano and synths despite never having learned them. His newest album, The Soundtrack Collection, came out in July and features him playing synth versions of classic movie themes.

Looper interviewed H. Jon Benjamin over Zoom, primarily to talk about Archer but also about his varied career. Also, never let it be said he can't be sincere: he showed up for his interview moments after attending a union rally for the staff at his son's school. He's serious about that, even if he's deeply unserious about everything else.

Playing post-coma Archer

So how does it feel being real Archer again?

It's good to be back. Although I certainly liked the coma dream seasons quite a bit, because it was always interesting to see what was coming next. But I think it's just good to be back in general, as in it's good to keep doing the show because there was a bit of a concern that maybe the show would end after the final coma, or after last season. So I'm glad they found a way forward so that Archer could survive. I think a lot of fans were interested in seeing him come back to the spy game, so that's good for everybody.

Before the dream sequence season, I remember there was an announcement that it was renewed for three more seasons. And I remember a lot of people thinking that was going to be the end of it.

I think that Adam Reed and Matt [Thompson] and Casey [Willis] did have a plan to maybe end the show after 1999, but I think they shifted when they came up with an idea to how to continue it. So it was probably just a creative choice, which was good. So there's that.

Do you see a future for Archer after this season, or are you just going to keep doing it, as long as they give you some?

I assume he's going to get, he'll go into another coma after maybe four or five more seasons. And then they'll do three more coma seasons and just repeat the process every decade until I pass away.

You do a lot of yelling in your shows.

I do. I actually have a rasp. We did a table read on Zoom yesterday, I think I injured my voice again. Whenever I do Archer, I injure my voice.

Between this, Bob's Burgers, and everything else that you do, how do you keep your voice healthy through all of that?

Oh my god. What do I do? I get three hours of sleep a night, that helps. And I liquor up in the morning and that's how I do Archer.

Well, now is the part where I admit that when I told people I'd be interviewing you, I heard "You're not going to hear a single truthful thing from him."

That's not true. I don't want to hurt the cause of the union. That was the real deal.

That's the real deal.

No, I don't liquor up in the morning. I do it at night, so that was somewhat of a lie.

The difference between voicing Bob and Archer

You have a very recognizable voice and you do a lot of voice acting, but it's a very similar voice all the time. And yet somehow I and a lot of people who listen can tell your characters apart. I can tell Bob from Archer.

The discerning ear can always tell, thank you for that.

But how do you make them different, Bob and Archer?

Well, it sort of comes naturally now. In the beginning, it was a little more difficult, I think, just because I would recognize when Bob was veering into Archer while doing it. There were actually some occasions when I would record on the same day, but that only happened a few times. I just did an interview where I was like, "I wonder whether someone can find those?" Like the Bob episode where he really sounded aggressive. That probably came off of leaving an Archer session and then going to do Bob's that same day, maybe too much Archer in there.

I think the shows are done differently, as in the way we record the audio is different. Archer, I record line by line so they can do, it's more conventional the way most animation is done, as in the voice actor does three takes of the line. Bob's we record with other actors together, so you're doing it more as a scene, maybe more like live action in a way. So in that way, that's helpful to the character of Bob, to do it that way because he's often finding the next word a little bit. That's mainly the trick, I guess.

I've noticed, it's like how Bob is groping his way through the day, trying to find his way to the end. And Archer is barreling his way through the day.

Well, Archer is a creature of privilege in every sense, and he's confident about everything he says. And Bob is different in that respect, he's more like most people, not quite confident in anything he's doing. So that's probably the main acting I do, to differentiate.

The tragedy of being Archer

This season, there's a lot of sadness in Archer. He's resigned to what he's become, he's begrudgingly accepting a supporting role, and there's real sadness in his voice. How do you approach that?

Well, I think coming back out of the coma, there's certainly... There's obviously the physical deficiencies and then having to deal emotionally or mentally with that aspect, which is like basically Archer's mode of existence. Just being confident and good at what... That was Archer's biggest problem is that he was actually good at what he did, despite himself. I think throughout the season, whenever Archer is at any moment where there's some self-reflection, he quickly falls back on the way he is, which is basically an aggro a**hole. So there might be, there were obviously some tender moments within the series before, maybe this is a little more like diving into that. Like when Archer had cancer and when Archer had Abbiejean, but he always finds a way back to being defensive and self-involved.

I love the cancer one as an example because we saw, minute by minute, him go from being grateful to being aggressive again when he found out what his diagnoses were.

I think this season is more of a longer, drawn-out version of Archer having come to terms with another major trauma in his life. I don't know if he'll ever resolve his issues, that's the problem.

How do you handle fight scenes? Because everybody in there gets the hell beaten out of them all the time.

I don't have to stay in shape or anything for that, but as much exercise as I do get, I am moving around a lot in the booth when I make fight noises. So that's a pretty good aerobic workout for me.

Jon Benjamin, Jazz Daredevil

Just the other month you released a new album, The Soundtrack Collection. I've seen some reviews for it. I don't know if you've read some reviews but my favorite is "This sure is a thing that exists."

[Laughs] That sounds like a fair point.

And I got to make a point about the first one, which is "Danger Zone" with Kenny Loggins and you're now married to the phrase "Danger Zone."

That's true, and I have to thank Archer for that. And thank Kenny Loggins for doing that, he was really nice and we've talked back and forth ever since he did his role on Archer. He's always game to do something and he's a very nice guy.

What relationship do you have? Because he had that great episode on Archer, that great guest spot.

Him and Burt Reynolds, I guess would be the highlights for me. I just reached out to him when I was doing the album because I was doing soundtrack covers. So obviously, his song came to mind really quickly.

What do you do on that album? Is it just the synthesizer you play on there?

I am playing a Moog One synth, sometimes a Minimoog, but mainly a Moog One. Oh, sorry, mainly the Minimoog, but I also use the Moog One.

And is there a particular reason you decided to do this outside of "it's fun?"

I was trying to do a followup to my first one and I want to stay relevant in the jazz world. But that's not working out, based on that review.

Another review I loved said, "What more could you ask for, besides your money back?"

[Laughs] I will happily reimburse you.

Working on Star Trek

What's it like working on Star Trek?

That was really fun. They shot it where they shoot the show. I can't remember, that was like... It was pre-pandemic, obviously. So where did I go to do that? I was in Toronto where they shoot Discovery, I guess? And that was really fun. The uniform was very tight, but that would be my only complaint and I do think that was partially my fault because I'm maybe not suited for space suits. In the future, you have to be in shape.

Were you a Star Trek fan growing up?

I was a fan of the original, for sure. I stopped watching after, probably that, so I gave up maybe in my teen years. Well, I don't know, how many seasons? Not many in the original, right?

Three seasons for the original.

So I probably watched them live, as in when they were made on TV.

How does it feel to be the guy who's responsible for the Tribbles?

I thought you were going to say "How does it feel to be that old?" But that's —

No, no.

Then, not good. I think that's another point of contention with a lot of Star Trek fans, that I don't think they wanted to have Tribbles be discovered by this guy. And I think people argue that it was outside of canon perhaps, does that make sense?

I've heard that, yeah. People say that a lot about the newer Trek.

Right. But I'm glad to be a part of the universe. In general, not just Star Trek.

Since you do so much voice acting, is it strange to do live-action for you now?

No, I've always done live-action here and there over the years, so I can do both. Certainly doing Archer and Bob's is a lot more comfortable, live-action is a lot more involved, more time and effort I guess on my part. Which is against my nature, time and effort.

Voice acting, you just show up to the studio.

Kind of, yeah. Well, and also it's a bit more forgiving, voice acting. There's not the pressure to perform perfectly every time. You're not wasting a lot of people's time if you're doing it poorly, considering the amount of people involved.

Keeping the role fresh, guest stars, and parting thoughts

You've been playing Bob and Archer for a very, very long time. And Bob's Burgers in particular looks like it's going to go on for a long time. How do you keep the role fresh and engaged after doing it so much?

Well, I partially would credit the entire show for that, in the production and the writers. And Loren Bouchard in the case of Bob's Burgers, who comes to work pretty much as excited as when he started the show, in a way. And a lot of the writers, on Bob's especially, have been there since the very beginning as well, since the inception of the show. And since the movie Inception came out. Sorry. In a way, Archer is similar, but it didn't have a writing staff, it just had Adam Reed and he wrote everything. It's always a pleasure to share, for my part, their process because if they're putting out the same kind of work season after season, it just makes it really easy for the actors. And I think that's my answer?

You've mentioned Burt Reynolds and Kenny Loggins. Are there any other guest stars that really stand out to you?

I always liked David Cross, his role was really good as Noah. And I'm trying to think who else.

I was expressively not excited about Simon Pegg or [Jamie Lee Curtis]... [Laughs] No, I am. Like I said, I haven't heard their part yet so maybe he phoned it in.

I think you'll be happy with what Simon Pegg does.

Well, actually John Roberts was iconic as Linda in the iconic crossover episode, which I thought was actually, that was really well done.

I loved that episode, that was so good.

That was really great. That's probably one of my favorite episodes.

So is there anything you want fans to know about Archer this season?

Well, it's a really good season and I think fans are going to be super excited to see Archer back at work. And to see Archer struggling to find his way with using a cane now, and physically depleted, and having to deal with that. So yeah, I think it's a really good re-introduction to the spy world that I think was why everybody loved the show in the beginning.

Catch Archer Wednesdays at 10pm/9c on FXX and Bob's Burgers Sundays at 9pm on Fox. Stay tuned to Looper for more exclusive Archer coverage.