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Archer's H. Jon Benjamin talks Season 5 and what's in store for ISIS

Archer's H. Jon Benjamin talks Season 5 and what's in store for ISIS

Archer kicks off a new season next week, and Shakefire had the pleasure of speaking with actor H. Jon Benjamin, the voice of Agent Sterling Archer himself. Fans are in for a rude awakening as the fifth season premiere kicks things off with a drastic turn of events for Archer and the rest of ISIS. If you thought Lana's pregnancy was a surprise, you haven't seen anything yet.

Shakefire (SF): What can fans kind of expect from season five, and is there a particular episode you’re excited for them to see?
H. Jon Benjamin (HJB):
Well, the first episode, obviously, really defines the whole change of what’s going on in the season.  We haven’t finished recording the whole season yet, so there’s more to come.  So, I can’t really pick the favorite except for the first one, which I think is a real—I don’t know if you’ll be shocked, but you’ll be hopefully duly surprised.  So, be prepared.  I would say definitely the first episode.  It’s really fun to see what happens to ISIS.

SF: Do you know why they decided to go in such a completely different direction this season, sort of changing so many things?
HJB: Well, I think there are a lot of changes and a lot that stays the same obviously, but I think Adam Reed probably got very drunk one night while he was writing on his computer.

SF: Watched too many episodes of Miami Vice late at night or something?
HJB: Well, I assume he’s of the age where he grew up on that show.  I know I was, maybe, right, mid-40s.  I don’t want to give away his age in case he’s been lying to people. I mean I’m not exactly sure why, but I assume it has something to do with wanting to kind of change the environment a little bit.  But, the good thing is the characters are pretty much the same dynamics.  They’re the same.  It’s just more confusion, more of the same confusion.

SF: What was your reaction when Adam first broke the news to you about how dramatically the series was going to be changing?  Was everyone briefed at once, or did you get a late night drunken phone call?
HJB: We all went to the briefing room, the briefing chamber underneath the briefing room and no, for the last couple of seasons, he’s had very kind of high concept ideas.  So, I think he tells everybody individually.  I don’t think we’re ever all in the same room for anything.

So, yes, like last season with the Bob Burger’s crossover, I think he had called me to tell me that, about that.  So, I was forewarned about this change.  But then, when he told me in detail what was going to happen, I was thrilled.  I mean I loved the idea.  But in fairness, I couldn’t reject it.  I couldn’t say, “Don’t do that.”  I don’t have that kind of power.

SF: Season five is probably the biggest departure for the Archer series.  What did you enjoy most about recording for Archer Vice this year?
HJB: The outfits.  The outfits I wore were much better; all Miami Vice stuff that I wore while recording.  So, that was fun to do, finally to get back to the way I used to dress.

SF: Was there any particular aspect of the changes that really surprised you or you just kind of roll with the punches with Adam now?
HJB: Yes, it was more like not punches, but slight slaps and I rolled with it.  I really love the idea that they’ve been operating without a license for all these years and also maybe the underlying idea that at any point in espionage as a whole, the organizations can eat themselves kind of thing.  So, I thought it was a great way to change the show.

SF: Which aspects of those ‘80s cop shows were you most looking to spoof this season in your discussions with Adam?  Does that come up at all?
HJB: Well, I mean it certainly seems like a lot—yes.  Archer seemed to start in the ‘60s, late-‘70s in a way with this kind of nod to James Bond and that’s sort of progressing through the decade.  I can’t wait for the ‘90s.  But yes, I was a teenager, I think, when Miami Vice came out and that was such a huge show.  So, I was excited when I heard that the whole format was sort of—but I think it’s sort of like the James Bond backdrop or landscape.  It’s not necessarily—the show kind of maintains itself.  It just sort of transitions into this kind of ‘80s world more so, but it’s not really a lampooning of Miami Vice I think.

SF: Can you talk a little bit about how Lana’s pregnancy will change the dynamic with Archer this season since usually they’re partners?
HJB: Yes.  Well, she’s moving a little slower and carrying some extra weight.  Doing what she’s doing this season and being pregnant, there’s a fairly huge conflict of interest.

SF: Can you foresee Archer sincerely trying to become a would-be father to Lana’s child in the future?
HJB: I think that there’s always the hope or there’s always the desire to probably do that, although I just don’t have a lot of confidence in “Archer” as the character to commit to that kind of thing yet.  I think he’ll be more like one of those guys who might be able to raise a child when he’s in his mid-60s.  So, I think he wants to do that, but I think his emotional issues, deep, deep emotional issues would always get in the way.

SF: If there’s one life lesson Sterling Archer needs to learn, what do you think that is?
HJB: I think he probably needs to sort of get over these issues with his mother, but that’s hard to do.  Most people can’t.  I think he probably needs to cut the line with his mom and just go somewhere and write an autobiography.

SF: Do you prefer the mystery around Sterling’s father, or do you feel that he should be revealed?
HJB: I prefer the mystery I think.  I think it fuels his anger.  It’s both what makes him good at what he does and bad as a human being, which is fun to watch.  So, yes, I mean maybe it will get resolved, but I’m not sure Malory knows.

SF: You had mentioned earlier about Bob Burger’s episode that you did from last season.  Are there any other characters from your past that you’d like to see do another crossover episode?  Like what other characters would you like to see done?
HJB: You mean like in Archer or anything?

SF: Yeah, in Archer.
HJB: Oh, man. Wow.  I suppose Katz or something, or maybe like Jason from Home Movies should walk by, but all grown up now.

SF: A spy in training perhaps?
HJB: He’s be like 18 now.  That would be fun, to see him grown up.

SF: What have been some of the biggest acting challenges you would say in creating a character using just your voice?
HJB: Well, it was very hard initially when I first did it, but that was like a long time ago.  It’s hard to be sort of physically restrained.  I mean I’m not tied up or anything, except on occasion from the night before.  Well, whatever.  That’s a little bit difficult when I started, but I guess I’m just kind of used to it now.  I’ve been doing for so long.  I get kind of used to just working alone in a booth.

But at first, it was definitely odd.  I remember feeling that way, like how do you negotiate this.  Like can I yell?  Like am I too loud?  Yes, so there’s a lot of like natural restraints, like being extra careful, which I wouldn’t do in a live performance.

SF: How did the character of Archer come to be?  There seemed to be a lot of really interesting personality characterizations that make him up.  So, did one person or celebrity influence how you play him, or is there a lot of yourself you see in Archer?
HJB: It wasn’t really based on anybody in particular, any celebrity.  I think I had the initial idea to make him—try and portray him as suave, but I couldn’t really do that.  So, I just played it by ear.  I mean I kind of pictured him in a tuxedo a lot like James Bond.  I just don’t embody that.  I can barely get into a tux.  Everything is odd fitting lately.  Yes, I just kind of played him as a very hyper-aggressive version of me.

SF: You have such a brilliant way of balancing dry humor with absurdist humor and I was just wondering how do you keep that balance so fresh season after season?
HJB: Well, I really don’t.  I think Adam Reed has a lot to do with that and the writing has a lot to do with that.  So, I defer to that mostly.  I think maybe I add drier elements, but the absurdist stuff is all in the scripts.  So, there you go.

SF: And he has no edit button whatsoever.  So, that must be a gratifying experience for you, right?
HJB: Well, yes, it’s really fun to play.  He’s a spy.  So, he can do what he wants.  I mean I guess he announces that he’s a spy a lot, which he shouldn’t do, but I guess when you’re carrying a gun, you feel better about yourself, but that doesn’t suggest carry a gun; just to feel better about yourself.

SF: Is there such a thing as too much or over the top with Archer?
HJB: It doesn’t seem so.  I mean it lives pretty within itself I have to say.  So, as much as it’s over the top, it feels organic.  You know what I mean?  I haven’t seen them go way outside themselves, and that was a slight concern with like a Bob Burger’s crossover because that can get like, “Oh, why are you ruining it?”

But, he pulled it off.  It was seamless.  If you didn’t know Bob Burger’s, I don’t think you would have even batted your eyes at that.  So, even when they do things very conceptual, it somehow still works for Archer.

The fifth season premiere of Archer airs Monday, January 13 at 10PM ET on FX.