Move Over 007: The Creator of ‘Archer’ Discusses Why His Secret Agent is Such a Ladies Man
If there was an award for the most notches on the bedpost of a cartoon character, Sterling Archer from FX’s new prime-time animated series “Archer” would surely take home the gold medal. The show focuses on the antics of Archer, a deadly secret agent for a fictitious international spy agency headed by his mother. For those who havent seen the show, Archer is not the sappy, love-struck Bond portrayed by Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig. In fact, hes just the opposite: hard-drinking, smooth-talking, and quick to jump in bed with every moderately attractive piece of female tail within a mile radius, including his co-workers. The show pushes the womanizing, old-school James Bond caricature to the extreme.
It also features some serious comedy star power, including voice-overs by Aisha Tyler, H. Jon Benjamin, and Jessica Walter. BroBible caught up with Adam Reed, the show’s creator and producer, a few days after finishing the production for the first season of “Archer.” Reed’s previous success stories include “Sealab 2021” and “Frisky Dingo” on the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. Check out our exclusive Q and A and lots of embedded video clips from the show after the jump.
BroBible: After creating “Sealab 2021” and “Frisky Dingo” for Adult Swim, how did “Archer” end up at FX?
Adam Reed: The main goal was to reach a bigger audience. I had a great experience at Adult Swim for a really long time on those two shows and learned a lot. It was a really good experience but I wanted to see if I could reach a few more folks because Sunday night at 1:15 in the morning is fairly limited. My folks have probably never seen any of those shows. Although they have seen this one now and they don’t care for it.
Oh no, that’s not good. Why don’t they care for it?
Well, this new one is pretty dirty. I’m from a small Southern town. It’s not necessarily their kind of humor.
What was your initial attraction to developing spy fiction into a show?
After “Frisky Dingo” finished up, I took a year off and traveled. I spent a lot of time in Europe. I was surrounded by foreign things and thinking about James Bond. Although I’d be sitting in a cafe on a square and surrounded by all these beautiful buildings, I would always get the sense that there’s this really exotic and luxurious world going on behind all these closed doors that I’m not necessarily invited to.
The obvious comparison to Sterling Archer is an old-school, Sean Connery-era James Bond. Was the goal to push that espionage caricature as far as possible?
Yes, very much so. When I got back I did a lot of research about spy fiction; everything from John Buchan novels like “Greenmantle” to all the Bourne movies and the rebooted James Bond. Also, years and years ago I was given a whole set of first-edition, pulp-fiction paperbacks of all the James Bond novels. They have this amazing cover art with beautiful paintings of Bond and beautiful half-nekked women, as well as martini glasses and playing cards. When reading those novels, I was surprised that the sort of charming, easy-going James Bond from before the reboot is not in the novels at all. Bond is very misogynistic, kind of racist, and pretty much a dick in the novels. This got me thinking about how much of a dick you could make a character and still have him be sympathetic so an audience roots for him, even though he’s pretty abhorrent. The goal was to see how much of a jerk we could make Sterling Archer and still have you be on his side.
Archer is a total magnet for women. Do you picture him as a magnet for all girls or do you think he only attracts a certain type of lady?
I think all women, but only very, very briefly. He looks really good and I think he can fake it for a few minutes. However, it becomes, “Wow. Why am I talking to this guy?” He doesn’t strike me as the type of person who would call back the next day.
What about his relationships with his co-workers? He’s sort of the example of dipping your pen in the company ink.
He’s terrible about that!
There’s this other side to Archer where he’s a professional spy, although he’s somewhat of a loose cannon as one. His mother is also his boss. What do you think the inter-family dynamic adds?
That was sort of when it clicked for me. I had the spy idea and all these loose ideas in a notebook. I’m sure it was direct inspiration from watching the new Bond movies where “M” is a woman. They have a much different relationship than what Bond had with a male “M” from the other movies. I was thinking about what if “M” was Bond’s mom.
As a show, “Archer” packs some serious comedy star power, including Aisha Tyler and H. Jon Benjamin. This must be fantastic for you as an animator.
It is so fantastic; I can’t even tell you how lucky we are to have all these great folks. The first one who agreed to do it was Jessica Walter and then we dropped her name like crazy. That allowed us to get all these other great actors. The voice-over sessions is probably my favorite part of doing this because we just howl with laughter.
I read that you do the voice-overs before you actually animate.
Yes. We do that very free form. We just turn on the machine and let the tape roll. We don’t worry about timing. There are a lot of ad libs. Nothing gets animated until the audio is done.
Visually, the animation in “Archer” resembles a 1960s comic book. Is it part of the Archer appeal?
We never specifically say its a certain year, like 1963. I wanted to be able to cherry pick cool stuff from a range of years like clothes from 1960s and cars from 1972. The interiors are all this mid-century modern stuff. But then the characters are also walking around with cell phones, which is a total laziness on the writer’s part because it’s much easier for someone to pull out a cell phone than say, “Hang on, I have to go find a phone booth.” We don’t know what time period this is. There’s still the KGB but they reference modern things sometimes as well.
That’s one of the fascinating aspects of the show. You poke fun at the modern irrelevance of the KGB and Cold War.
Intelligence right now is all anti-terror based. I think it’s a little too real to find the comedy in it. The last thing I want to have for escapism is more stuff about what’s on the news right now.
Is there any possibility of getting a second season of Archer?
We’re waiting to hear how the ratings are doing. But so far — knock on wood — the ratings have been pretty good. We should know in a few weeks if they would like to make some more of these. I hope they do.
A new episode of Archer airs this evening at 10 P.M. on FX.