The Voice of FX’s Sterling Archer Speaks Out
H. Jon Benjamin, the voice of TV’s most delusional superspy, on Archer’s sixth season, fatherhood, and kickstarting for Kenny Loggins.
Few shows pack in the funny like Archer. A single twenty-two minute episode of the FX animated spy comedy contains so many one-liners, recurring gags, pop culture references, sexual innuendos, and biting insults that it requires repeat viewings to notice them all. For the uninitiated, the show revolves around Sterling Archer, a belligerent, shit-taking, bespoke suit-wearing, sex-and-booze-obsessed secret agent riddled with STDs and serious mommy issues. He’s the top spy at a recently-rebranded rogue bureau always on the case against some sort of nefarious other. It’s weird in all the right ways, equal parts office comedy and off-the-grid zany spy adventure.
Season six airs this Thursday. Comedian H. Jon Benjamin plays the part of Archer. A veteran voice actor, Benjamin has used his droll baritone to bring life to characters on such shows as Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, Family Guy, and Bob’s Burgers, the latter of which airs on Fox. As Archer, he infuses the sarcastic, self-centered, Burt-Reynolds-obsessed agent with his trademark dickish charm. We spoke to Jon about the all things Archer, voicing two current television roles, and his plans to find a quick-fortune through kickstarter.
Last season saw Archer take a wild turn with Archer Vice. What should we expect to see in the current season?
Well, its back to sort of the way it was in the first four seasons. In that respect it’s like Archer Classic. But there’s this great new dynamic between Archer and Lana because they’re raising a child together and that’ll be the main through line. There’s a lot of Lana and Archer negotiating, about who’s gonna take over the baby. I mean, Lana will obviously because Archer’s obviously not equipped to do that.
He’s had some fathering experience, what with the Wee Baby Seamus.
Well, yeah but you know, it’s more complicated than having a baby with a prostitute that goes back to Ireland. He might send money. Or write a letter or Christmas card. This one is an office baby that’s there all the time. Archer’s spent a lot of time avoiding any sort of responsibility and he can’t really do that this time. When you ignore a baby, you feel guilty. Kinda.
You’re a father yourself. What advice would you give?
I don’t drink as much as Archer, although I used to. That’s a big plus: to not drink so much. That’s all I got. I can’t really write a book on the subject. Unless it’s a very small one page book on how to raise a child.
Are you thankful for the show to take the show back to its original conceit?
It cuts both ways. There’s a lot more archer this season than there was last season. I had a little bit of a break. I mean, it’s not like I’m a coal miner so I can’t really complain about my work schedule but I have to do a lot more talking this season.
One of the best parts of the show is the relationship between Archer and Lana, who’s voiced by Aisha Tyler. What’s it like screaming at one another in the recording studio?
Actually, we record separately. So I have to use my sense memory of being around her, which I hate in real life. So I use that rage. But honestly we don’t get to work together all that much and we sort of don’t have that dynamic in real life and are sort of just nice to each other. It was hard at first to convey our relationship and to love a character by being just a voice in a booth especially because Archer’s main speed is badmouthing everyone.
How much of Archer and his weird personality traits and phobias come from your improvisation?
I wish I could take credit but [showrunner] Adam Reed writes all the episodes. Adam’s actually scared of alligators and has an affinity for Burt Reynolds — he has a peculiar childhood love of Burt. All the running gags in the show spring from his strange head.
Were you to impart a phobia to Archer, what would it be?
Oh man. I’m Jewish, so it’s a far field. It would be, like, being scared of getting a cold or eating under cooked chicken.
What’s your favorite trait about Archer?
Well, I mean he’s pretty much completely self-involved and really negative, too, so, for me, it’s easy to play. Bob on Bob’s Burgers, who I also voice, is really positive. I don’t share that trait, so its nice to evoke it because I can’t seem to appreciate others in spite of how annoying they are. But my favorite thing about Archer? His good looks. I appreciate a physical beauty. And he’s good at what he does. He’s super competent and super confident, but his confidence isn’t hollow.
Archer is obsessed with Kenny Loggins. Recently, someone successfully raised $30,000 to have Kenny Loggins play in his apartment. You attempted to piggy back off the account and tried to raise money so you, as Archer, would introduce Kenny Loggins at said party.
Yeah, that failed. It would’ve been an inordinate amount of money to have me do a thirty second intro. We made like $3,000 and I was demanding $15,000. So the people spoke. And they were right. But maybe next time I’ll have Archer make you potato salad. No, I’ll start one to have me as Archer call you and read the recipe for potato salad. That’ll make money fast.
Photos by FX