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TV Goodness Q&A: Series Stars Discuss Netflix’s Arrested Development [INTERVIEW] 


We are so excited that this beloved show is getting another chapter. Yes, we’re those people who own season 1 through 3 on DVD and can randomly quote lines from the series back to you. Yes, we got insanely excited when we heard Netflix would be continuing the saga of this incredibly deluded and dysfunctional family. Series stars Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, David, Cross, Portia de Rossi, Alia Shawkat and Jessica Walter discuss the return of the Bluths.

Q: Obviously over the years there was a lot of speculation as to what the next step with Arrested Development would be. Would there be a movie version?  Could it come back to TV?  So I’m curious, who in the cast was the last to believe Netflix when they said, “Yes, we’re actually doing this.  It’s going to happen.  And this is how it will happen.”  And is there still a possibility for a movie when you’re done with original series on Netflix?

Portia de Rossi: “Well, I hope that there is still a possibility of a movie.  I think we all would love to be a part of this crazy family for as long as we can be in any format that Mitch [Hurwitz] thinks is right for the show. I think we’re all on board for that. I think its a little boy who cried wolf for a while, I must admit. And really until Business Affairs called, that’s when I knew that we actually were going to do it — ’cause it was scheduling, it was oh it’s going to happen in this month or whatever and here’s a script or here’s an idea. But until Business Affairs got — until it got down to that I was a little skeptical. But having said that, I always knew that all of us would be on board and all of us would be willing to do whatever Mitch wanted us to do as part of the show.”

Jessica Walter: “I always believed it when wardrobe called.”

Portia: “That’s true, that’s true.”

Jessica: “It’s true, it’s true because you could have a contract signed or whatever, but you know they’re putting down money because they’re going to go out and buy clothes.”

Q: What, if any inspiration did you folks take for your characters from the real Orange County to influence your characters?

Michael Cera: “I drove up there one afternoon — it’s wild out there.  Those are some strange folks.  And I think it just trickled down just the oddness of that landscape. It’s just in the blood of the show.”

Portia: “I just see Orange County as like a big shopping mall really full of blonde women who shop a lot.”

David Cross: “Upper middle class skate punks bitching about stuff when they’re just bitching ’cause they’re 15, 16 years old and that’s what you do when you’re 15 and 16. But they’re so privileged. They’re skating around the mall, that big outdoor mall, with all kinds of money. Life sucks.”

Jessica: “You know, I just got it that’s why everything is orange. I just got it. And they had orange carpet at the premiere and an orange curtain. Honestly, am I the only one who just got this?”

Portia: “Well, no, it’s not just for Orange County, but it also for me represents prison, right?”

Jessica: “Oh, right.  Oh my God.”

Jason Bateman: “And it was probably one of the colors not used that year for all the new shows.”

David: “I thought the whole thing was about the Cincinnati Bengals. Close.”

Q: What did you miss about your characters? What was sort of delicious to jump back into and what was it like to jump back into these roles?

Jessica: “Well, I miss the clothes. I miss the flowers. [My clothes are] from the original show. I borrowed it. And I just miss the juiciness of the writing. The writing was so character specific for all of us. They don’t have Arrested Development writer trees out there, so to come back to this writing was very exciting.”

Portia: “Something will come to me. I mean I loved Lindsay. I loved playing her because she was so earnest even though she was vapid and self-centered. She actually thought that she was a good person and was doing good things. So I liked that kind of disconnect for a character. It’s always fun to play the innocent no matter what you’re doing, if you feel like you’re doing the right thing and you can get away with a lot comedically. So I definitely miss not having a conscience.”

Jason: “I didn’t miss that much about the character because I don’t like to really work that hard so I made the character pretty close to me. Michael Bluth is pretty close to me so I never really left him. The clothes were different at my house versus the set. But I just like being with everybody again.”

Alia Shawkat: “Yeah, I’d say the same. Just being with everyone. It’s fun to have scenes with different people, different characters. They’re like very different dynamics and it was always fun to see what weird things I was going to do with who next. You can quote me on that.”

David: “Yeah, just to repeat the sentiment. The ability to after seven years be able to work with this amazing cast with that amazing writing is so rare and such a privilege and it was very, very, very, very exciting and Tobias is a fun — it’s pretty goofy sadly diluted goofy guy and it’s a fun character to do for sure. But even less about that it was just like oh my God, I get to hang out with all these — we have so much fun. And we knew it was special from very, very, very early on and it was just a treat to be able to have that be your work, to work with all these folks with Mitch’s writing, you know.”

Michael: “I’m still thinking actually.”

David: “Can you say anything original that I haven’t said?”

Michael: “No. I agree completely with everything. Yeah, I mean what David said.  It’s the most fun job I’ve ever had and not to speak for Alia, but we were both really young and growing up doing the show so being around all these guys at that time was really formative for me and-”

David: “Did you think Alia was gonna go, ‘That’s not true.'”

Michael: “No, I know earlier you said you wish you had a different childhood. I don’t know that you meant that-”

Alia: “You can’t change the past.”

Michael: “Right, right. You keep saying that but — so it was just so nice to be around everyone again and have that experience again.”

Q: What is the most quoted line that’s been thrown at you like when fans run into on the street or events.

David: “For me it’s 95% ‘Blew Yourself’ or some variation on that for sure. And it often happens – people will yell it from a car as the car’s moving so there’s a doppelgänger effect to it which makes it even more interesting.”

Alia: “At my high school graduation I graduated from like a home school so it was like pregnant teens and like gang members mainly. But when I got up on the stage there were kids in the background, like five of them, and they all screamed, ‘Marry me’ very loudly. And, yeah. So I can’t escape it.”

Q: The show’s new format is very different from what it was when it was on TV. Do you think it’s going to be easy for the audience to digest the new format?

Jason: “I don’t think it’ll be easy, no. But I hope that it’s appreciated by the few people that do love the show. They seem to be a group that likes things somewhat challenging by virtue of the fact they come back for Mitch’s dense writing all the time. It’s incredible. So the fact that Netflix affords him the opportunity to kind of have these stories go out over 15 different episodes that are so intertwined that the same scene will repeat from different angles in multiple episodes is a really unique thing and an exciting thing to be a part of, both just working with his complexity and also with Netflix’s distribution platform. It’s just kind of a neat time to watch TV.”

David: “What I’m particularly excited about after watching those first two episodes, is if you’re watching it especially like in chronological order, I think as you get to episode three, episode four, you’re going to realize how you’re supposed to start watching as opposed to just being a passive viewer. And I think that’s going to be really, really exciting for people as they figure out, ‘Oh wait a minute’ you know, not to give too much away. It’s taking those moments that you had as a fan of Arrested especially when you watch it on DVD and go, ‘No, wait a minute. That’s a reference to that thing three shows earlier.’ But quintuple that and it’s going to be — I don’t even know what number that is.”

Jason: “Quintuplify.”

David: “But I think people are going to — it’s going to be a bit of an epiphany or revelation once you get into episode like say four, maybe even five, whatever it is you’re going to start realizing ‘Oh there’s a structure to this that I wasn’t aware of when I started watching. I was so excited.  Yay, it’s back.’ And that’s gonna make everybody triple excited and there’s going to be a sense of discovery to it that is I think going to be really exciting and kind of redefine what TV can be.”

Q: Is there a preferred order that people should watch the show in because each episode centers on a different character? Do you have to go one through 15 or is there like a different kind of way to kind of mix it up?

Jason: “He’s numbering them on purpose but that is not required to watch in that order, but as David said, pretty shortly after you start watching, you’ll realize that ‘Oh wait, I can complete that scene if I re-watch the second half of that last episode.’ And so you’ll start to make your own order as you’re interested in certain stories or start to kind of try to figure out what the whole thing is going to be about.”

David: “I think It is important to watch I think your episodes one and two first ’cause of the story exposition.”

Portia: “It’s kind of like it’s channeling your focus onto one character per episode. So in a way it’s almost easier to digest than the original series because we were following storylines A, B, C, D, E, and F. And now we’re just kind of following this one character. So in a way it’s kind of easier to watch and we’ve got a little bit more time to tell the story, as much time as we need. So you can kind of sit with the jokes a little bit more. We definitely saw that with Jason’s character because he has those amazing kind of moments that he just kind of sits and waits for all of us to make a fool of ourselves in some way. And it’s just really nice. It’s a nicer pace, I think.”

Q: You had every reason to have ultimate confidence that Mitch could recapture some of that lightning in the bottle. Can you talk about the moments that you knew, ‘We’re back doing Arrested Development.’ It felt like what it felt like before.

Portia:v“I mean you’ve talked about the scene in your suite how when we all go together for that one scene, the penthouse scene.”

Jessica: “There are only I think two scenes in the entire 15 episodes where we were all nine of us together which actually we were in the premiere episode. But they had not cut yet to — the way they cut it they didn’t see Portia and David. The first time we all sat down in that penthouse which was recreated to the nails in the wall, we were so excited. It took about 30 minutes to calm down. Once we heard the voices and saw the faces that looked the same except for the kids who are now adults, that’s when I knew we were really back. I mean incredible. It was surreal.”

David: “And a lot of the crew was — we were lucky enough to have a spillover of a lot of the crew that we worked with so that also lent itself to how surreal and cool it was for all of us to be looking at each other in outfits and getting to do this after seven years. And that’s when it really felt real, real.”

Q: Ten years after the first series you’re all presumably a lot older and wiser, has there been a massive shift or mellowing in the parent-child dynamic?

Portia: “It’s called Arrested Development. We don’t really grow that much. Right?”

Jason: “Things have actually gone the opposite direction.”

David: “It’s a regression with folks. Yeah.”

Jason: “If we’re ever fully rehabilitated they’ll be no show. So yeah, we’re deeply banged up when the seven years off has not been kind to any of us. And the fun is seeing everybody’s flaws.”

Jessica: “The desperation is magnified I would say in the 15 episodes that we just did.”

Portia: “Due to certain things like economy and whatnot.”

Jason: “And just overall the whole tone is a lot darker. It’s not as homogenized as you need to kind of make things on broadcast. So, yeah, I felt it had a little bit more tooth.”

Portia: “It feels very similar to the original series though to me.”

Jason: “But there’s a little bit more of an edge I thought.”

Q: David, your performances as Tobias were renown for that physical dexterity. How limber do you feel nowadays?

David: “Much like the fading athlete who perhaps should have quit the year before he just starts degrading. I was definitely attempting to do some fun stunts and my mind is the mind of a fresh virile 19 year-old. But I’m definitely getting creakier bones. But I’m not nearly as limber. Also I’m fatter. I was doing ADR and there’s a scene where I had my shirt off which was never a problem before. And I turn around, I’m like ‘Oh my God.’ Like it’s definitely like that middle age gut. I’m like ‘Oh, I didn’t even suck it in.’ I’m not quite as limber but I still, for my peers and my age group, oh dude, I’m top-notch.”

Q: Jason, you said you’re similar to your character in real life. Is that an observation you’ve made or your family and people around you?

Jason: “The positive sides I’ve made. My family has observed the negative sides. Yeah, there’s a boring actor answer to this and I’ll spare you. But in brief, I try to perform my characters inside my skill set which means try to keep them close to me.”

Portia: “But I will say that I think you’re hilarious as Michael in the stillness. But as Jason, you’re a lot funnier. I don’t think that came out-”

Jason: “There’s a compliment in there and I will find it.”

Portia: “You’re more jokey than the character is able to be because he’s a clown.”

Jessica: “I’ve said this before that without Jason at the center and the satellite of [this] dysfunctional crazy family around him, I don’t think it would have worked. I don’t think The Mary Tyler Moore Show would have worked without her and her skills as Jason has the skills to be in the middle of the crazy people. I think that really without him — I know he hates to hear this, but it’s true. I don’t think it would have worked. I really don’t.”

Jason: “It’s the smart structure that Mitch organized to put a proxy for all of us that watch the show as sort of, in the center sort of like a tour guide so he could take bigger swings with really funny characters.”

David: “It was originally not supposed to be cast as Jason. It was originally Mary Tyler Moore in the Michael role.”

Jason: “Not a lot of people know that.”

Q: Do you each have a memory from the first three seasons that you could share that has kind of popped back into your head now that this season is happening?

Jason:“I’ve said this before so I apologize for anyone, including you guys, who have heard this before. But Jeffrey Tambor was the first person with any dialogue on the first day of shooting of the pilot. And it was the scene on the boat where he’s getting an award and he says — he has like this monologue, this acceptance speech, this award. And we as a family are all assembled there and are watching. So we as actors were also sitting there watching this actor that we all love and respect and we’re lucky to work with and watch him do his take on this character. Because I don’t think we had a table read or if we did I don’t remember. Anyway, to watch him play his character was so informative to me about what the tone of the show was going to be. There’s no winking and it’s deadly serious. And that was a whole different kind of comedy for me at least to play because I was coming from multi-camera work, sitcoms. So that was a very clear memory that fortunately I held onto because it established a tone of comedy for the show that I tried to hold onto and to follow.”

Q: Did any of you accept this with a certain degree of trepidation to kind of go back to something you left behind seven years ago? 

Portia: “I feel like as actors all we really want is great material and great characters and a great cast to play with. And we have that here. We have all of that. So I think all of us, because I like to speak for everybody, we’re just really thrilled. It just felt like a gift that we got to go back and resurrect something that we all really loved, that an audience is anticipated and excited about. We know that people like what we do and we get to work with Mitch and brilliant writers and wear great clothes.”

Q: Jason, the show and specifically your character has a sort of dry, very underplayed sense of humor, which is kind of the trait of a lot of British comedies. I was wondering how much of an influence your English mum was on shaping your humor and did she introduce you to British comedy?

Jason: “Yes, very much so. There was a lot of Monty Python around the house and there was some Benny Hill, although that’s a little bit broader than my sensibility but it was there nonetheless. And there’s obviously a lot more silly stuff in that than we have in this show, but there’s also the very underplayed stuff that you’ve got to kind of really lean in to recognize whether it’s funny or not. And so yes, that reactionary comedy or dry or sarcasm or basically protagonist type of stuff, I really, really like. So I was lucky to find this part.”

Q: What, if anything, do you feel Arrested Development is a commentary on in our society?

Jason: “I think generally is basically says we’re all idiots. I mean nobody’s perfect and this is just sort of an exaggerated version of that, told in a comedic style and tone that you either love or you hate. And I think that’s one of its strengths is that it’s very specific and it makes a choice and we’re lucky that there are enough people out there that like what we do that gives us a chance to do more for them and for us, frankly. I think we all really like the show and want to watch it as fans.”

Portia: “I think we’re greedy as a culture as well. I think it kind of just highlights the fact that this society has become a little bit self-obsessed, greedy, and I don’t know. It seems to be tipping off its axis a little bit. And I think that a family, I mean the fact that we have this housing development, the McMansions, kind of plays to our consumerism as a culture.”

David: “There’s something that you tend to, as a viewer, you tend to forget about, which is that this family that we’re watching is shot in a documentary style. And now there are many more shows on how many more cable networks that are reality  — that don’t feel like reality did 20 years ago when reality TV started. And now it’s just a thing that we forget about because people on these reality shows don’t act like there’s a camera there. But of course there’s a camera there. And the idea of what’s real and what’s fiction is blurred because so many of these people are phony and shallow in their own right when you watch any of the Real Housewives or any of those type of shows, they’re all performing, even though they’re real people. And in Arrested Development there are cameras there and I think we even did an episode where you see a boom. We did that on purpose to remind you that this is documentary style and now even more so in 2013. I think that’s the landscape of half of our TV and we just forget what’s real and what’s performing for the camera kind of thing.”

All 15 episodes of Arrested Development are available on Netflix now.

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