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Will Arnett interview: ‘I had to nibble at the fringes to get to the centre’

The ‘Arrested Development’ foil takes the reins as a washed-up sitcom star who happens to be a horse in Netflix animation ‘BoJack Horseman’. We speak to the gravelly-voiced Canadian actor

There are few voices in Hollywood cooler than Will Arnett’s. His gravelly baritone is instantly recognisable, even over the din of a noisy New York street, where he speaks to me down a dodgy phone line.

As well as scene-stealing live action roles – like dimwit magician George Oscar Bluth Jr (aka Gob) in ‘Arrested Development’ or shameless corporate climber Devon Banks in ‘30 Rock’ – Arnett has loaned his voice to animated characters in ‘Ratatouille’, ‘Despicable Me’ and ‘The Lego Movie’, among others. But his latest cartoon role isn’t for kids. ‘BoJack Horseman’ is a sweary show about a once-successful actor who, 20 years after his peak, is now a washed-up drunk. Oh, and he happens to be a horse.

How do you prepare for voicing a nag?
‘I’m lucky in that my voice is naturally hoarse, so all I did was talk.’

Very good! So you’re a fan of a pun? Some would say it’s the lowest form of wit.
‘Yeah, the people who can’t do it well say that. I know a lot of people groan at it, but I actually think that punnery can be high art. One of the greatest punsters of all time, Peter Serafinowicz, is a good friend of mine, and I’ve been in situations more than once where people have been exhausted hanging around with him.’

The show’s a straight-to-Netflix series. Were you impressed with how they handled the ‘Arrested Development’ comeback?
‘Very much so. I’m a big fan of the way they do things over there. Ted Sarandos [Netflix’s Chief Content Officer] places a lot of trust and confidence in the creative talent that he brings in. He doesn’t try to tell the chef how to make the stew. And if that’s not a saying, it is now!’

‘BoJack Horseman’ isn’t your first animated role. What do enjoy about voiceover work?
‘I enjoy that people can’t see the look of disappointment on my face that I carry at all times [laughs].’

You often play characters that are a bit stupid but very confident. Do you worry about being typecast?
‘Never. Over the last couple of years I’ve found myself in roles that have lived outside of that. I had to nibble at the fringes to get to the centre.’

Are people starting to disassociate you from Gob, then?
‘I think so. Gob is a character that I enjoy playing immensely because I have so much freedom to take his dim-wittedness to all sorts of low levels. I find him interesting, because when you see real people who are completely self-unaware it boggles your mind. Maybe that’s my frustration: you can’t call someone out when you meet them and say “you’re a complete tool!”, so I exorcise those demons through Gob.’

Do you still get asked by ‘Arrested Development’ fans to say Gob’s catchphrases or do the chicken dance?
‘Sure, all the time.’

It must get quite frustrating?
‘No. I think there was a time where it did frustrate me, and then you just kind of let it go. Usually if people come up to you and throw quotes in your face it’s because they have an appreciation for the show, and that’s great. I don’t aim to make art in a vacuum – you want people to like it. I don’t really mind about stuff like that any more.’

They certainly do like the show, and they would be annoyed if I didn’t ask if there is any news of a fifth season or the rumoured movie.
‘It’s so funny, I remember last year, before the fourth season premiered, getting asked that same question and thinking: we haven’t even aired the fourth season yet and people are already demanding another one! Right now it’s a function of timing. It’s something that we are going to do, and we’re actively talking about. But ultimately, we all march to the beat of [‘AD’ creator] Mitch Hurwitz’s drum. Once he decides he’s got something, he’ll rally the troops and we’ll be on our way. So whatever form it takes – whether it’s a film or a set of playing cards – we’ll do it.’

BoJack Horseman’ is available on Netflix from Fri Aug 22 2014. www.netflix.com.

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