'One second, I’m just texting my mom.’ Will Arnett flashes his signature wolfish grin, tapping excitedly on his smartphone. ‘I was just at the march and she’s really proud. She thinks it’s the start of a new revolution!’
It’s January 21, the day of the Women’s March, and we’ve both come straight from Trafalgar Square to the May Fair Hotel to talk about ‘The Lego Batman Movie’.
A noisy, bonkers but unexpectedly sweet animated comedy, the film follows the Dark Knight – gravel-voiced by Canadian-American Arnett – as he battles The Joker, adopts an awkward orphan boy named Robin and tries to work out why all the other superheroes think he’s a bit of a jerk. An egomaniacal blowhard whose outer confidence masks a deep inner pain, Batman is the kind of character Arnett has made his stock in trade: from ‘Arrested Development’ via ’30 Rock’ to his new Netflix show ‘Flaked’.
Batman feels like a continuation of a character you’ve been playing for a while now…
‘I love characters that are deeply flawed, but aren’t in touch with what their flaws are. It’s much more interesting than your typical leading man. The first was Gob on “Arrested Development”, whose insecurities ran so deep... if you showed him a diagram he wouldn’t understand what he was looking at. Batman is a little different: he faces it. He wants to do the right thing. He’s just a bull in a china shop.’
'The Lego Batman Movie'
‘Making the others laugh was my goal every day’
Does it feel different now that you’ve got one of those characters in the White House?
‘I don’t find it funny yet. That profound delusion from someone who is supposed to be leading us is really remarkable. Someone who will attack those who dare to challenge him: it’s absurd.’
Batman does seem like a fun character to play, though – was it a fun film to make?
‘It’s taken well over two years, so it’s a long process. But yes, some of the most truly profound laughs I’ve ever had were in the recording booth for the Lego movies. When I’ve been on my knees, tears streaming down my face. Making the others laugh was my goal every day.’
Do you enjoy how these movies embrace the fact that Lego is a toy, to give the stories a smart, deeper level?
‘I really do. But there’s another reason it’s great. Look at the importance put on these superhero movies that come out now they’re so precious. And so serious! These things are more serious than a Meryl Streep film. I mean that as a compliment, of course: she’s the coolest, but they’re more serious than the most serious Oscarworthy drama. We come into it as a toy, which takes a lot of pressure off – it makes it more fun right from the first moment.’
'The Lego Batman Movie'
‘I was playing with Lego until I was about 18’
Do you like to play?
‘I really do. My brother was born when I was ten, so even when I was 16, 17, when I should’ve been doing more adolescent stuff, I managed to extend that playtime under the guise of taking care of my little brother. I was playing with Lego until I was about 18, and now I have kids. So a lot of my time has been taken up with playing.’
Do you think that makes you a better actor?
‘Playing after a certain age is stigmatised. We encourage kids to stop playing, but it’s the breeding ground for creativity. I watch my own kids – even when they’re playing on their own, they’re really expanding their minds. With my friends I’m constantly playing. If I’m joking around or doing a voice people can say, “You’re such an actor, it’s all about you.” No, I’m doing it because it’s fun and funny and it feels good. Do you want me to be some boring person who doesn’t do anything playful? What a terrible way to go through life!’
Finally, Bruce’s limo has the numberplate ‘Wayne Car’. Was that a gag for your English audience?
‘Ha! Nothing in there is an accident!’
‘The Lego Batman Movie’ is released on Fri Feb 10.