When she’s not yelling into the microphone, recording her lines as Lana Kane for Archer, Aisha Tyler is doing everything else there is to be done in the entertainment industry. This includes hosting the highly successful podcast Girl on Guy, serving as co-host of the daytime talk show The Talk on CBS, starring in Criminal Minds, preparing to direct her first feature film — the only thing she isn’t doing is taking a break.
Which is totally fine, for as Tyler put it in an interview with us, she doesn’t know how to be bored. Between managing the Kickstarter for her upcoming film, Axis, and responding graciously to all the die-hard Archer fans who can’t help themselves when they tweet “Lana!” at her, Tyler knows exactly what she’s doing.
I suspect people shout “Lana!” at you in public a lot.
Yes, they do. I get that probably the most. I’m used to it by now. It comes from the intense love and passion for the show that Archer fans have. I remember, in the beginning, people wanted me to say “What?” and I’d think, “Oh God.” But people love it, and it’s fine for me because of that passion. And yes, I do see that in my social media timelines a lot. But I’m fine with it. This is my cross to bear.
It’s amazing how recognizable the cast — of an animated show, no less — has become. You, Chris Parnell (Cyril Figgis), Jessica Walter (Malory Archer) and others resemble your characters to a degree, but H. Jon Benjamin doesn’t look like Sterling.
Part of that is because Archer was originally a cult hit, but the fans were so passionate about it for such a long time. They consume it a bit differently than other animated shows like South Park — though Matt Stone and Trey Parker are well-known — and The Simpsons. There are only 13 episodes a season, so people watch them obsessively. They’ll watch them over and over again, and then they’ll go back and watch the whole show from the beginning. I think that might be a part of it, especially since when it first aired, not a lot of people were watching it. So the fans who were watching it became evangelists of a sort. They’d try to get their friends to watch it and they would talk about it constantly. They felt a real ownership over it. It wasn’t on a big network like The Simpsons and South Park, where people really knew it as a kind of zeitgeisty kind of show. Ours really was a creeper, so our best fans have always loved it unnaturally. I don’t know what that says about us.
Excellent use of “creeper” and “unnaturally” in the same sentence.
Aside from seven seasons of Archer, you’ve also done voice work for BoJack Horseman and many video games. Is there something in particular that you enjoy about that process?
Every acting job is interesting in its own way. Voice work is fun because you don’t have to go through hair and makeup, and you have this opportunity to just delve right into the dialogue. It lets you engage with the text on an intellectual level immediately. You only have your voice, really, to communicate what you want to say. So in some ways it’s more difficult than being able to rely on other actors, props and an environment to make things feel real. All you have is your voice. I enjoy it, and I love doing it. A lot of it has to do with a passion for the material, especially for me and video games. I love video games, and there’s nothing cooler than hearing your voice come out of a video game. It’s the most exciting thing.
Like in Halo: Reach.
Yes. Halo, Gears of War and Watch Dogs.
Tell me about your Kickstarter for Axis.
It seems like it’s going well. I’ve never done a Kickstarter campaign before, but a part of it — with all the tweeting at supporters and retweeting their posts — is letting them know that I’m hearing and seeing them. That I value their contributions. It’s been great to have a conversation about the film with people, especially when they’re backing it and telling their friends about it. I just want to tell the world about what they’ve done and thank them for it.
These days Kickstarter and Indiegogo are the way to go for lots of filmmakers. Was there a particular instance that turned you onto the process?
I know a little bit about it because I know Zach Braff, and he was very successful putting things together for Wish I Was Here on Kickstarter. Also Veronica Mars, too. But I came into it a different way, one that was a little unusual. I work so much, and while I’ve been so busy, I’ve kept wanting to direct a movie, and I realized that I only had one week off this year if I was going to do it. I have one week off in June to do it, and I don’t have another break until 2017.
Unfortunately the studio process is very slow. Even if they’re interested in you, they rarely greenlight movies quickly. It’s even harder to get a movie set up when it’s a micro-budget film. It’s weird. You’d think that if your movie’s really small and low-budget, it might be easier to get the money, but a lot of studios don’t make micro-budget films. They definitely don’t make micro-budget films with female directors of color. So rather than go through that process and spend years developing, writing, getting notes about and rewriting it, I decided to do this instead. If I wanted to make a movie in this time frame, make it quickly and without any creative compromises, this would be the way to do it.
I get to make a movie with my own creative vision. I don’t have to make it fit some big commercial idea of what works in cinema. Plus, I can make it with my fans, many of whom listen to my podcast and know that I’ve been wanting to direct films for years. They know it’s been my dream, that it’s something I’ve been working on for so many years. So it made perfect sense to do it this way, for the least amount of money possible, and to engage my fans in the process.
When did you first get the itch to direct?
I’d just come off Talk Soup and had written a script John Woo was attached to produce. We were trying to find another director, but the more I talked about it, the clearer it became that I should direct it myself. Since then a million things happened. I felt like I wanted to go away to really develop the skill sets I’d need to direct, but then I got a bunch of television shows and became super busy. In the interim, whenever I had a little bit of time off, I would direct something. A big part of it was just wanting to make things while developing my own look and feel. To learn as much as I could about directing. I shadowed every show I was on. I’d go to the director and ask if I could come in early to watch them work. I shadowed on 24, CSI, Vikings and Penny Dreadful. I wanted to learn as much as I could, so that when I directed my first film, I really had a sense of what I wanted.
Despite being so busy with projects like Archer, The Talk and BoJack Horseman, has getting your name out there helped you in the end?
I guess it’s made it a little easier, if only for the fact that people know who I am, but it doesn’t shake the money loose. For anyone at any level of this business, except for a few elite directors, it’s very hard to get a movie made. In fact, it’s harder than it was during the independent film boom because studios are mostly focusing on these big, expensive, sprawling, franchiseable, tentpole movies. They’re not making small, interesting, thoughtful independent movies. They’re not taking risks. What they want is that movie that’s going to make a billion dollars and do well in China.
Last time I checked, Axis didn’t involve superheroes or spandex.
Exactly! Unless I try to make a movie about one of the lesser DC Comics characters like Starfire. That’s my bigger film, maybe.
That’d be your break into that particular cinematic universe?
I’m always amazed by people like you and Chris Hardwick. You all manage to accomplish so much with so little extra time. I mean… how?
I don’t know if I have a secret. I’m just relentless. I’m always working, all the time. I work on the weekends. I work at night. I get in bed and I bring my computer. I work while I’m eating. I get up in the morning and I work before I go to work. There’s not any kind of magic bullet. I try to be as effective as I can, but it means I’m always trying to be effective. So I guess the secret is that I have crippling workaholicism. [Laughs.] I probably have a condition.
Being addicted to work is better than being addicted to drugs.
It could be way worse. It could be the kind of thing where I’m dying. I love what I do, and I’m energized when I’m overworked. I never think, “Oh poor me. I’m so bad. I’m so sad. I should take a break.” I probably should take a break so I don’t end up in the hospital, but I feel my best when I’m panicked. When I think, “Oh God this might not get done.” When I’m sitting around, that’s when I’m really panicked. I find idle time to be very discomforting. I need to operate at a high tempo all the time. I don’t even know what it’s like to be bored.
Journalists often feel the same way. Boredom scares me.
If you love what you do, then it probably energizes you. It gives your day structure. I also feel that, for some people, the busier you are the more productive and creative you become. You have a set of problems to solve every day, and if you have the luxury of sitting around and just seeing how things go, then nothing happens. But for people like us, finding and solving those problems becomes its own prize. It’s like solving a really fun puzzle. You tell yourself you should probably take a break, even if it’s just for an hour in the middle of the day to sit around doing nothing. I had a one-hour break this morning, so I ate breakfast and watched The Walking Dead. That was it. The urge to pick up my phone or computer during that hour was intense. I realize that’s a compulsive behavior, and that I need to work on it, but it’s fine.
Makes you wonder what we did before smartphones.
Oh my God! I don’t know who I was before technology. I literally don’t. That’s probably a very sad thing to say out loud, but it’s true. I didn’t know who I was before technology, and I never want to go back.
Maybe we actually talked to people and made eye contact back then?
Definitely. We lived like cavemen. I mean, you had to look up an address in a book. I remember when I decided to no longer bring paper books with me whenever I travel. I used to carry something like 20 pounds of books. I love books, but I don’t miss having a big wheelie bag for my reading material. I would make out with my iPad if I could.
My first introduction to your work was the stand-up special, Live at the Fillmore. Obviously you’re very busy, but is that something you want to return to?
I’d been doing comedy continuously for 21 years, but last year I decided to take some time off. I was on planes every weekend, travelling to gigs here and there, and it was killing me. Then I got even busier with Criminal Minds and directing Axis, but I definitely want to come back. I want to do another comedy special, though developing a new hour of material takes a laser-level of focus, and I don’t have the creative bandwidth to do that and everything else at the moment. It’s not on hold forever. I love it and will always do it, but it’s on the side for now. I need to find enough time to craft the material and create the hour that I want committed to film. I don’t want to half-ass it.
Archer season seven is currently airing Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX. Until the next episode, here’s a selection of Tyler’s best work as Lana Kane…