TV

The ‘Arrested Development’ Cast Loves The Comfort Of An Ensemble

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It’s been five years since fresh Arrested Development episodes hit Netflix and less than a week since the sh*t hit the fan after the New York Times led a dysfunctional family therapy session with the cast. In that session, accusations of on-set misconduct against Jeffrey Tambor were pushed back into the spotlight — both the allegations of sexual harassment that led to his dismissal from Transparent in February, as well as the verbal abuse against Jessica Walter on the Arrested Development set this season that Tambor alluded to in a THR profile three weeks ago.

The controversy wasn’t necessarily due to anything Tambor said in the Times interview, but was more about the response from castmates Jason Bateman, Tony Hale, David Cross, and Will Arnett, who either rushed to minimize Walter’s experience, or otherwise brushed it off — which had the effect of expressing support for Tambor. This as Walter sat in the room beside her co-stars (Tambor included), denying assertions that his behavior toward her felt commonplace based on her 60 years of on-set experience. It’s a shocking read, and the audio, which includes a tearful Walter, is even more impactful.

The decision to separate the art from the artist (or to not) is one we’ve all been forced to make more often recently, taking many things into account. Still, some of us just want to just be entertained. Personally, I’m a little exhausted by the last week’s worth of Arrested Development goings-on, so I’m going to leave the last three episodes of season five in the queue for awhile after having binged on the first five (which start slow but hit that familiar Arrested Development rhythm by the halfway point) to prep for my own interview with some of the cast after the Times interview had taken place. What transpired was a pretty standard press tour interview with Alia Shawkat, Bateman, Hale, Arnett, and Tambor. There’s some group goofiness mixed with a few insights, some talk about re-finding their characters, and joking about Trump in season five. It may qualify as a fun read for fans and/or as an interesting snapshot of the cast prior to the rise of a public controversy.

Does season four get a bum rap? I’m reading some of the reviews for this season and a lot of people are really taking some shots at season four, which I really liked. Also, how did the approach for this season — the more classic approach — impact you?

Jason Bateman: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know. Bum rap is kind of a… I don’t know. I would pick a different term. People are entitled to their opinion. It worked for some and didn’t work for others and that’s good. I know Mitch [Hurwitz], by design, was trying to do something that was unique to Netflix and their interface and then with season five, since all of our schedules allowed, we were able to return to the established format. Selfishly we all preferred that because you get to all do scenes with one another and that’s one of the big draws for us to continue to return to the show.

Tony Hale: It was a challenge for Mitch to fit everybody’s schedule in, but this was the first time that Netflix… it was some of their first scripted television and the fact that they released them all at the same time was big and you kind of played with that format [at the time]. So it’s very different. I’m the first to admit that I enjoy kind of going back and watching because I catch jokes that I missed the first time, but I’m probably repeating exactly what Jason has already said. But he’s giving me gum now so I’m going to receive that gum.

Please enjoy the gum.

Hale: Thank you.

Will, how did this kind of season help you? Do you feel like you had more of a chance to shine last season when it was more focused on each actor, or is it more about the ensemble?

Will Arnett: Listen Jason, I’m a real team player guy, you know? I get in the locker room there and I just try to get everybody playing in the system, you know? We’re just trying to put points up on the board, you know? Just take our time seriously. Check our guys and dig for pucks in the corner, you know? And if somebody gets lucky and I happen to have my stick on the ice and put the puck in the net, then I’m happy, you know? And we’re gonna get the W and we’re gonna move on into the next game. Right now we’re focused on game seven versus the Capitals and we hope it all works out. Thank you.

[Group laughter]

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Alia, do you feel like you get enough of a chance to shine with the structure as it is, with the ensemble structure where you’re working more closely with everybody?

Alia Shawkat: Yeah it was nice for the timing and the dynamics to be with the cast, and I think, like, our timing of the jokes and the rhythm was a lot better when we were all together and just more fun. But also, like this year, I got to play a lot of strange characters in disguise, so I enjoyed that direction that the writing went in.

Arnett: You know what I kind of realized this year about Maeby is she’s really kind of the foil to Michael. Even more than George Michael. Maeby kind of calls BS on Michael a lot. Like she’s more of a puppetmaster. Do you know what I mean? Like you’re always, Maeby’s always got it, running the game.

Shawkat: Yeah she’s trying to pin everyone kind of against each other.

Arnett: Yeah.

Jeffrey what about you? Do you prefer this approach where you get to work with everybody?

Jeffrey Tambor: You know, I watched the season four re-cut with my son, he’s 13, and he was nine when we shot it, and he loved season four. He’s found Arrested Development for the first time. And I was watching it and I loved it. So we have a new generation of viewers coming up which is very very exciting. I so prefer the chemistry when we’re all together. As an actor, it is so confidence-building because it’s not only what you send but what you receive and, you know, there’s so much talent everywhere your eye looks. It’s just held down by these great actors. Yeah, I prefer the chemistry of all of us together in the room, very powerful.

You’ve all been doing this for 15 years and you had long layoffs between seasons — that’s gotta be a challenge to re-find that place apart from just obviously the great material. Curious how you keep that spark lit.

Arnett: Well Jason, what I like to do is, I like to do something that I call “keeping the eye of the tiger.” [Arnett plays a clip of Survivor’s “Eye Of The Tiger” on his phone.]

Hale: Every day, Jason, every day. No, to answer your…

Bateman: Sorry, Will’s just putting his clothes back on. He’s gonna be back in a minute. What was the question?

Hale: So you’re saying how do we keep it fresh coming back and stuff?

Yeah.

Hale: Yeah, it’s very easy around this cast because we all really enjoy working off of each other. Our characters are really different and I think all of us would agree that Mitch brings us so many surprises each season. We never know what’s gonna come, and it’s really fun to see what’s gonna happen and how we can kinda get into that chaos.

Shawkat: Yeah, the scripts are always very surprising… what we end up doing.

Obviously, the show has touched on politics in the past, to a great degree, but with everything going on with Trump so much of comedy is focused on him now. Was there any hesitancy going into this because of that?

Arnett: No.

Hale: Wow, not even a song that time?

Arnett: Not even a song.

Bateman: You know, there’s always been a little bit of political commentary or satire. Mitch and the writing staff seem to take good comedic advantage of some of the parallels between the Bluth family and the Trumps now and the Bush family before. And it’s always been a fun part to read in the scripts and hopefully the audience likes some of that stuff too.

The first half of Arrested Development’s fifth season is available to stream on Netflix.

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