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Chris Parnell On His ‘Archer’ German Accent Being A Product Of Google Translate, And How He Never Broke Character On ‘SNL’

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While the storyline on Archer keeps changing to an intense degree, moving from the detective noir genre to a tropical island adventure over the last two seasons, the enviable cast of characters has remained the same. Well, sort of. This time around, Chris Parnell is voicing Siegbert Fuchs instead of Cyril Figgis.

Uproxx recently spoke with Parnell and discussed the differences between the two characters, whether he feels like anything was left behind in the realm inhabited by Archer during its first seven seasons, and the time the former SNL castmember was saved from breaking character during a sketch thanks to eye pain.

How is Fuchs similar to Cyril? How is he different?

He’s pretty different than Cyril. The voice ends up being very different because he’s German. You know, I don’t know. To be honest, I didn’t make a great effort to tie him in overtly to Cyril, but I think he’s sort of… he’s got some of the parts of Cyril’s personality… maybe from last season, when Cyril was darker, was kind of a bad guy. But that’s times a thousand now.

Do you go into this as if it’s an entirely different show and an entirely different character completely divorced from the mythology with Cyril?

It’s still Adam’s [Reed] writing and we’ve still got Archer there. We have other characters there who are… some of whom are not as different from their counterparts in prior seasons as I am. So, no, it’s a similar sort of world, but the character’s pretty different so I didn’t. There are parts of Cyril that come through, I think, in Siegbert.

I sort of approach every script the same way, which is just to see what Adam has written and how do I inhabit this as fully as I can and there’s going to be stuff in the writing that reminds us that this is a character connected to Cyril. Certainly in Archer’s mind. I think the similarities are there more in the writing and sort of the approach to him; probably more than in the way that I’m playing him.

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Curious if you feel a sense of unfinished business with the actual Cyril character in the Archer prime story and if you have a want to go back there. Or are you content to go wherever this goes?

No, no I’m very content to go wherever Adam wants to take it. I feel like Cyril got to do a lot of different things in sort of the other world that Archer … other worlds I should say, that Archer has inhabited. I have no idea what the next season will be. I think there’s one more season after this. And I don’t know what incarnation Cyril will have in that upcoming world. But, yeah, I’m happy just to see where it goes.

The fact that Adam does change it up so much… this season is the biggest change for me, because I’m speaking in German in a lot of it and I have a German accent. It mixes it up and it makes it more exciting in a lot of ways.

How did the voice come together?

I kind of brought in my version of what I thought it was and they seemed to like it. It’s basically just me going on Google translate every week and trying to get the pronunciations of all these German words right, as close as I can. I learned just a tiny bit of German for a trip I took many years ago to Germany, so it wasn’t completely foreign to me in terms of the sounds and all that, but I don’t think it’s an accent that’s going to fool any Germans. [Laughs]

You have a reputation for never breaking character on SNL. Was that something you took a lot of pride in and put a lot of effort into? Curious how you managed to stay on.

Well, I think part of it is… it’s going to sound very hoity-toity, I’m just always trying to be in the moment as the character and not be outside of it, seeing what was funny about it. Now, I wasn’t always successful in that, for sure, but I guess I’m kind of a literal person in some ways. So I felt like to break would just be… I’m not in character anymore if I’m breaking and that just doesn’t seem right. So it’s sort of a part of the rigidity that I have to actually fight against in my own personality. Also, I’m on meds now, which I wasn’t then, so I think that helps a lot.

The lore is that you never broke, is that the case? Or did people miss it?

The only time that I remember breaking was during the cowbell sketch, but it was a very tiny smile that was actually off camera. So nobody ever saw it. I don’t know, I often think I’m smiling and if I look at myself in the mirror, I’m like, “Oh, I’m not really smiling, I just look mildly pleasant.” I don’t know that anybody was aware of it, but that’s the only time I remember.

There was a sketch with Will (Ferrell), Molly (Shannon), and Tim (Meadows). Will was a doctor talking to Molly and me and it got pretty crazy, and it was very silly. It would have been very hard to not break in that scene, except for the fact that I had just done a piece as Tom Brokaw before that, and I had had these brown contact lenses in that, for whatever reason, irritated my eyes, and my eyes were burning through the scene. I was in some pain so that made it a lot easier to not break during that scene. Otherwise, I fear I might have.

But you know, the thing I think about breaking is, I think, for the most part, we all love to see it. Especially if we feel like there’s more of an effort that the actors are making to not break and then just not being able to control it and breaking. As opposed to sometimes where we’ve seen it where the actor has given into it a little too easily and just, it almost seems a bit indulgent. But, it’s kind of a joyous moment, I think, because you see the actors and these people, and you see them having fun with the work they’re doing. I always think it’s kind of fun to see as long as it’s nothing indulgent.

When you’re in a scene and a host breaks, someone who’s not a part of the tribe, is it a little annoying?

If the host breaks? Well, again it depends on where they’re coming from. If the host is trying to be in the scene, be in the moment and do the best they can and they’re just not able to hold it together, then that’s one thing. But, I also remember a host, maybe like a musical guest, who I think let himself break on purpose because he did it the same in dress and on air, and it seemed a little designed. I found that a little annoying.

Yeah, I can imagine. As much as has been written about the show, it’s hard to get a full sense of just how hard it is to pull off. The contact lens thing is an example. Just the strain of doing what you did and what they do still on that show. The chaos of it all. It’s really interesting to hear about it.

With the passage of time, I’ve come to appreciate it even more and feel so thankful and lucky to have been a part of something that cool. I already feel that way about Archer, even though it’s obviously not nearly the same level of pressure as doing a live comedy show on camera. It’s something that I’m also really proud of. The quality of it and how many people seem to be into it around the country and I guess maybe the world, I don’t know.

When you look for projects to jump into, are you looking for material that jumps out at you or are you looking for a creator who has a reputation essentially as someone who’s going to break the mold a little and take you to an interesting place?

Most of the time it’s just looking for a job, really. And I’ve just gotten very lucky with Archer and Rick and Morty. And 30 Rock, [though], obviously they knew me and they, I think, wrote the part [Dr. Spaceman] with me in mind. So, a lot of it’s just being lucky and the people that end up wanting to hire me for these shows.

It’s also one thing when it’s voiceover versus an on-camera role and whether it’s as a guest star or a series regular. So, if I get a script for a pilot or something, I’m thinking seven years down the road and thinking, “Okay, is this something that I’m going to want to do?” Sometimes, it’s just an audition. Do I even want to audition for it? Does it make me laugh when I read it? What’s going on here? Does the writing feel original and interesting and exciting?

I put a lot more weight on that sort of judgment, that decision-making process when it’s an on-camera series [and that] kind of part. Now, if it’s a series part for voiceover, I still think a lot about it, because I’m very lucky, in that I’m associated largely, I think, with pretty great, quality stuff. But, it’s not like everything I do is obviously going to be gold, there’s just not that much gold content out there. It’s mostly just being an actor wanting to work and trying to make good choices that I can feel proud of, whether it’s voiceover or on-camera.

Archer: Danger Island airs Wednesdays at 10PM on FXX.

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