Archer's Chris Parnell takes us inside the voice booth [Interview]

If you’re like me and sometimes find yourself surfing the channels like they earn you frequent flipper miles, then perhaps you’ve recognized a face more frequent than others cropping up on your monitors as of late. Chris Parnell, making some big strides in his career since parting ways with Saturday Night Live, has since earned himself popular recurring guest spots on Suburgatory and 30 Rock, while landing regular roles on MTV’s I Just Want My Pants Back, and FX’s animated-hit, Archer, as ISIS comptroller-recently-turned-agent, Cyril Figgis.

cyril chris parnell archer

I recently had the pleasure of sitting in on a conference call with Chris, and when he wasn’t making us choke with laughter on our morning coffees, he discussed different aspects of his career in comedy, his ongoing television engagements, and of course, shared some scoops on what to expect from the rest of Archer’s third season.

On getting involved in Archer.

Well, I originally auditioned for a different role for the pilot for Archer, I believe it was maybe a Russian interrogator - like the fake interrogator who’s testing Archer - and I didn’t get that, I guess my Russian’s not that great, my Russian accent, and I thought that was it. And then, lo and behold, not too much later after that I found out that Adam Reed, he was making me the offer to play ‘Cyril.’ And I didn’t even have to think about it because I knew the pilot was great, so yes, it was kind of great.

On working multiple television shows, and finding the time in his schedule.

I’m glad it seems like I’m constantly working. I do okay. I can’t complain. But it’s kind of scattered around, so there’s usually not too much trouble fitting stuff in. Every now and then things will get in a bit of a press and it will be a little hurried and maybe not as much sleep involved, but normally things fit in without too much trouble.

On how his voice-work compares to his background in sketch and ensemble comedy.

It’s a little challenging, in the sense that it’s very easy to go in there and then just do the lines in a variety of ways without actually connecting to the lines, to use a little actor speak, so I have to remind myself to try to be present while I’m there. I sometimes picture the other actors there with me and try to imagine that I’m really speaking to them. Adam Reed will, if it’s a long back and forth kind of sequence I’m usually on the phone with him in KC, or Matt Thompson, and we will read back and forth - I’ll do my part and he’ll do the other parts. But I’ve also found, having recorded in more group kind of situations, especially if it’s scripted like Archer is, you probably don’t have the lines memorized anyway, and so trying to actually look at or make contact with somebody while you’re reading these lines, yes, there’s a certain energy that can happen there that is helpful and it probably in some ways makes it easier. But once you get used to it, it’s fine. I enjoy it. Time wise, it’s fantastic. If we recorded it all together in a room it would certainly be a lot of fun, because we actually all really like each other, but it would take a long, long time. And this way I’m usually done in less than an hour.

On whether or not he is surprised at what Archer creator, Adam Reed, gets away with in his scripts.

Adam does surprise me sometimes, yes. Part of it is not being used to having these kinds of freedoms of what is said and the content and the subject matter and all that, that you can do on a late night table show like Archer, versus what we can even get away with on Saturday Night Live. The censorship on SNL, the NBC censor was a lot more censoring than what happens on Archer. And so that’s always a little bit of a surprise and a delight to see what comes up in that. But honestly, not much surprises me, and now certainly having a pretty good sense of what Adam is capable of and his sense of humor and what he can get away with, there’s not too much that surprises me on that anymore. But I guess I sometimes read it, and although I’m not shocked, but I am like, ‘oh, okay, cool, nice. I wouldn’t have thought you would have gone there, but it’s cool.’

On how much he can dish on what to expect this season.

I knew somebody was going to ask me that. We have recorded them all. We have finished them. And I don’t remember much. ‘Cyril’ has a little more to do in the way of agenting. It’s a fantastic third season. There’s a two-part season finale, that I won’t give away, but it’s very exciting, and I was even surprised about what all happens in that. But, yes, I am sorry, I cannot remember – FX always sends out DVD screeners of what’s been produced and done up to that point, but I think I’ve only made it through watching four of those. So I cannot honestly remember that much about what happens further on with ‘Cyril,’ but I’m excited to see.

Archer airs Thursdays at 10pm on FX.

By Mark D Curran

About the author

Mark is a freelance writer, student of English and Philosophy, and still has too much time on his hands. If you have any of your own, check out the blog and follow him on Twitter!!/MarkDCurran

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