The actor talks playing an animated character in a live-action comedy
Jason Sudeikis is used to working in an ensemble and loves it. So, you can imagine that the Saturday Night Live alum is still adjusting to his latest role on Fox’s hybrid comedy Son of Zorn.
Executive produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Lego Movie), Son of Zorn follows a cartoon warrior from the far-off island of Zephyria named Zorn (voiced by Sudeikis). He returns to suburban Los Angeles to reconnect with his live-action son Alan (Johnny Pemberton) and his ex-wife Edie (Cheryl Hines), who is now engaged to online psychology professor Craig (Tim Meadows). While the show films in California, Sudeikis, who is in rehearsals for the off-Broadway production of Dead Poets Society, does most of his work in a soundbooth in New York, which is definitely a change.
EW caught up with Sudeikis to chat about playing an animated character in a live-action project, what attracted him to the zany comedy, and what he thinks his character has in common with Lynda Carter’s version of Wonder Woman.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You do most of your voice work for the show in New York. Can you walk me through what that process is like?
JASON SUDEIKIS: I still have questions about it as I’m in the middle of doing it. Basically, the scripts are all written and at least at the beginning of the season when they were still filming episodes, I was [recording] about in real time with them. I don’t know if on set they were playing the stuff for Johnny, Cheryl, and Tim to react to. The point is every version of it has occurred in the sense that either I record first or I’m recording things in reaction to them. The hardest thing for me is not being there on set because that’s a big part of why I got into wanting to act in general, coming from a team background in athletics and ensemble background between improv and sketch comedy. So, it’s a little weird to be isolated not just on the East Coast, but also in this booth. But, it kind of works for the essence of the show with Zorn being predominantly the only animated character. It also allows for them to do what they’re going to do and then there’s also time for me to go back in and re-record something if they discover something [through improv] or just through re-writes on set. In a dire situation if I’m not near a recording studio or they need something quick in this modern age, you can just record stuff on your phone and send it in just to hold the place. We’re still in the midst of discovering it. As long as the show exists, I think it’ll always be a little bit of a process dealing with this floating space that I’m in as this character as the technology improves.
Have you had to send in recording using your phone yet?
Yeah, some of the presentation stuff for Upfronts and Comic-Con were sent in that way. I don’t know if we’ve used anything that’s going to be on actual television. [It’s] usually as a placeholder or maybe hearing how a line will sound and might scan. Usually I’ll go in and re-record it.
Do you feel like you’re missing out on a lot of cast bonding since you’re here in New York?
Yeah, right? They get to go do promo shoots. They had a wrap party and we bought wrap gifts, coffee mugs, and t-shirts, for the crew. So, they at least financially kept me looped in there. So, that’s nice thatI don’t feel like an outsider as far as buying gifts. But in all seriousness, it’s nice. I’ll get texts from Tim [when] he was at Upfronts or Comic Con — I can’t remember which one he was at — telling me that the presentation killed. I looked forward to the couple times when the show first came up that I got to do some of the table reads. That was helpful just to hear the tone of the show, because if it gets picked up for a second season, we’ll have the first season by which to learn both what works and what doesn’t work in the process and in the product. That’s an opportunity that I’m always eager for. We’ve made the invisible visible to one another and now we can improve upon it versus just this crazy idea that Eli [Jorné] and Reed [Agnew], the creators, had. So, yeah, I don’t feel they’re keeping me out. I’m not locked out like Rapunzel or something like that.
How many table reads were you able to sit in on?
It was like two or three of the first season and all of the immediate ones including the pilot presentation that we initially did. Then, maybe I went back for one other one when I happened to be in town. It’s one of those things that you just sort of throw your trust in. That’s one of the things I learned doing SNL. We were surrounded by people behind the scenes who were like incredible at the wigs, incredible at prosthetics, amazing costumers, incredible set designers, and you just come up with an idea and then let the people who do their jobs so well do their job. So, that’s kind of the mentality that I have and that I’m able to maintain when working with this or doing the other show I do with [executive producers Phil] Lord and [Christopher] Miller, Last Man on Earth. They have such a good understanding of comedy and character that if they’re watching the farm, you know stuff is going to grow and no animals are going to die.
On the show, you play this irreverent character that some have described as a critique of retrograde masculinity. Is that something that attracted you to the project?
The initial attraction was the original idea by Reed and Eli and then Chris and Phil’s involvement. Then for me it’s always, can I help? Am I right for this? As far as what the show is trying to say in both sociopolitical terms and in just regards to structure and story and the situational comedy are wonderful things and Lord and Miller have a great, great grasp on that. Look at what they did for 22 Jump Street and obviously Lego Movie. It’s not all one big wink. They still want you to give a damn about these little toys or these undercover cops. They can reference themselves and still maintain the integrity of the world they’re referencing, which I think, not to talk too much comedy shop, is a tough rope to walk.
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I like that this guy is a work in progress. Yes, he represents, to use a term I’ve heard people throw out, toxic masculinity, but that exists both in men and women. It’s basically power corrupts. This is the most powerful guy. He’s the opposite side of the bell curve of what Wonder Woman feels like — and I’m referencing more the Lynda Carter series than the upcoming film or even the comic books. She came from this place where women dominated and has to come here and be like, “What is going on in this place called Earth?” Zorn is from Earth, but he’s from this far off land that has a completely different power structure and it really comes down to the actual, physical, visceral power. Here, he’s at least humbled enough by the desire to improve his life and improve his relationships that he’s a work in progress and he’s trying to connect with his heart and soul. To me, that feels like a Lord and Miller joint if there’s ever been one.
Son of Zorn airs Sundays at 8:30 p.m. ET on Fox.