Family Guy producer reveals details on Carrie Fisher's final two episodes
Steve Callaghan also discusses how the show will pay tribute to the character and actress
When Carrie Fisher passed away suddenly at the age of 60 last December, her death was felt across the galaxy, from Alderaan to Hollywood, and all the way to Quahog. In addition to playing Princess Leia in five Star Wars movies, starring in films like Hannah and Her Sisters and When Harry Met Sally, writing the semi-autobiographical novel and screenplay Postcards from the Edge, and serving as an in-demand script doctor, Fisher had a decade-plus gig on Family Guy. She voiced a key character on the animated comedy, Angela, Peter’s boss at the brewery, popping up in two dozen episodes of the animated comedy, dating back to 2005. Angela was guilty of sexually harassing Peter, but we would also learn that she was deeply sad and lonesome; Peter saved her from committing suicide and went so far as to (semi-)cheat on his own wife to lift her spirits. In the world of Family Guy, this was a mitzvah.
Fisher may be gone, but her work on the show lives on, at least for a little longer. The first of her posthumous episodes debuted in the spring, as she was seen in a cutaway gag complimenting Peter on his watermelon outfit. Her second-to-last episode airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on Fox — get ready to watch Angela fire Peter not once but three times — and her final appearance arrives a month later. In addition, the show will provide closure and pay tribute to Angela (and Fisher) in an episode slated to air next fall. Here to preview what you can expect in Fisher’s final two appearances — and to review her memorable run on the show — is Family Guy executive producer Steve Callaghan.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Seth MacFarlane is obviously such a big Star Wars fan, but apparently he was also a fan of The Burbs, which starred Fisher. How did you decide to pursue her for the role of Angela — and then how did you manage to get her to say yes?
STEVE CALLAGHAN: Peter Griffin has actually held a number of different jobs throughout the series. He worked at the toy factory, and we killed off that boss, and then we had him change to a new job, and he worked as a fisherman for many, many episodes. And then back in season 4, we thought, “Oh, it would be fun to put Peter in a new work environment, and one that overlaps with some of his interests in that it’s working at a brewery.” It was Seth’s idea that [Peter] should have a boss who would be a good oppositional counterweight to him, where Peter would want to just goof off and be a slacker at work. He wanted to pair him with a boss who would have little patience for that, and would be a hard-ass. And it would be an interesting dynamic, too, if his boss was a woman, because we hadn’t had that with Peter. So we started some conversations about what this character would be, and who might play her, and Carrie Fisher is at the intersection of so many of Seth’s loves. He’s a huge Star Wars fan, and for whatever reason, one of his favorite movies of all time is The Burbs, so he always had a lot of affection for Carrie from her appearance in that movie, too. And even when her name first came up, there was some skepticism expressed about if we’d be able to get her. She was such a big star, and so well-known, what would be in it for her to do this show? So we were thrilled when word came back that she was interested in doing the part.
It all came from Seth but we all very enthusiastic when that suggestion was made because there’s not a person on our writing staff nor I would say a person alive who’s not a Star Wars fan. [Laughs] I mean, look at our series; there’s Star Wars all throughout it to about the most extreme extent that you could do. We did three hourlong Star Wars-themed episodes. And, in fact, that was kind of a fun thing too, she seems like the obvious choice to cast Angela as Princess Leia, but we had fun finding other places to fit her in, and I think Carrie was pleased with that choice too. She enjoyed being able to occupy other parts of the Star Wars universe, even if it’s just the Family Guy Star Wars universe.
I imagine she thought it was funny that you didn’t try to cast her as Leia.
Totally. She was in on the joke. She loved that she got to play different people [Mon Mothma] that she would have never otherwise had a chance to play.
Did you have a real sense that the character could last this long? Or once you landed Carrie, was it more like, “Who knows how long we’ll have her?”
By that point, we’d shown a track record of being willing to move Peter from job to job, and we did that for a couple reasons. One, because it provided opportunities for different stories. So we did do it knowing that we liked this new setting of the brewery, that we liked the choice of Carrie as his boss, but we also realized, maybe after some number of years, she would want to move on and not do it. So we thought, “It’s like a carpe diem thing. This is great. Let’s do this while we have the opportunity,” knowing that if we needed to change jobs for Peter, there’s certainly a precedent for it. But we all found over time, as the dynamic between Angela and Peter evolved, that it really worked, and we liked it, and they were interesting together. In fact, we ended up doing entire episodes about the dynamic between Peter and Angela. We did an episode called “Peter-assment,” where she sexually harasses him, and what we learn over the course of the episode is that she’s sort of a different person than she is at work. At the office, she’s one thing, and there’s a reason why she’s like that.
She’s very lonely.
Her life is rather empty. And I don’t know that we would have gone into the depth of that character by doing that episode were it not for the fact that we had an actress who we knew was more than capable of taking that on — and bringing comedy to a situation that when you describe it, sounds a little sad. But the episode itself turned out really fun. And funny. And helped us to get know Angela in a much deeper way. I give Carrie most of the credit for that.
How exactly did she round out Angela in ways that weren’t on the page?
It would be easy for a less capable actress to make that character kind of one-note, gruff and yelling all the time. But Carrie brought to it a depth that I don’t think just anyone could have. And it enabled us to do some of the types of episodes that I was talking about, where we got to know her on a deeper level. Anyone knows their boss in their one context, and there’s a full person behind that that they, for the most part, don’t get to know. And Carrie brought to that role the ability for us as writers to take her outside of the context and the setting of the office and see what her life is elsewhere. We’re incredibly grateful to her for that, and we all feel the loss of that now that we’re writing episodes that don’t have Angela in them.
Carrie was a strong, fearless force of nature. You had her character sexually harassing Peter, and she even tries to kill herself. What did she think about these outrageous things you threw in front of her? Was she game for anything?
I think she really liked it. Carrie, in this way, and in other ways, was very much like Adam West, in that she was always up for anything. If anything, eager for us to present them to material that was just out there and showed us new aspects to the character that may have seemed really odd and crazy on the page but when you see it on the show, just really makes those characters that you enjoy seeing whenever they pop up in our universe. We would use her in unexpected ways. I’m remembering an episode right now where Lois became a boxer and she was the ring girl — it was just funny that she would pop up there as a side gig. Anytime we would bring her into the show — and especially if it as an unusual or unexpected context, she loved it.
NEXT PAGE: A preview of her final appearance — and the episode that will address the fate of Angela
What was it like to record her?
It was a blast. She was always full of energy, really excited to be there. I was always a bit of a fanboy when she was here, so I would be curious to know what she was up to, what she was working on. When they were shooting A Force Awakens, she actually was not able during that time to come record in L.A. because she was in London, so we’d have to arrange our record schedules around that. And I was always very curious to ask her, “How’s it going? What’s happening?” And of course she had certain things she could say and certain things she couldn’t say, but it was always really fun, and there was always a lot of laughter. Most of the time, she would be here in L.A. recording at our offices.
You probably heard this story before, but it’s a funny one: There was a period where our casting director was a collector, so she had out in our waiting area — where the actors would sit while they were waiting to record their lines — these old celebrity magazines from decades earlier. So Carrie was here waiting to record, she’s flipping through one of these magazines, and she sees this article about her family when she was a toddler. It was about Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher and what their life was like. And she did this really funny, almost monologue where she was reading the article aloud for those of us sitting there, but then pausing to add in her own little quips and annotations of what was written in the magazine. It was hysterical; it was like we were watching her one-woman show or something, but she did this all spontaneously and off the top of her head, and it caused you to remember in that moment that this is someone who has been part of a celebrity family since the beginning of her life, and what that must have been like. And it made us even more grateful to realize that we’re so lucky to have Hollywood royalty working on our little cartoon. [Laughs] She was always a pleasure and always cracking jokes, and never shy about being self-deprecating. Just really down-to-earth.
Her death hit Hollywood hard. How crushing was that news for everyone at Family Guy, who had worked with her for over a decade?
It was stunning. Really devastating, and obviously very unexpected. My recollection is that she recorded for the show very recently, so it really came out of nowhere for us, and it was very, very sad. We couldn’t believe it. Even now, it’s hard to just really take in the truth of the situation that she’s not part of the show anymore, so it’s very upsetting for all of us.
Sunday’s episode, “Three Directors,” also features the late Adam West as POTUS. It must have been difficult to cope with two deaths of beloved recurring, important guest stars within a few months.
It was incredibly difficult. The loss of each of those characters in itself was an enormous blow. And then to have two of them happen so close together — we’ve been able to absorb the loss in the show, but I think we’re still processing emotions about losing these two actors from our lives.
Angela fires Peter three times in the episode, once in the style of Quentin Tarantino, once in the style of Wes Anderson, and once in the style of Michael Bay. What sticks out to you about Carrie’s performance in “Three Directors”?
A couple things. First of all, I love the way that she delivers the lines in which she fires Peter in the style of Wes Anderson because she nailed, in my opinion, what those movies are and the acting styles that’s contained within them. I love Wes Anderson movies, but even he would admit that sometimes his characters speak in ways that are not like humans speak. She comes in dressed in this odd get-up that we’ve never seen her wear before, and says, “You’re relieved of your position.” It’s like, who fires someone that way? Beyond just the words themselves, her delivery of it was perfect, just the right balance of realistic, but stilted and oddly distant.
But I think probably my favorite version of her firing Peter is the Michael Bay [segment], which culminates with Angela and Peter engaging in the grossest, longest French kiss you’ve ever seen. [Laughs] So having to direct her to make those noises was hilarious. We were all just cracking up, because I remember saying to her, “Okay, so now Angela is kissing Peter, and it’s just wet and lots of tongue,” and she just jumped right into these ridiculously gross but hilarious noises. And it just went on for awhile, but we kept laughing with each new iteration of it. It was actually a lot of fun sorting through those different Carrie Fisher noises and figuring out which would be just the right level of saliva and grossness.
She’ll also pop up in a Christmas episode (“Don’t Be a Dickens at Christmas,” airing Dec. 10). What can you hint about that appearance?
It’s at the very top of the show. It’s Peter’s last day of work before he gets a little time off for the holidays, so it very much has that feeling that we all remember when it’s like the last day at school before Christmas vacation. Peter is sitting there with a boom box, just waiting to be dismissed from work so he can blare “School’s Out,” by Alice Cooper, and, of course, he keeps jumping the gun, much to the annoyance of Angela, who’s not quite ready to dismiss everyone from work. It’s just Peter’s enthusiasm for Christmas getting in the way — yet again — of him being the type of employee that Angela would expect him to be.
Angela was an important character to the fabric of the show. For fans seeking closure, how will you properly wrap up her story and pay tribute to Carrie?
I’m not going to say too much about that, but we do have an upcoming episode [airing next fall] where we deal with Angela’s departure. The way we’ve written it, and the way that our characters on the show are talking about Angela, it’s very much intended and a respectful goodbye to both the character of Angela and also Carrie Fisher. Peter has a speech in there where he’s talking about Angela, but we the audience know that he’s also quite deliberately talking about Carrie Fisher. It’s not like the entire episode is about Angela’s departure, but it does introduce Peter’s new bosses that then sets the stage for what the episode is about. Her departure is an integral part of it, but that’s not the story of the episode.
Peter’s new bosses will be played by Bryan Cranston and Niecy Nash. What dynamic can we expect from this husband-wife team?
They’re job-sharing and the dynamic between them and Peter — the comedy that we hope we’re going to get out of that — is that they are the perfect couple who are so in love that they don’t even finish each other’s sentences, they literally share sentences. Each of them will say the alternating word within a single sentence in such a saccharine, sweet way that Peter just can’t believe what he’s witnessing and has to deal with every day at work. And those two actors are such fun to work with and obviously incredibly talented and funny. We’ve had their characters now in four or five episodes that we’ve done so far that are making their way through the pipeline, and we’re really enjoying having them on the show and the dynamic that these new bosses are bringing to the brewery.
Was it challenging to work on that first part of the episode?
It was. We didn’t want to be completely straight and really sad, but we also wanted it to properly express how we felt about losing the character of Angela, but also about how we as a staff and crew of this show felt about losing Carrie Fisher from the show. We tried to walk a very narrow line, and I hope that we did a good job of it. We tried to make it humorous but also in a way that’s also respectful and sweet — and a nice farewell to Carrie.
What will you miss about working with her?
That’s two questions. What I miss about Carrie Fisher is just the fun that she brought the office and how much I would look forward to record sessions with her. Just being in her presence, and soaking up her wit. What I’ll miss about not having Angela on the show is that I feel like she was a great, layered character that we could use in a number of different ways. I’ll miss Angela the character. But I miss Carrie the actress even more.
To watch a clip from the seven-minute Carrie Fisher tribute that can be found on Family Guy’s season 15 DVD (out Nov. 7), click on the video above.