Much to the surprise and joy of every Arrested Development fan, the Emmy Award-winning comedy series following the wildly eccentric and entertainingly dysfunctional Bluth family is back with 15 new episodes debuting on Netflix on May 26th. After having seen the first episode, I can say that the show is as twisted and funny as ever, and feels like it hasn’t missed a beat in the seven years since the last episode aired. From creator/writer Mitch Hurwitz, the series stars Will Arnett, Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, David Cross, Portia de Rossi, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat, Jeffrey Tambor and Jessica Walter.
During a recent press conference to promote the 15 new episodes, co-stars Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, David Cross, Portia de Rossi, Alia Shawkat and Jessica Walter talked about how great it’s been to reunite with each other, the possibility of a movie still being made, what it was like to return to these roles after so many years, how often fans throw quotes at them when they’re out, how complicated the episodes were to shoot, and just how many scenes the Bluth family is in together. Check out what they had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
Question: Now that you’ve done 15 episodes and they’re going to be available on May 26th, is there any sense of vindication?
JASON BATEMAN: I don’t think any of us felt any bitterness or huge frustration that the show had gone away. For the most part, the emotion around the set, when it went down, was that we were upset, but we felt pretty grateful that we got that far. There was blood in the water, after the first 13 episodes. That we had been so embraced by the media, as well as the vocal minority that cheered us on, and the awards or nominations, and now with this, it’s just great. Netflix gave us all a chance to have a reunion party and hang out with one another and do Mitch’s work. It’s all been gravy for us, from the start.
DAVID CROSS: I don’t take the same meds as Jason. I was a little pissed that it was cancelled, unceremoniously. I don’t know if vindication is the word I’d use, but it’s certainly satisfying to know that all of us, as well as all the fans, were right. This should continue. It should have continued.
Over the years, there was a lot of speculation as to what the next step would be, and if there would be a movie version or if you’d come back to TV. Who in the cast was the last to believe Netflix when they said that they would actually do this, and is there still a possibility for a movie?
PORTIA DE ROSSI: Well, I hope that there is still a possibility of a movie. I think we all would love to be a part of this crazy family for as long as we can be, in any format that Mitch thinks is right for the show. I think we’re all on board for that. It was a little boy who cried wolf for a while, I must admit. Until business affairs called, that’s when I knew that we actually were to do it. There was a lot of, “Oh, it’s going to happen in this month. Here’s a script. Here’s an idea.” But, until business affairs called, I was a little skeptical. Having said that, I always knew that all of us would be on board, and all of us would be willing to do whatever Mitch wanted us to do, as part of the show.
What was it like to get back into these roles, and what had you missed about your character?
WALTER: Well, the clothes. And I just missed the juiciness of the writing. The writing was so character specific, for all of us. They don’t have Arrested Development writer trees out there. So, to come back to this writing was very exciting.
DE ROSSI: I loved Lindsay. I loved playing her because she was so earnest. Even though she was vapid and self-centered, she actually thought that she was a good person and was doing good things. I liked that disconnect for a character. It’s always fun to play the innocent, no matter what you’re doing. If you feel like you’re doing the right thing, you can get away with a lot comedically. I had definitely missed not having a conscience.
BATEMAN: I didn’t miss that much about the character because I don’t like to really work that hard, so I made my character really close to me. Michael was pretty close to me, so I never really left him. The clothes were different – mine versus the set. I just liked being with everybody again.
ALIA SHAWKAT: Yeah, I just liked being with everyone, too. It’s fun to have different scenes with different characters because they’re very different dynamics. And it was always fun to see what weird things I was going to do with who next.
CROSS: Yeah, the ability, after seven years, to be able to work with this amazing cast, with that amazing writing, is so rare and such a privilege. It was very, very exciting. And Tobias is a fun and pretty goofy, sadly deluded guy. It’s a fun character to do, for sure. But even less about that, it was more about, “Oh, my god, I get to hang out with all of these people again.” We had so much fun. And we knew it was special from very, very, very early on. It was just a treat to be able to have that be your work, and to work with all these folks, and have Mitch’s writing.
MICHAEL CERA: Yeah, it was the most fun job I’ve ever had, and not to speak for Alia, but we both grew up, doing the show. So, being around all these guys was really formative for me, at that time. It was just so nice to be around everyone again and have that experience again.
What inspiration, if any, did you take from the real Orange County, for this?
CERA: It’s wild! Those are some strange folks. The oddness of that landscape just trickles down. It’s just in the blood of the show.
DE ROSSI: I just see Orange County as a big shopping mall full of blonde women who shop a lot.
CROSS: There are upper-middle class skate punks, bitching about stuff. They’re just bitching because they’re 15 and 16 years old, and that’s what you do when you’re 15 and 16. But, they’re so privileged. They just skate around that big outdoor mall with all this money, and their lives suck.
Michael, can you talk about the fact that you’re a producer on the show now and that you’re helping with the writing?
CERA: Well, I wrote in the writers’ room this year. That’s what the credit means. I didn’t do anything that earned me a producer’s credit. I think they just had to give me some kind of credit for being in that room.
Jason, how close did you get to the vulture in the first episode, and how close did you actually get to the ostrich that’s in the second episode?
BATEMAN: The ostrich was fake, so I got nowhere near him. The vulture was real, and he smelled surprisingly good, though we shot early in the day, so he probably had just showered.
BATEMAN: They’re not friendly looking creatures.
DE ROSSI: They’re not very friendly, although they have nice eyelashes and big eyes.
How many people throw quotes from the show at you, when you’re out?
CROSS: For me, almost 95% of the time it’s, “I just blue myself.” I get that a lot, and it often happens with people who are yelling from a car.
SHAWKAT: At my high school graduation, I graduated from home school, so it was pregnant teens and gang members. But, when I got on stage, there were kids in the background who all screamed, “Marry me!,” very loud.
The show’s new format is very different from what it was when it was on TV. Do you think it’s going to be easy for the audience to digest this new thing?
BATEMAN: I don’t think that it will be easy, no, but I hope that it’s appreciated by the few people that do love the show. They seem to be a group that likes things somewhat challenging, by virtue of the fact that they come back for Mitch’s dense writing, all the time. It’s incredible. So, the fact that Netflix affords him the opportunity to have these stories go out, over 15 different episodes that are so intertwined that the same scene will repeat from different angles and multiple episodes, is a really unique thing and an exciting thing to be a part of, both just working with his complexity and also with Netflix’s distribution platform. It’s just a neat time to watch TV.
CROSS: What I’m particularly excited about, after watching the first two episodes, is that, if you’re watching it, especially in chronological order, as you get to Episode 3 and 4, you’re going to realize how you’re supposed to start watching it, as opposed to just being a passive viewer. I think that’s going to be really, really exciting for people. Not to give too much away, but there’s going to be a lot of those moments where you go, “Oh, wait a minute, that’s a reference to three episodes earlier,” but quintuple that. I don’t even know what number that is. But, it’s going to be a bit of an epiphany or a revelation, once you get into Episodes 4 and 5, and you start to realize, “Oh, there’s a structure to this that I wasn’t aware of when I started watching it.” That’s going to make everybody triple-excited, and there is going to be a sense of discovery to it that I think would be really exciting, and will redefine what TV can be.
Is there a preferred order that people should watch the show in?
BATEMAN: Mitch is numbering them on purpose, but it is not required to watch, in that order. But, pretty shortly after you start watching, you’ll realize that, “Oh, wait, I can complete that scene if I re-watch the second half of that last episode.” You’ll start to make your own order, as you are interested in certain stories, or start to try to figure out what the whole thing is going to be about.
CROSS: I think it is important to watch the Michael episodes – Episodes 1 and 2 – first, because of the story exposition. The whole Cinco de Cuatro thing catches most people up, but after that, go nuts.
BATEMAN: Just to manage expectations, if you call it a season, the implication is that this is going to feel like the other seasons, and it’s not. They are episodes.
DE ROSSI: It does focus on one character per episode, so it’s easier to digest than the original series because we were following storylines A, B, C, D, E and F, and now we’re just following this one character and we’ve got a little more time to tell the story. You can sit with the jokes a little bit more. We definitely saw that with Jason’s character. He has these amazing moments where he just sits and waits for all of us to make fools of ourselves, in some way, and it’s really nice. I think it has a nicer pace.
How difficult of a structure was this to follow, as actors, while you were shooting the episodes?
BATEMAN: It’s a really complicated thing that Mitch put together, and fortunately he was there, every single day, to explain it to us because, oftentimes, the scene didn’t even exist that preceded the one that we were shooting.
CERA: I don’t think this has ever been done before, in anything. There was one scene that we did, that’s a five-page scene in the computer lab, and different sections of the scene appear in different episodes. So, you’d deliver a line that had to make sense in multiple different contexts and actually plays against each other. You’ll see an episode with different information from the same scene, and it means something totally different. That was really confusing.
BATEMAN: Yeah. It’s one thing to act that, but imagine thinking that up and writing that. It was really, really fortunate that we all got a chance to work with him.
CROSS: He was consistently being asked by all the actors, “Why am I saying this? What does this mean?” A lot of this was in his head and he’d explain it to the writers, but it wasn’t constructed so that you could see the logic. You had to just trust the direction because you didn’t know how it would play in somebody else’s episode, where you’d see that scene from a different perspective, or with information added to it.
There was a lot of talk about scheduling not allowing for many scenes with all of you together. What can you share about what does bring the entire Bluth family together, and how those scenes were to film?
DE ROSSI: We all probably needed money. That would be the one thing that would get us together.
BATEMAN: Not everybody is in every episode and, as much as you treat these with individual episodes, the 15 are meant to be one singular act of this three-act saga that Mitch is going to tell. It’s a good thing they are all being released on the same day, so that you can get your fill of everyone.
Were there moments when it really felt like you were back doing Arrested Development?
WALTER: There are only two scenes in the entire 15 episodes where all nine of us were together. The first time we all sat down in the penthouse, we were so excited. Once we heard the voices and saw the faces that looked the same, except for the kids who are now adults, that’s when I knew we were really back. It was incredibly surreal.
CROSS: And we were lucky enough to have a lot of the crew that we worked before, so that also lent itself to how surreal and cool it was for all of us to be looking at each other, in our outfits, and getting to do this after seven years. That’s when it really felt real.
David, Tobias was renowned for his physical dexterity. How limber do you feel, nowadays?
CROSS: Well I’m certainly game for anything, but much like the fading athlete who should have perhaps quit the year before and just starts to degrade, my mind is the mind of a fresh 19-year-old, but I definitely have creakier bones. I’m not nearly as limber. Also I’m fatter! I was doing ADR for a scene where I have my shirt off, which was never a problem before, and I was like, “Oh, my god!” It’s definitely that middle-aged gut. I didn’t even suck it in. I’m not quite as limber, but for my peers and my age group, I’m still top notch!
Jason, you said that you’re similar to your character in real life, but is that an observation you’ve made, or is it one made by your family and the people around you?
BATEMAN: The positive sides, I’ve made. My family has observed the negative sides. There’s a boring actor answer to this that I’ll spare you, but I try to perform my characters inside my skill set, which means I try to keep them close to me.
WALTER: Without Jason at the center of this dysfunctional, crazy family around him, I don’t think it would have worked. I don’t think The Mary Tyler Moore Show would have worked without her and her skills, and Jason has the skills to be in the middle of the crazy people. I know he hates to hear this, but it’s true. I don’t think it would have worked without him.
BATEMAN: That’s nice of you to say, but it’s the smart structure that Mitch organized. He put a proxy in the center, for all of us who watched the show, as a tour guide, so that he could take bigger swings with really funny characters.
CROSS: Mary Tyler Moore was originally cast in the role, but she had to drop out to get more plastic surgery.
David, are we going to see Tobias covered in blue again?
CROSS: There are a couple of characters who get blue. That’s all I’ll say.
Sorry if it’s a spoiler, but a lot of people will be disappointed if that doesn’t happen.
CROSS: Then perhaps that was taken into account.
Michael, how much does George Michael still have feelings for Maeby?
CERA: The Maeby thread is still going. I don’t know how much to say about it without totally blowing the whole thing, but it’s definitely there.
Is George Michael still a daddy’s boy, or is he more independent now?
What do you feel Arrested Development is a commentary on?
BATEMAN: Basically, it just says that we’re all idiots. Nobody’s perfect, and this is just an exaggerated version of that, with a comedic style and tone that you either love or you hate. I think that’s one of its strengths. It’s very specific. It’s nice that there are enough people out there that like what we do because it gives us a chance to do more for them, and more for us. I think we all like the show and want to watch it, as fans.
DE ROSSI: I also think that we’re greedy, as a culture, as well. The show highlights how we, as a society, have become self-obsessed and greedy. It seems to be tipping off its axis, a little bit. A family with this housing development – the McMansions – plays to our consumerism, as a culture.
CROSS: There is something that, as a viewer, you tend to forget about, which is that this family is shot in a documentary style. We’re so used to it, but there is a connotation that goes with that when we’re shooting, and now even more so. Reality TV now doesn’t feel reality TV when it started. The line between reality and fiction is blurred. So many of these people are phony or shallow, in their own right. If you’ve ever watched any of The Real Housewives, or those types of shows, they’re all performing. Even though they’re real people, they’re performing. With Arrested Development, there are cameras there. We even did in an episode where you see a boom, to remind you that this is documentary style. Even more so in 2013, that’s half of our TV. We just forget what’s real, and what’s performing for a camera.
Arrested Development is available on Netflix on May 26th.