From Crackle and Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, the stop-motion animated comedy series SuperMansion is back for Season 2. The story follows the heroic misadventures of a dysfunctional group of imperfect superheroes, known as the League of Freedom, with Titanium Rex (voiced by Bryan Cranston, who’s also an executive producer on the series) at its center. The often lackadaisical bunch must confront villains and invaders, as they attempt to become the trusted saviors of both Storm City and humanity.
During a roundtable interview, Bryan Cranston and executive producers/creators Matt Senreich and Zeb Wells talked about how they ended up working on this together, that you don’t need to know a bunch of comic book and superhero references to enjoy SuperMansion, what the success of the first season allowed them to do with Season 2, how they can get away with a lot more in animation, how they settle disagreements when it comes to writing the show, and how long the whole stop-motion animation process takes. Cranston also talked about why he doesn’t chase box office success, and whether he’d want Walter White to make an appearance on Better Call Saul.
Question: Bryan, what do you bring of yourself to this character?
BRYAN CRANSTON: I don’t need boner pills! Let’s get that out there. You know, it’s similar to doing live-action, in the sense that when an actor takes on a character, it’s a marriage of words and ideas to what the actor’s sensibility is, and you find where that is. There are times when I’m directed to punch certain things, and I go, “Oh, yeah, I see! He’s more upset at this point.” And then, there are times when I bring in my own personality and they go, “Oh, that’s good! Let’s go on that track!” I’ll do certain things or make certain sounds that the guys will respond to and go, “Oh, that’s good!” Early on, as we were feeling through the character, I think it was Zeb that said, “I don’t know, it just feels better when he’s really angry. He’s just really upset.” And then, I have to figure out why. It’s because he’s losing his sense of relevance. He feels it slipping away, so he’s desperately clutching onto these things. That made it easier for me. It doesn’t matter if it’s animated or live-action, you’re still developing a character, you want to be consistent with that character and you’re contributing to the storylines. It’s as engaging as live-action development.
Did you have to learn a lot about superhero culture for this?
CRANSTON: I’ve never been a comic book guy, so I look at it just from the justification of the character’s emotional sense. What does he want? What does he feel? Who does he want to be around? What is he losing? Who is he afraid of? That always mixes in fine. The more you humanize superhero characters, the more they’re relatable. The more they have a vulnerable point, whether it’s emotionally or their superpower, or whatever, we relate the superpower or the loss of a superpower to their emotions. It’s just fun to walk through that.
ZEB WELLS: And it was important to us that you didn’t have to know a bunch of comic book and superhero references to find the jokes funny. We wanted the characters to be funny in their interactions and have very human conflicts, and have that be the basis of the comedy.
MATT SENREICH: You have these insane superpowers, but that’s irrelevant. It’s about humanizing them and grounding them in a way that we can all relate to.
Matt and Zeb, what made you think of Bryan Cranston for this role?
SENREICH: We were afraid to ask him. We wrote the part, and in the script, it says, “A Bryan Cranston type.” We had our buddy, Seth Green, play the part for the temp animatic, and we realized that voice wasn’t good. He just turned to us and lectured us on how we’re very chicken and we should just reach out to Bryan. To his credit, we sent him the role and within 24 or 48 hours, we got a call back. It was beyond flattering. He was like, “I don’t want to just play this part. I want to make this show with you.” It just took off from there.
Bryan, what made you want to be a part of this?
CRANSTON: For me, if it didn’t have an interesting story to it, I wouldn’t be sitting here. But the idea of a household full of superheroes who are perhaps past their prime and trying to hold on to what’s left of their dignity and abilities appeals to me. And having sequences where the superheroes go shopping and do household chores was a really good idea.
What did the success of the first season give you permission to do with Season 2?
WELLS: It was seeing how well exploring the humanity of the characters ended up working. With the second season, we could push the drama a little bit and trust that the characters we’d created and that the actors helped us create would make those situations funny. So, if you look at Season 2 on paper, some of the episodes would sound more dramatic and that the stakes are a lot higher, but they’re all just as funny because we still have this band of idiots. We were really able to take the brakes off and do high-stakes superhero adventures. It’s really fun.
SENREICH: We saw how pairing certain characters together worked or didn’t work, in certain ways, and what conflict built from their politics and their boyfriend-girlfriend relationships.
Does animation give you an advantage in discussing controversial topics that live-action does not?
SENREICH: Yeah, I think you can get away with a lot more animation than you can in live-action. I come from the comic book and action figure world, where violence is funny in animation. When you go back to Tom and Jerry, it plays a lot better. If you see those things in real life, you’re going to be taken aback. It allows you to over-dramatize certain relationships to get to that point you want to make. It just allows for you to push the envelope a little bit more, but it’s dangerous to go too far. It’s about always knowing where that limit is. There are certain topics that are too far, so it’s about where is it too far and how do you make it funny while at the same time not, and also teaching a lesson while going through a situation like that. It’s a tightrope that you walk, and as long as you’re aware of it, you’re allowed to do a little more with it.
Is there something you feel didn’t work in Season 1 that you’re not doing again in Season 2?
SENREICH: We debate this, and we’re still debating it because we don’t agree, but there’s a character that we ended up killing off, in the first season, and I think it’s a mistake to kill off the character as early as we did, but [Zeb] thinks it ended up giving more character arc to some of the other characters. It does, but I just miss that character and I enjoyed that character. There’s no right or wrong answer to that. You just keep moving forward and telling the stories you want to tell. Even thought that character may be dead, you can still find ways to get to the heart of that and bring it back in to the other characters there. It’s comic books, so anything can happen. And who knows, maybe he will come back.
CRANSTON: It’s the nature of storytelling. The two heads of this show don’t always agree, so how do you reconcile that?
SENREICH: If we do bring him back – and I’m not saying we do or don’t in the second season – it’s about doing it in the right way. We can’t just bring him back because I want it. We have to do it because it makes sense. You have to have the stakes be there.