Now airing on Adult Swim (Cartoon Network’s weird brother) is Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland‘s Rick & Morty. The half-hour animated series is about a “sociopathic scientist who drags his unintelligent grandson on insanely dangerous adventures across the universe.” The show features the voices of Roiland, Chris Parnell,Spencer Grammer, and Sarah Chalke.
Recently, I landed an exclusive interview with Parnell, Grammer, and Chalke. They talked about how they got involved in the show, who they play, what’s coming up during the season, the recording process, improv versus sticking to the script, what they collect, and a lot more. Hit the jump for what they had to say.
Collider: So I watched the first two episodes last night, and it’s real funny, and it’s bizarre, and it’s out there, and it’s exactly what I expect from those guys. Talk a little bit about how you were approached for the material, and how they told you about it — in your characters and in the universe.
CHRIS PARNELL: I’m trying to remember.
SPENCER GRAMMER: It’s been a long time.
PARNELL: It has been a long time ago. When we originally did the pilot for it, it was quite a while ago, but I guess… I don’t know. Did I audition, or did they offer it?
GRAMMER: I auditioned.
SARAH CHALKE: I auditioned. This guy, I mean — the phenomenal Chris Parnell.
PARNELL: I knew they had both auditioned, so I was like–
CHALKE: I could not believe it when I read the material. Like, it was so funny. There was a line in the audition, I don’t think it’s in any of the shows, but it’s like, “Thinking about people is not the same as helping them. Just ask Africa,” and they were going to some movie or something like that. Beth was saying she liked the movie. She and Jerry were having a conversation, and she was like, “The nice thing about being a doctor is I already know I’m smart.” And I was just peeing my pants reading this, so I auditioned from Canada, over the telephone, with Dan [Harmon] and Justin [Roiland], from my friend’s place. I was up in Canada at a friend’s place, so I did the audition on the phone.
CHALKE: And then when I got it, it was like, very, very late in the process. These guys had already done a ton of episodes and the pilot and everything — I got the part very late in the process — and we recorded all of the episodes in two and a half days.
GRAMMER: Yeah, she did.
CHALKE: Just the back part, yeah.
GRAMMER: We’d been doing it for a while. I don’t actually know why, but yeah. I play Summer, who’s their daughter, and I play a teenager, and they just like me ‘cause my voice sounds kinda nasally, or in the back of my throat. This is what Justin says about my voice, and I’m like, “Thanks!” For me, Summer is sort of the nerdy inception of all of my high school experience, pretty much. I feel like this girl. I do, I did! I’m more put together now, but I feel really felt like the weird girl who had a crush on the cute guy, but you’re not, like, that kind of random girl who’s not that important, really.
GRAMMER: You’re not popular. You’re not unpopular. You’re just there. You know what I mean? That’s who Summer is, but it’s great. I have some really great episodes that come up where I’m fighting with Rick. I kind of stand up to him more than Morty does. It’s fun’s. Just good stuff.
Well, one of the things that’s cool about the way Dan Harmon works, I know, is he will mix in pop culture references, and the way the writing process is — it’s great. It’s a unique voice, but the one of the things I think is cool is you guys can probably explore material and say things that you can’t say on network TV.
And I sort of want to talk about that. You did eleven episodes, or thirteen?
GRAMMER: We did ten.
So I don’t want to ruin anything, but what can you tease people? And also address the fact that you can say and do things that are definitely not politically correct. At least, I think so.
GRAMMER: Yeah, you can kind get away with more ‘cause it’s not live action. I mean, my son can’t even watch some cartoons, ‘cause he’s like, “Why did they fall? Are they okay?” He just starts crying. It’s really strange. But in this, you can sort of jump between galaxies pretty quickly. There’s lots of drinking I think. Rick is throwing up.
CHALKE: An alcoholic.
GRAMMER: Majorly an alcoholic, and just pulling Morty around and making him smuggle in seeds and things like that. There’s some great, great stuff in there.
CHALKE: That’s my favorite line, scene, anything in the entire series.
GRAMMER: Oh my God.
CHALKE: It’s my favorite.
GRAMMER: Rick and Morty forever and ever! Yeah, it’s so amazing — that whole thing.
PARNELL: When he smuggles the seed in his pocket.
GRAMMER: Yeah. I mean, I can’t totally remember what we’ve done, because it’s been a while.
CHALKE: Well, I think that one of my favorite parts about it is, like, you come into the show, and it seems like it’s gonna be — Justin and Dan really wanted to ground it in this family, where you come in and the teenagers are dealing with teenage problems, and our marriage is hanging on by a thread, and you have this real family life and dynamic going on, and then this wild travel between space and time and it’s not really addressed — like, how do you do this? How did you turn someone into a pill and swallow them into someone else’s body or whatever? That’s sort of just part of it. That’s just what happens.
GRAMMER: That happens in an episode, right?
GRAMMER: There’s something you can tease, I guess. I don’t know.
PARNELL: Yeah, anything is possible, that’s the great thing about it to me. They travel between dimensions constantly, and characters are often getting killed and sometimes our characters get killed or appear to get killed. It’s insane. Anything is possible, but like Sarah said, yeah, it’s grounded in this family and then they go off and do these other things because Rick is the most brilliant being in the universe. It’s just insane, but not in a stoner way, like, “Oh my God, what’s going on?” There’s a logic to it. There’s a story to it, which is part of what I really love.
I’m definitely curious about the recording process. Obviously you two have done voiceover work before.
CHALKE: Together, actually.
PARNELL: That’s right. But not at the same time.
CHALKE: But not at the same time. Our characters have kissed on another project.
PARNELL: It’s true.
GRAMMER: Oh, wow.
GRAMMER: That’s amazing. You guys could have dated in the–
CHALKE: In the animation world.
GRAMMER: And then you ended up married.
I believe you haven’t done voiceover work before this.
GRAMMER: I did an episode of Robot Chicken before.
I’m definitely curious about the process on this one and the way Justin and Dan work in terms of — okay, you have the script, because I’ve seen some directors where they’re just giving you line readings. They’re saying, “Okay, you’re saying it like this, and then here’s twenty other takes of the same line.” I’m just curious, how much you guys you were able to improve, how much sticking to the script, and how much changed in the booth.
PARNELL: Well, I don’t feel a ton’s changed in the booth, for me anyway. They were always there, and so they would sometimes — if they didn’t like the way that sounded, they would tweak it, but I feel like in the beginning Justin, would give me a very specific layout of how it was supposed to be, the tone of the moment, and that kind of thing, and I would say it, and sometimes he would give me a line reading, which is fine, and to just help me know what he’s thinking, but as it went on, I think he trusted me more and just let me do my thing and do a bunch of takes of it.
CHALKE: That’s like my favorite thing about animation and why it’s probably my favorite medium to work in is that it’s so creative in the sense that you can try something thirty different ways in sixty seconds. Where if you’re on a set, there’s a hundred crew members waiting, you can only ask to do another good take so many times before everyone’s like, “Listen, we’ve got a family to go home to.” In animation, you take one line, and you can just spit it out a bunch of different ways, and it takes no time, and it’s so fun that way, and so freeing. And for this one, I feel I like Justin and Dan are both so good at this and have such a sense of what this show is and who these characters are and what they wanted, but at the same, be like, “Okay now, try one however.” And things will come up, like, I don’t how it came up, but I can burp on cue, so we started this up and that became a Beth thing a little bit of the time.
GRAMMER: That’s amazing.
CHALKE: So we infused a few burps into her.
GRAMMER: That’s awesome.
CHALKE: Yeah, it’s just such a fun way to work, ‘cause you don’t have any constraints.
GRAMMER: Yeah, sometimes I felt that I was tripping me up or something ‘cause he’d change it a little bit, but that only happened a couple of times. Mostly I know how to say what they write on the page, and he’s pretty good. He doesn’t give me a lot of line readings. I don’t know.
PARNELL: So I guess you’re better than me.
GRAMMER: It’s not competition! It’s not active front, but I’d win. Exactly.
CHALKE: If we did make it one, we have a winner.
GRAMMER: I just wanted everyone to know. No, it’s been an incredible process. It’s way more freeing, because you don’t worry about what you look like, you just go in and create this world, this voice. I mean, sometimes you have to go in and rerecord, ‘cause somebody’d be louder, so we’d build it up higher. So creative.
Sometimes with animation, sometimes you guys will record together, but most of the time everyone’s separate. Were you all separate?
CHALKE: All separate.
PARNELL: All separate, yeah.
CHALKE: I’ve never done it actually together. I think that would be kind of cool. Have you ever done it together?
PARNELL: I have, I have.
CHALKE: What was that like?
PARNELL: Well, I was just a guest star on a thing, and it was like a big room of people, sort of in a semi-circle, in their own little booth stations.
CHALKE: I did that once for a pilot. It’s fun.
PARNELL: Yeah, it was fun, but very inefficient time-wise.
CHALKE: Yes. That is true.
PARNELL: And I think for the regulars — I knew one of the regulars — and she was just like, “We are there all day. All day.” Whereas with something like this, it takes less than hour.
GRAMMER: Yeah, you’re in there for an hour for an episode, and then you’re out.
It’s interesting though, because I’m gonna cite an animated movie called Surf’s Up, which I don’t know if anyone ever saw.
GRAMMER: Yeah, my friend does a voice on that one.
Anyway, they did a lot of together scenes, and it’s interesting, when you watch the animation, there’s a lot of crossover, which I don’t think you can get when you are doing it individually. You know what I mean?
PARNELL: I disagree. I mean, I work on another show–
Wait, you’ve worked on other things besides this?
PARNELL: I have. I work on another show, Archer, where we all record separately but everybody always thinks we record together, because there’s so much overlap and on top of each other, and it’s just the magic of the audio editors.
GRAMMER: So it really just comes down to how good the audio editors are.
PARNELL: But I think you’re right.
GRAMMER: So I’m saying our show is brilliant. Basically we’re saying the show is brilliant.
PARNELL: But you can get stuff in the same room. I did another thing, it was more improv based, and to improv and respond to people, you obviously got to be in the room. So there are advantages to that.
I’ve been asking everybody — this is not about the show — I’ve been asking everybody I’m talking to what they collect. Is there anything that you guys collect?
GRAMMER: Oh my God.
PARNELL: I collect photo books. Art books, but photography monographs mostly.
CHALKE: Photography what?
PARNELL: Monographs, like the work of a particular photographer.
CHALKE: Do you do photography yourself?
PARNELL: I do, just a little hobby.
CHALKE: Just dabble. Yeah. What do you collect?
GRAMMER: I just got the new Nikon.
CHALKE: I went back and forth like a million times to Sammy’s, and then I would hold the Canon and I would hold the Nikon, and then I couldn’t decide.
GRAMMER: You went to Nikon?
CHALKE: I did.
GRAMMER: I’m a Nikon person too.
GRAMMER: Oh, Leica.
CHALKE: Okay, he wins. Okay. You win on no line reads, he wins.
GRAMMER: Fine, fine.
CHALKE: This is really weird–
I’ve heard it all, trust me.
CHALKE: So when I was a kid, instead of a sticker book, I had something called the lotto museum, which was a weird ugly brown binder that had a piece of tape on the top that said “The Lotto Museum,” and my dad and I would buy lottery tickets, and it’s a book of all of the dead tickets. So scratch and win collections and stuff — you would collect of the, you know, if they had the twelve signs of zodiac, the twelve butterflies, whatever. The ones were the winners, you would go back until you got a loser so you could have the full set inside your book. So it’s a collection — this explains a lot, I think.
GRAMMER: Wait, you would collect the non-winning tickets?
CHALKE: Yeah, because they were like the scratch and win, so different collections. They’re not as fancy here. Canada does, I’m not gonna lie, better scratchers.
GRAMMER: Some really fancy–
PARNELL: Here we go again: Canada’s better. But we knew this was gonna come out.
GRAMMER: It was gonna happen eventually.
CHALKE: So yes, that is a–
Are you still collecting, or this is from a while ago?
CHALKE: No, I’m not. I’m not. I don’t still collect. I’m not an active collector. I did, however, buy scratch and wins for a playdate for my kid the other day, and I got her hooked on the ticket. ‘Cause she had some winners, so they traded them in for more scratchers, and now they’re addicted, so I was pleased that–
GRAMMER: You can pass it one.
PARNELL: With gambling you want to kids as early as possible.
GRAMMER: Yeah, you want to start them young.
CHALKE: That’s what I figure. I thought, “Let’s get this in you,” as it was for me. Yeah.
GRAMMER: Are you gonna get a brown photo album?
CHALKE: Totally. Brown photo album, tape, nothing fancy. Yeah. That’s Christmas, that’s a Christmas present. We’re done.
GRAMMER: I am so, like, can’t commit to anything, so I do collect mugs from all over the world.
GRAMMER: But I kind of have stopped.
PARNELL: But your husband’s cool with the non-commitment thing?
GRAMMER: If you go to a lot of — wait, what did you say?
PARNELL: I said, “So your husband’s cool with the non-committal thing?”
GRAMMER: Yeah, he is. So, it’s in progress. One day at a time. I had a lot of them, and I then just couldn’t — there was just too many, because you travel a lot. If you go to every new city, you can’t have a mug for everywhere, there’d be no space left in your cabinet, unless you just go to the same city.
PARNELL: You eventually have to have a room for the mugs.
GRAMMER: But I love mugs. Yeah, I should rent a storage locker for that.
I want to thank you three for the time and thanks for making me laugh.
CHALKE: I also collect teas — on your mug comment.
GRAMMER: You collect teas?
CHALKE: So we actually, this could work out.
GRAMMER: We have a special relationship now.
CHALKE: I had a tea drawer, and now it’s a tea cupboard. Yeah, a hot tea addict.
GRAMMER: You’ve got stuff you like to collect!
For more on Rick and Morty, here’s my video interview with creators Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland.