PLAYBOY: In the new Will Ferrell comedy Blades of Glory, you play Stranz, a four-time skating champ. Were you cast for your comic timing, or your ability to perform a flawless triple axel?
WILL ARNETT: People say I move like a dancer. I get that all the time. There comes a point in your career where you have to give in to the chorus of fans saying, “We see the way you move. You’re like a cat. Please, share your gifts with the world.” Eventually, you just give the people what they want. Actually, I’m not much of a skater. The more difficult skating moves were obviously performed by trained professionals. I was able to do a few of the big jumps, but mostly I just did the smiling. When the skater finishes his routine and he waves to the camera and smiles while he’s waiting for his scores to come up, that was all me. I was so ready for that.
PLAYBOY: You were raised in Canada, where hockey is a national pastime. Aren’t all Canadians born with the ability to skate?
WILL ARNETT: I certainly had an advantage growing up in Canada. I did know how to skate. But I’d never been on figure skates before. It took some getting used to, mostly because of the toe picks, which I found to be quite problematic. I finally just shaved them off. When I was a kid, I played a lot of hockey. I haven’t done it in awhile, but I still goof around whenever I can. I’ll break one of my kneecaps or purposively injure myself, stuff like that. When I was younger in Toronto, I’d hang out in the outdoor rinks all day and play pick-up games. I was always the guy sitting in the box and waiting for them to clean the ice, and then I’d run out and talk my way into another game. It was full-time hockey. But now I’m pretty much relegated to watching hockey obsessively. I watch every single game that the Toronto Maple Leafs play all season. Saturdays are a really big night in our house. I watch the Leafs at 7pm, and then go see Amy (Poehler, my wife) on Saturday Night Live. If I’m really happy, I can pretend it’s because Amy was in an amazing sketch, but it’s really because Matt Stajan did a great poke check.
PLAYBOY: Your character in Blades of Glory is a treacherous bad guy who will stop at nothing to destroy his competition. It’s hard to imagine a skating villain without thinking of Tonya Harding. Did you use her as inspiration?
WILL ARNETT: I pictured Stranz as more of a Jeff Gillooly-type guy. Jeff was really the unspoken hero in that whole scandal. Every time we were about to do a scene in Blades, I’d ask myself, “What would Jeff do?” The answer was almost always, “Take a pipe and hit them in the leg.” And that really gave me the impetus to go for it and really dig out the ugly side of this character. I remember when the Harding scandal first broke, and the New York Post published this hilarious story about it. Her bodyguard had just come out and admitted that Tonya was responsible for Kerrigan’s attack, and the Post printed this headline that read, “Bodyguard Fingers Tonya.” I thought that was very responsible reporting. I taped the article in the back of my closet and had it up there for a couple years.
PLAYBOY: Stranz is also a fabulous dresser. Why do the men in competitive skating wear such frilly costumes with so many sequins and ruffles?
WILL ARNETT: I think it’s because they’re set against the white canvass of the ice. They need to grab the audience’s attention. The cast watched a lot of Olympic skating as research for the movie, and we realized that you couldn’t go too far with the costumes. Some of their outfits are just insane. Your first thought is, “Well, they’re obviously gay.” But that’s not true. These guys are incredible athletes, and the costumes are just a part of skating tradition. But I’ll tell you what, I kinda liked it. When I put on the tights and the dance belt, everything is a little tighter down below. And when you’re showing that much, you’re gonna get some big laughs. I got kinda addicted to it. I’m currently wearing a dance belt. I never take the damn thing off.
PLAYBOY: Some journalists have predicted that you’re poised to become the next Will Ferrell. Is there room in Hollywood for two comedy superstars named Will?
WILL ARNETT: There’s no way that you’re gonna crush Will Ferrell. You can’t destroy him. He’s indestructible. I’m flattered that anybody would compare me to him, but I don’t know how to respond to something like that. Will is so fucking hilarious, and he’s got to be one of the sweetest people on the planet. But just between you and me, off the record? I would love to see him go motherfucking down. And if it’s at my hand, all the sweeter. Believe me, I will not look twice when I put my foot on his head to step up.
PLAYBOY: Ferrell shot to fame after showing his naked ass in movies like Old School. Do you have any plans to expose yourself on film?
WILL ARNETT: I don’t think a lot of people want to see me nude. But there’s a scene in my next film, Brother Soloman, where I’m naked. I’m hugging (Will) Forte and he asks me to put on a towel. I turn around, right at the camera, and you can see the top half of my pubes. I think they ended up cutting that scene, which is a shame. People love pubic hair. You show an audience the short and curlies and they go nuts. I thought about fighting the studio and trying to save that scene, but it’s not worth the heartbreak. You have to pick your battles.
PLAYBOY: Speaking of Brothers Solomon, the plot involves you trying to sire a child as quickly as possible. Do you have any interest in becoming a father?
WILL ARNETT: Not really. But, y’know, I’ve had those thoughts as I’ve gotten closer to 30. (Long pause.) Okay, 30-plus. You have those moments when you realize that everybody around you is having a kid. A lot of the gals on Saturday Night Live have had kids recently. And on Arrested Development, it turns out that (co-star Jason) Bateman’s sperm works. Who knew? I gotta be honest, I always thought he was born with an extra big clitoris and they just decided to call him a man. But his wife gave birth not long ago, so I guess that proves something. So yeah, when all of your friends are getting pregnant, you start thinking about it. But for Amy and I, show business is our baby. Every night, we’ll hear show business crying, and one of us will have to get up. I’ll say, “I got it, honey,” and I’ll crawl out of bed and feed show business. It’s like clockwork; every two hours, show business is crying again. I change its diapers, I dote on it. We’ve had so much joy just watching show business take its first steps.
PLAYBOY: Most people know you best as Gob, the lovably inept magician from the now-cancelled Fox sitcom Arrested Development. Gob preferred to be called an illusionist rather than a magician. Do you get as uppity if somebody calls you a comic rather than a thespian?
WILL ARNETT: I never considered myself a comic. How dare you! I don’t have much experience doing improv or stand-up. I moved to New York and studied at the Strasberg Institute. I wanted to be a serious actor, a dramatic actor. I thought that doing sitcoms was beneath me. Of course, the reality eventually set in that I had to pay the fucking bills. But I always thought of myself as an actor first. Actually, no. I’m a gateway to laughter. That sounds good, right? Sometimes I like to call myself Klown with a K. I’ll start sentences with, “It’s tremendously gratifying as Klown…” That’s my whole personage. Every time I say “as Klown,” it makes Amy barf.
PLAYBOY: Gob’s most popular bit was a ridiculous dance step called the Chicken Dance. Is this something you’ve used in your private life? Are there times when words don’t suffice, and only a chicken dance will express how you really feel?
WILL ARNETT: I’ve never encountered a situation where I’ve felt that a chicken-dance was necessary. But sometimes an Arrested Development fan will ask me to do it. Actually, I still get asked to do a chicken-dance about once a week. By complete strangers. But I’ve never been tempted by the Gob-isms in my personal life. Except for the segway. Remember that electric scooter that Gob used to ride everywhere? I’d love to have one of those. Even before I got on the show, I wanted one. But I can’t get a segway anymore because Arrested Development ruined it for me. If I had a segway, people would say, “Hey, there’s that fucking loser from that TV show.” It would look so dumb. I’d have to go to Europe to ride it. A segway is a great way to see the sights. It really is.
PLAYBOY: “Gob” has become urban slang for “making an error or mistake, particularly of a great magnitude.” Is that flattering, or do you feel bad that Gob has become the cultural equivalent of failure?
WILL ARNETT: No, that seems pretty accurate. Gob is an egomaniac with an inferiority complex. He’s a selfish, self-pitying, self-aggrandizing jackass. I mean sure, if you strip away the layers, underneath it all you could find a good guy that you’d want to hug. But that’s just at the core of him being human. Not too long ago, a guy came up to me and said, “My friends call me Gob because I’m so much like him.” And I said, “You know that they’re not complimenting you, right? Cause Gob is a fucking idiot.” Honestly, though, I loved playing a character like that. He was such a great outlet for me, to be an asshole and get it out of my system. I could get into an argument with somebody and say, “Sorry I was such a jerk. That was Gob talking.”
PLAYBOY: You were nominated for an Emmy for Arrested Development. If you’d won, would you be more or less obnoxious than you are now?
WILL ARNETT: Oh, definitely more obnoxious. But I never had a chance. I was happy just to be nominated. But if I’d won? I would have shoved that Emmy in so many faces. I would’ve done a victory lap through Toronto and New York and LA. You would’ve seen that shit from satellite images. Instead, I just lost graciously. See, what I’m really waiting for is my Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award. I’m keeping a diary for that purpose, because they only give you a couple of minutes for your acceptance speech and there are so many people I need to thank. They’ll probably wheel out Jack Nicholson to give me this long intro, and oh my god, I’ll be so humbled. Sometimes, I have this image of myself in a very relaxed pose, poolside at the Beverly Hills Hotel, at five in the morning the day after the Oscars. Not unlike Faye Dunaway after she won for Network. I just look weary from joy. I’m holding my Oscar, and I’ve finally let my guard down. My expression seems to say, “This is me. Just stripped bare. With my Oscar.”
PLAYBOY: Your first big movie role was last December’s Let’s Go to Prison. Aside from all the forced sodomy, what’s so funny about prison?
WILL ARNETT: I tried to look at it from every angle and find the fraternal aspects of prison. I thought, well, maybe there’s something beneficial about the comradery. Maybe you could really buy into that and say, “Hey, fellas, we’re all in this together. If we collectively look at ourselves and realize that we probably deserve to be in here, and constructively think about what it is we need to do to change ourselves, then maybe we can make a statement and take something positive and life-affirming away from all this.” Yeah, uh, no, that’s probably not gonna happen. Prison is awful in every conceivable way. I don’t know why I’m so good at accurately portraying the prison experience. I did a few episodes of Arrested Development in prison, and then the movie. I think a lot of directors put me in these prison environments because I come across as a rough-and-tumble dude. Maybe it’s because I grew up on the mean streets of Toronto, and it’s pretty obvious that I’m a scrapper.
PLAYBOY: Is it safe to assume that you have a lengthy criminal record in Canada?
WILL ARNETT: Not really. I grew up in fear of authority, but with a general dislike for it as well. I was at odds with my keepers in any sort of scholastic environment. But when it came to the strong arm of the law, I steered clear. I never really did anything all that bad. Except for, y’know, I moved a tremendous amount of white horse from Colombia for some dudes. I was a mule for awhile. I got involved in some human trafficking during college. But we’ve all done that, right? We’re all laundered money out of the former Soviet Union, right? Oh, yeah, like you haven’t delivered women to the Sultan of Brunei’s brother. C’mon!
PLAYBOY: All kidding aside, are you telling us that you’ve never done anything illegal, or just that you’ve never been caught?
WILL ARNETT: I was a bad kid for awhile. I’d break curfew, smoke bud, drink booze, all the usual stuff. My parents sent me to an all-boys boarding school when I was twelve – a school designed to even out uneven boys – and I was constantly caught smoking. You had to chop wood if you got caught smoking, so I was always chopping wood. It was a very outdoorsy school. You got graded on white water canoeing, or they’d send you out into the woods with a pack of matches and you had to build a quinzhee and survive out there for a few days. I liked that aspect of it. At 16, they asked me not to return, so I technically wasn’t kicked out. But I guess they caught me smoking and drinking one too many times. I still look back at it fondly as the place I learned to smoke. I can kill butts with the best of them.
PLAYBOY: During the last five years, you’ve had a lot of small supporting roles in TV shows like The Sopranos and Third Watch. Was it difficult to make the transition from comedy to drama?
WILL ARNETT: Not really because I’m very good at what I do. [Laughs.] The Sopranos was particularly challenging. In one scene, I held a baby. In another scene, the woman who was playing my wife was on the phone and I was kinda in the background. So that was a tough scene. I was just happy to be on The Sopranos set, but I didn’t really have much dialogue. In fact, for my audition, I had only one line. I did a reading for (Sopranos‘ creator) David Chase, and I went into the room with the casting director and they said, “Are you ready?” And I said, “Yeah.” And then I took a beat and went… “Line.” Luckily, they thought that was funny.
PLAYBOY: You portrayed a pedophile in the crime-drama Law & Order: SVU. Did you play pedophilia for laughs?
WILL ARNETT: Well, I didn’t technically play a pedophile. I was a pedophile enabler. I was a travel agent to pedophiles, leading them to countries where the laws on such things were a little more lenient than in this country. It was definitely an unsavory character. The night the show aired, I was in Toronto having dinner with my sisters. My mom said she was going to watch the show, and when it ended at 11pm, she called my cellphone. Right away, I could sense something weird in her voice. She just said, “Is your sister there?” And I said, “Yeah. Hey, did you see Law & Order?” And there was this long silence and she said, “Yes. Yes, I did.” Nothing else. That was it. Oookay. We never discussed it again. I don’t think she was too thrilled about me playing such an awful dude.
PLAYBOY: You also provided the voice-over for a series of GMC truck commercials, in which you made the memorable announcement, “It’s not more than you need, just more than you’re used to.” Have you used this same line to hit on the ladies?
WILL ARNETT: I usually say, “It’s not more than you’re used to, just more than you need.” That seems to be more accurate. But y’know, it’s not like people are clamoring to hear the tagline for GMC Trucks. I do sometimes get recognized for my voice, which is always surprising. People will come up to me and say, “Hey, will you leave your voice on my outgoing message?” Uh, I don’t know, man. I’ve never really been comfortable with stuff like that. But I guess it’s kinda cool. My voice has been very good to me. I’ve done commercial voice-overs for so long, and it was my primary source of income for many years. It worked against me when I was in my 20s, because I had this baby face and a deep, baritone voice. But I figured out how to tame it and use it to my advantage. My dad’s got a deep voice as well, and he’s told me that if anything were to happen to me, he’d be happy to take over my voice-over career. In his mind, it would be a seamless transition. I’ve had to remind him that I’m also highly skilled as an actor.
PLAYBOY: You’re starring in a remarkable five films this year. How long before the inevitable Will Arnett backlash?
WILL ARNETT: I don’t know. When do you think? Are a lot of people talking about the backlash already? Who told you about it? It was my publicist, wasn’t it? Goddammit, why does he keep putting that out there? You’re the eighth person who has mentioned it to me. He keeps telling people, “Ask Arnett about the backlash.” God, I need to fire that prick. Goddamn him! It’s good, though. It keeps me fresh. It keeps my feet on the ground. I was lucky enough to be on a show that wasn’t highly rated, so I think that the bulk of the country has no fucking clue who I am. When I’m on a talk show, most of the audience is like, “Who is this dude? Give me my stars. Get rid of this jackass!” So people haven’t really been inundated with me yet, which is the exact opposite of how I’d like it. Because I need people to know that I’m here, that I exist, that I’m worthy! (Breaks down into fits of sobbing.) Oh my god, why doesn’t anybody care? Why don’t they notice me? I just want the readers of Playboy to realize that if you open up my chest cavity, you’ll find a box. And inside that box is another box, which contains a slightly smaller box, and then one more box, and inside that is yet another box which, when you open it, has a small picture of a heart.
PLAYBOY: Amy Poehler did a guest appearance on Arrested Development last year, playing a woman that Gob accidentally married after a series of drunken dares. Is that scenario pretty similar to your real-life romance?
WILL ARNETT: Fortunately for Amy, I wasn’t drinking anymore when we met. I’d been sober for six months. I had a lengthy love-hate relationship with boissons alcoolisées, as the French say. Amy and I were introduced by a mutual friend, but I’d actually known about her for a few years prior to that. I went to see her when she was performing in the Upright Citizen’s Brigade in New York. Weirdly enough, I first saw her perform with my then girlfriend and a good buddy. After the show, we went out and I talked on and on about how funny Amy was, and how amazing and fantastic and talented. And my girlfriend said, “God, you’ve got a crush on that girl.” “What? No! Amy who? That’s silly. [Laughs nervously.] I’m not going to marry her… [Long pause.] eventually.” I used to live around the corner from the UCB Theater and I’d go see her do improv all the time. That sounds a lot creepier than it was. I mean, I never cut up letters from assorted magazines in order to create a note for her. But I did eventually win her over with sex. I’m not gonna lie. And the fact that we’re both in comedy was just icing on that cake. [His cellphone rings.] Hey look, Amy’s calling now. [He picks up.] Hey, babe. I’m just finishing up here. Are you gonna be up for a few minutes? [Pause.] Really? [Long pause.] Really? [Long pause.] Okay, I’ll call you soon. [He hangs up. A beat.] Bitch. God, what a ball buster.
PLAYBOY: In addition to Blades of Glory, you and Amy are performing together in the upcoming movies On Broadway and Spring Breakdown. So who exactly is riding whose coattails?
WILL ARNETT: We don’t like to think of it that way. [Whispers.] I’m definitely riding her coattails. Prior to Arrested Development, Amy was obviously a more known entity and I was just Amy’s husband. When we came out to LA because she was working on Mean Girls, we stayed at a fancy hotel, and once I called room service to ask for some coffee, and the concierge said, “Very good, Mr. Poehler.” Excuse me? I took great umbrage. I threatened to burn the fucking place to the fucking ground. No, not really. I told Amy and we had a good laugh about it, though she laughed a little harder than me. Working together has been something we’ve tried to avoid. I mean, we’re not fodder for tabloids or anything. It’s not like anybody gives a shit what the fuck we’re doing. But people do project a lot onto our relationship, so we want to keep our marriage separate from our work. There’ve been exceptions, of course. But when we’ve been asked to do a romantic comedy together, we’re just not interested. [Pause.] Unless we’re talking big money. Then fuck yeah, I’ll sell my relationship out.
PLAYBOY: A lot of comics are superstitious, wearing “lucky” clothing or following strange pre-show rituals. Do you have any superstitions?
WILL ARNETT: I kill a baby before every performance. It’s dangerous, especially in this age of DNA and all that crap. You really have to stay one step ahead of those forensic pathologists. But I’m not scared of your laws. They don’t frighten me. I’m from Canada. It’s called “diplomatic immunity.” Oh, just so we’re clear, when I say “baby” I mean “cigarettes.” You know that, right? In Canada, we refer to cigarettes as babies. They’re my little babies. Twenty fresh babies every day. You didn’t think I meant an actual baby, did you? Oh god, no. That’d just be awful. (Long, thoughtful pause.) But y’know, if that worked, I’d probably do that, too. Yeah, I’d kill a baby if it meant I might get an Oscar.
PLAYBOY: When the movie of your life is made, who will play Will Arnett?
WILL ARNETT: Imagine, if you will, a human being that combines the looks of a Brad Pitt, the wit of a Carrot Top, the appetite for booze and ladies of a Babe Ruth, and the body of a pre-diet Kirstie Alley. Now, I know you’re probably thinking, “Will, such a beast doesn’t exist.” I don’t want to get into the details of my cyborg project, because it doesn’t have anything to do with this interview. Let’s just say that all the classified shit I’m dealing with right now has to remain classified. Have I dealt with military-grade weapons? No. And by no I mean yes. Have I done black-ops? Do I keep this country safe on the weekends? Clearly. I’ve got the heart of a warrior, I’m not going to lie. But what you really want to know is, would I use my connections with rogue spy organizations and top-secret technology to create some kind of cyborg-type creature to portray me in a film? Without question.
PLAYBOY: You speak fluent French. Will you teach us a few dirty words in French?
WILL ARNETT: I know nothing that would impress you. The best French-Canadian swearwords are “tabernack,” which means tabernacle, and “câlisse,” which is chalice. All the French-Canadian swears are based on religious artifacts. It’s like the worst thing you can say. “Oh, câlisse!” See, I told you it wasn’t that impressive. French cursing is hilarious. Eventually they just defer to English. I don’t think there’s anything you could say in French that’d compete with “cocksucker.”
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in the April 2007 issue of Playboy magazine.)