An actor becoming typecast isn't the worst thing in the world, as long as the jobs are still happening. But there comes a time.
In 2010, speaking about his role in the big-screen romantic comedy When in Rome, the busy, comedic actor and voice-over veteran Will Arnett told an interviewer that "it was a relief that somebody wanted me to do something where I'm not the dick." More recently, the former Arrested Development star told the Guardian that he was "done with superdumb."
Good for him – a moratorium on playing the bullying, the oblivious, the tactless, the manic, the (absolutely fascinating) jerks. Other than physically growing out of your mould – as the fellow former Arrested Development star and incessantly awkwardly boyish Michael Cera is struggling to do – the most direct way to facilitate the change in characters one plays is to take matters into your own hands and write your own role. Which is exactly what Arnett has done with Flaked, a Netflix original comedy series premiering March 11.
In the low-key Flaked (created, produced and written with frequent collaborator Mark Chappell), Arnett stars as Chip, a recovering alcoholic who enjoys a certain level of respect and semi-spiritual authority among his crowd in Venice, Calif., the beachfront Bohemian 'burb to the west of Los Angeles. He's somewhere between Seinfeld's titular Jerry and Californication's hedonistic Hank Moody (played effortlessly by David Duchovny), but not altogether like either of them.
"He's not overtly a jerk, or a dick, for that matter," says Arnett, his rock-salt baritone deep and his tan even deeper as he talks about Chip. "He's certainly very lost."
Last week, the sun-splashed thespian was in Toronto, his hometown. A one-and-done day of promotion afforded little in the way of home-cooked meals or revisiting haunts – "I would have liked to have caught the Leaf game last night" – and our interview was brief but productive. He apologizes for the giant Flaked placard set up in the hotel room, but does endorse the subscription streaming service fully.
"Netflix was very encouraging," says the fit and stubble-faced 45-year-old. "They were cheerleaders when it came to us staying true to our vision."
The vision was a series built on an indie-film vibe, with little in the way of three-act constructs, episodic cliff-hangers and the ratings preoccupations that are routine with major television networks. "We wrote a show for Netflix," he says, referring to the service that encourages binge-watching episodes instead of week-to-week string alongs.
Indeed, after running the major-network gauntlet with a trio of sitcom failures – Fox's Running Wilde (2010-11), NBC's Up All Night (2011-12) and CBS's The Millers (2013-15) – Arnett has found a home with Netflix. In addition to presenting Flaked, the service also offers BoJack Horseman, an animated sitcom in which he voices a boozing, jaded horse whose acting career is on the decline.
Asked about the major networks as opposed to Netflix, Arnett mentions the script notes sent to him by the latter. "Their suggestions aren't motivated by some sort of old paradigm notion of what makes a show good."
And asked about Flaked's recovering alcoholic Chip, he allows that "thematically, there are a lot of things drawn upon my own experiences."
He's talking about his early days in Los Angeles. Before Arrested Development, Arnett couldn't get arrested in Hollywood. He was a drinker who, even after cleaning up and meeting his future former wife Amy Poehler, was frustrated and darkened by soul-crushing pilot-series rejections.
"When we wrote the episodes for Flaked, I was forced to look at things I might not like about my self," says the funnyman, not at all uncomfortably.
Sounds like Alcoholics Anonymous therapy, but Arnett says the show isn't about that program specifically. "It's more about how people approach and deal with sobriety and spirituality and rigorous honesty with themselves and who they are as people," he says. "Who is the person we show to the world," the actor continues, "and who is the person we take home every night?"
Home in Flaked is Venice, a community about as far west as one can possibly run to – geographically and otherwise – for reinvention. "Chip has created this persona and he's created this world for himself there," says Arnett, himself a Venice resident off and on over the years. "You can go there and create whatever persona you want."
So I hear.