Will Arnett has a knack for being seen and heard.
The Toronto native does it all in the entertainment world, from currently filming another brand-new show for Netflix, to hosting the LEGO Masters reality TV competition, to acting as the voiceover guy for GMC commercials since the late ’90s, and starting his own chart-topping podcast—SmartLess—during the pandemic alongside Jason Bateman and Sean Hayes.
He found mainstream success relatively late in his career, starring as the misguided illusionist G.O.B. Bluth on the hit show Arrested Development. That has led to several starring roles like the titular talking horse in BoJack Horseman, a chef in Ratatouille, and LEGO Batman in multiple theatrical movies featuring the plastic superhero.
Because it took so many years for Arnett to get those opportunities, he has a perspective on how special they are.
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Arnett is also an avid sports fan. Last week, he announced a new partnership with global streaming platform DAZN to create content based on his passion for the NFL and European soccer, as each sport embarks on new seasons that can be streamed live on the app this fall.
He caught up with us to dish on his sports fandom, career as an actor and voiceover artist, what makes Canadians special, and much more.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
First off, where did you get your love for NFL football?
I started in Toronto getting a lot of [Buffalo] Bills and [New York] Giants games from Buffalo TV, and sometimes getting [New York] Jets games. You know, I’m such a contrarian at heart, that I was like, I’m not going to be a Bills fan; I’m a Jets fan. Which… led to less heartbreak, because for a Bills fan you have had a lot of heartbreak over the years. And then I lived in New York for many, many years.
That was kind of the genesis of my relationship with the NFL and I really love the sport.
I know you have said you are a Liverpool F.C. fan and they have had some success recently. If you look at the Jets, it’s been a tough go for them to get on the right track the past several years and they are starting over again this year with a new quarterback and head coach (Zach Wilson and Robert Saleh). Are you jaded or excited about the Jets this season?
I’m both of those things I think, at all times. I don’t think that they’re mutually exclusive. I’m excited in sort of the reports and everything. You know, Zach Wilson looks like he is a talented quarterback… Finding that chemistry [with] a new coach, new quarterback, a system that works and all those pieces, I think is a really difficult thing, especially in football where you have so many different components.
As a lifelong fan of teams that have almost had success—Jets or Leafs or whomever—the last couple of years having Liverpool in my back pocket [has been great]. I became a fan just as they were putting this current team together with Jürgen Klopp coming in. That was really the dawn of it because my writing partner is an Englishman and I was spending a lot of time in the UK and really got behind Liverpool. To jump on their bandwagon just as they were starting their rise has been really, really fun.
“One of the things that is unique to Canada and maybe a lot of Commonwealth countries is this ability to have a sense of humour about yourself and not take yourself too seriously. I think that is one of the great gifts of being Canadian.”
Do you find that your sports fandom for Toronto teams in particular helps you remain connected to your Canadian roots as you get further away from that childhood growing up in Toronto?
Absolutely. Not by design either, I think that’s just been a byproduct of it. Certainly, my connection to the Leafs has kept me connected to the city. I just narrated this [Amazon] docuseries All or Nothing [featuring the Leafs] that is coming out soon. In addition to being the narrator, there are a couple personal things that I talk about being a Leafs fan and what that means. And if you are a Leafs fan, you know what that experience is. It’s a very complex relationship with the team in a lot of ways, but it has kept me really connected to the city.
What influences did you have growing up in Toronto that impacted you in terms of acting, comedy, or just the entertainment industry in general?
You know, I’m working with a bunch of Kiwis (New Zealanders) right now and we talk about this: one of the things that is unique to Canada and maybe a lot of Commonwealth countries is this ability to have a sense of humour about yourself and not take yourself too seriously. I think that is one of the great gifts of being Canadian. That you can do what you do and you can take a lot of pride in what you do… but also realize that you are a part of something bigger and it’s not just all about you all the time. I think—I hope—that served me very well. It’s been very freeing for me as a comedic actor. I think it comes through in a lot of the stuff that I do.
Obviously starring in Arrested Development was a breakout opportunity for you. Looking back at that initial success, what did you take away from that experience from that point forward in your career?
Well personally, you’ve really just got to savour those moments where you’re doing something that feels right. Luckily, I was 33 when I started Arrested Development. So, I was old enough to know and I had been living in New York for 13 years at that point with not a lot of success. Certainly not success in the eyes of fans who are like, “That’s not successful.” I was making a living and doing well, but my point is that I was old enough to know and appreciate that this (Arrested Development) was really unique… I did take that with me.
So that when I did something like 30 Rock, I was like, This is a really great show and I am happy to be a part of it. Or even BoJack Horseman, that was something that I knew was special and I was able to recognize that early when I read the first script.
“I wake up and I’m like, This is crazy, I’m going to collapse. But it’s also really great and, again I’m really grateful and appreciative, but I’m 51 and it would be nice to just retire. At the same time, the world would be like, ‘Great, go ahead and retire. We will forget about you anytime you want.’”
You have hosted the SmartLess podcast with Jason Bateman and Sean Hayes for a little over a year now. Are you surprised by how people have responded to the podcast and how committed you, Jason, and Sean have been to it over the past year-plus?Yes, to both of those. The reason we are committed to it is because we love doing it and it began as something we did during lockdown. We were really happy to just hang out with each other because you couldn’t see anybody at that time, as you know. So, we just did it from home and it was an opportunity for us to hang out, bring other friends on and hang out, and be like, Isn’t this kind of dumb?
Also, very surprised that people liked it at all.
Between on-camera acting, voicework, your podcast, and hosting Lego Masters, you are involved in a lot of different things. Do you feel a need to be trying new things professionally and to be adding new things to your repertoire?
I used to and now I don’t, but I guess what happens is you become like a big merchant ship that starts to have momentum. To be honest, I’m always in a constant state of like, Uh, I’m too tired to do that. We’ve got this new Netflix show that we’ve been doing, then I come home at night and narrate and do voiceover stuff, and then I wake up early and do voiceover and then go to set. I wake up and I’m like, This is crazy, I’m going to collapse. But it’s also really great and, again I’m really grateful and appreciative, but I’m 51 and it would be nice to just retire. At the same time, the world would be like, “Great, go ahead and retire. We will forget about you anytime you want.”
Is it harder to say no to those opportunities now because you didn’t have access to them for a large stretch at the beginning of your career?
Yeah, it does help put a lot of things in perspective for me. I don’t know if it’s harder to say no, but when you’re presented with an opportunity, I’m able to still look at it through the lens of a guy who worked really hard and got a lot of rejection for close to 15 years. It’s easy to look back and just reference it as a thing. For 13 years and 365 days a year, just getting by. That for me was very real. I appreciate all of it; I really, really do. It’s not that I have to go work, it’s that I get to go work and that part of it is awesome.
What would you say is the most unexpected aspect of your career in that sense? What is something you had the chance to be involved in that was either surprising in the fact that it was available to you, or surprising that you were successful at?
Many, many years ago my first agent [said] to me, “Hey, go down the hall and talk to the people in the voiceover department.” And I was like, “What is that?” They’re like, “How do you think they put the voices in commercials and stuff?” I never really thought about that because I’m so dumb, but I went down and it’s a whole area that people do. Wow, and once I started doing that, I couldn’t believe that it was a thing.
I’ve [also] been really proud about the different relationships that I have had with different people, whether it’s Arrested Development starting with Mitch Hurwitz, which we are still working together now after all these years. Jason [Bateman] and I working together all those years ago, we had a company together and now we’re doing SmartLess together so many years later… It is the people that I’ve been able to make connections with and stay connected to in that way—I take a lot of pride in that.