Jason Sudeikis gets to use every bit of his acting muscle in his role as Son Of Zorn’s faux He-Man, Zorn. Although he’s not seen on screen, given Zorn’s cartoonish nature, Sudeikis is keenly felt, bringing humanity, masculinity, and humor to his orange-haired counterpart via grunt-heavy voice-over work. It’s clear Sudeikis is really working in that booth, even if he might not be clad in Zorn’s fur underpants.
The A.V. Club talked to Sudeikis about how Zorn came to life in advance of the show’s premiere this Sunday, September 25, on Fox.
The A.V. Club: How did you get involved in Son Of Zorn?
Jason Sudeikis: I was kindly asked by [producers Phil] Lord and [Chris] Miller. They’ve been good pals with friends of mine, along with Pete Hike and Alex Gregory—who now write on Veep—and [Will] Forte. They’ve all known each other for ages, and so I had seen them at SNL [for] years and years. They and two of their pals came up with this show idea. It was Eli [Jorne] and Reed [Agnew] who created this idea, and then they sort of pitched it to me, and we made a 15-minute pilot presentation, if I remember correctly. This is all over a year ago, so I might be 15 percent off on the timeline here. The people at Fox really dug it, and then we added seven minutes to that 15 minutes, and the next thing you know, it gets picked up. We recorded all the episodes over the last year.
I initially signed on just to work with Chris and Phil. I really like those guys, just as fellas that I’ve hung out with. I also think they have a really great ability to make stuff that’s very funny, yes, but that also has something to say. They come to comedy from a place of character and interesting story structure. This was an opportunity to touch on some issues of the times but also issues of all time—various things like relationships and gender politics and status—but also to have fun with the form that we’ve all grown up with—situation comedy—and mess with that and turn it on its ear. I think they do such a good job as producers, as they’ve shown with Last Man and certainly the fun they had with 22 Jump Street and The Lego Movie.
AVC: When do you come into the process on Zorn? Do you just get a finished script? How does it work?
JS: The script is always finished. I can’t totally remember how it always works. I feel like I got ahead of what they had been filming in L.A., because we live in New York, so they were doing all of the live stuff. I think I was on schedule with them there for a while, and then they started getting stuff of mine in the can.
I don’t know how [the shooting] half of it works. I don’t know if they’re looking at a stand-in or a fellow who says the lines. I don’t think he does an impression of me. I don’t know, though, because I’ve never seen what he does. I think a lot of times they’re looking at a big yellow X on a stand, like, “This is where this giant man in fur bikini briefs will be standing.”
I’m either laying things down with a certain understanding of what Johnny [Pemberton] might do or what Cheryl [Hines] might do or what Tim [Meadows] might do, or recording stuff in reaction to what they were doing.
I have the luxury of being able to go back, rather inexpensively, because Zorn doesn’t need a makeup trailer or a cameraman or all the people on the crew. I can just hop off the train and walk to a microphone and act like an idiot in the privacy of a soundproofed room. I can double back and rerecord lines. I’ll go in tomorrow for an hour or two before I head into work—I’m in Toronto right now—to record one or two hours of new jokes that Chris and Phil sent in, maybe from London, because I think they might be there prepping for the Star Wars movie they’re doing.
That’s another element that we’re figuring out. It’s a new balance. It’s fledgling. We’re trying to figure out this invisible idea that Reed and Eli had and that Eric Appel directed and produced. Making it visible it makes it a little bit easier to figure out, “Okay, how can we make the process even more fluid, should we get picked up for a second season?”
I’m behind the scenes using The Secret to try to encourage Elon Musk to make a pneumatic tube to shoot us across the country from L.A. to New York in a half hour’s time. I’ll give it a shot—I don’t care. I don’t care if it scrambles your intestines. They’re already a little scrambled. I eat Taco Bell too often for them not to be. I’d give it a shot. But until that happens or until iPhone 8 has a hologram option, this is the version we’re sticking with. I’m just a man. I’m not too different from Zorn. I’m just a man isolated in his own mania in Manhattan.
AVC: Zorn seems to do more grunting and vocalizing than your average actor. What’s your recording process like?
JS: When I’m recording what would be a scratch track or something to guide the animators but also for them to interact with on set, I’m doing a less nuanced version of it. I’m closing my eyes and I’m just trying to picture it. It takes four or five hours to do an episode, but then you’re always coming back and picking up a few lines when you’re recording another episode.
Look, it’s not digging ditches, and it’s not teaching math to kids who don’t want to be there, but it’s more strenuous than people would guess, and certainly than I realized. It was the same thing when I did Angry Birds, which was basically a Michael Bay movie. It’s all action, so anytime I’m having to flap my wings or swing around this giant sword to kill a giant swooping death bird, I’m pretty much doing that in this tiny booth and trying not to hit the microphone so that it doesn’t make a giant noise. I’m sweating my buns off by the time I’m done. It’s like I’ve done planks for 45 minutes because my stomach is so tense from screaming.
Those specific things that you’re talking about—and this is a term I learned over the last couple years—but they’re called “efforts,” and they’re where you’ll do a page of random grunts and screaming. [The engineers] have, I think, been cataloging them, and they’ve made a Zorn soundboard. You know, “Here’s what it sounds like when he’s chopping down a tree. Here’s what it sounds like when he’s taking a dump after some laxative tea.” All I know is I’ve had to do fewer and fewer efforts as we’ve gone on.
I literally just feel like this vessel for these great jokes that they arrive upon and anything that comes off my head through those jokes and through those storylines that they’ve come up with. Then they can just take it and use it however they see fit. That’s the trust that I have in the creative team behind the scenes with Lorne Miller leading the way, but also Eric, who is the director and a producer as well.
Something I’ve learned for better or worse at SNL is that if you’re lucky enough to work with really smart people, you should let them be smart and good. Too many ideas can sometimes turn something a different shade. I’d rather just let them do what they need to do and give them a bunch of options.
AVC: Are you coming back on Last Man On Earth? Does Mike Miller survive?
JS: Oh, gosh. I appreciate the question. That’s all Forte. I can tell you honestly that I don’t know. If I spent any time trying to figure out what is going on in my dear, dear, insane friend Will Forte’s head, I would only come up with an eighth of what he’s capable of. I look forward to doing whatever he needs in that capacity or whatever song he wants to sing at karaoke or whatever restaurant he wants to eat at. He’s an easy one to follow, because he always does it with a tremendous amount of thoughtful intention, and he’s joyfully original.
Your wishes and hopes for Mike Miller are the same as mine, I hope. Maybe he’s coming back; maybe he’s not.