I could not be more grateful that Seth Green took time out of his INSANELY busy day to do an interview. His career started at the young age of seven and ever since, he has been working consistently. This year, Seth will be working on four TV shows (yes, you read that correctly, four TV shows) with movies on top of it all. He will continue to voice Chris Griffin on Family Guy; run, write, executive produce, and voice characters on his show Robot Chicken; voice act on Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H; AND act on FOX’s new show Dads. With thirty plus years in the biz, Seth Green sure is Hollywood’s jack of all trades!
MC: Normally I start out the interview by asking, “when did you catch the acting bug?” but you started acting professionally when you were only seven. Do you even remember when you “caught the acting bug”?
SG: I do, yes. I knew I wanted to act or I understood that that was a job that was possible at a really young age. Then, my mom was working at a summer camp and I was too young to attend, but I could go wherever I wanted. I hung around with the drama program all day long. It was just teenagers at that point (probably around fifteen or sixteen), but they seemed like really accomplished adults to me. I desperately wanted to be in their play. The whole first session, which was like a three-week program, they didn’t let me be a part of it. But when they started the second session, I had just pestered them so much that they let me have one line in their performance of Hello Dolly. So, at the very end of the play, at the very end of the summer season, I got to say one line in that play. I was really certain in that moment when I was on stage that [acting] was what I’d do.
The first major film you did was The Hotel New Hampshire with some real bigwig actors. Did you learn a lot on that set?
Yeah. Every experience that I’ve had… and every actor that I worked with (especially because I started working with people so young) has been really informative. I’ve paid a lot of attention to the way that those actors worked.
It was a really interesting time for Jodie Foster, Rob Lowe, and even Beau Bridges because they were all very successful… I looked up to them for an example of how to behave; they were all excellent examples of wonderful people. They were constantly being hounded in the streets for autographed photos. I was eight when I did that movie and I said to Nastassja Kinski, “Doesn’t that get annoying? Don’t you just want to tell all those people to f**k off? [Seth laughs]
And she said, “You know, I’m really lucky to get to do this job that I love so much and that rewards and fulfills me so much. If someone wants me to write my name on a piece of paper so that they can remember us meeting, that seems like a very small thing to ask.” I’ve always remembered that.
I’ve also had the benefit of watching people over the course of their careers. Because I stated so young, I work with people at one moment in their career, and then twenty-five years later, I can assess the choices they’ve made that have led to different results and where they’ve had different personal or professional possibilities. It has been informative to have the example of other child actors and adults that have made a career and lifetime of doing this job successfully.
How did you handle having a full time career as a kid, especially with school in the mix on top of your fame?
It was tricky. Each of the states has different laws for child labor, and usually there’s quite a bit of law on the side of a kid to still be doing schoolwork even while they’re working. So, that was how I kept up in my schoolwork.
Keeping up with the kids in my class was harder. Because I was out of school so much, it really separated me. That made it more difficult socially because if I was outgoing or tried to become friends with anyone, they would accuse me of thinking I was so important because I was an actor. If I tried to keep to myself and try not to get in anybody’s way, everyone would accuse me of being stuck up because I was an actor. Socially it was difficult, but I looked at high school as something I just had to get finished with, not something that would be a career for me.
Was most of your training on the job or did you ever take acting classes?
When I was around seven I took on camera training to do commercials. That was basically teaching you how to look directly in the camera or communicate directly with the camera as if it were a person, or being aware of how to hold a product when you’re doing a commercial so that you show off the label, all those basic things. But all of my formal acting training came from working with other actors and being lucky enough to have people push me.
In 1999 you started Family Guy. How did the part of Chris Griffin come about?
It was just an audition; I just auditioned for that like any other audition. But I had to take on a character that they hadn’t heard. They just liked it! [Seth laughs]
I really wanted that job. I loved that script.
I read that the main inspiration for the voice was Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs. Why did you think that would fit the character?
I didn’t– it was a joke. It was actually a joke that my friend and I had been playing for several days with each other. He sort of dared me to do it in the room and I just did it. I didn’t think it would work and I certainly didn’t think that I would get that job. When I did get the job, I had to just laugh.
You know, you try something and it doesn’t always work, but sometimes that’s what it takes. They had just heard the same reads over and over and over again all day, so me doing something that weird and that unique made them remember it.
Yeah, it definitely does work!
But, sometimes it can work against you. [Seth laughs] I mean, for every “Patricia Arquette peeing on the floor in the audition for True Romance” story that worked, you hear a “Sean Young showing up on the Warner Brothers lot dressed as Cat Woman trying to get Tim Burton to hire her” story. You never know which side of that coin you’re going to be on. [Seth laughs]
Well it certainly worked out for you… and that’s a great story.
Family Guy’s especially weird because we were a season on the air on Fox, then a season off the air, and then canceled for real, then resuscitated a couple years later by fans of the DVD market. Now, it has become this global success, but there was a point where nobody thought that show worked.
You also do voice acting on the show you created, Robot Chicken. This is kind of a broad question, but how do you voice act? How do you make animated characters sound like they’re having realistic reactions to another cartoon character?
The acting in the booth is really the same as any other acting except you focus more on your voice and you don’t have the benefit of your body or facial expressions. But as far as how you make it real for yourself, everybody’s got a different process. We get the additional help of the animation itself. (The animator makes it come alive; the quality of their performance is everything. If the animator gives a bad performance it doesn’t matter how good the read is.) But in the booth, I just try to make it real and give it what it needs.
With cartoons, there’s a take that’s funny and there’s a take that’s not funny. If you’re doing comedy you need it to be funny– and we’ll keep doing it until it’s funny. [Seth laughs] So, sometimes it’s less about “does that emotion seem real enough” versus “was that funny enough?”
Robot Chicken has been doing incredibly well. What have you found is the key to successfully running a TV show?
That’s so interesting– I hardly think of our thing as a TV show, but it is. It’s weird. From my perspective, it [has to be] totally different from your perspective because Robot Chicken is just something my friends and I were making on our own that suddenly became a show that legitimate TV people were nominating us for awards. So, it’s really bizarre.
We run it the same way we’ve always run it, which is: we hire super talented people, and then we try to give them something fun to work on. Then, we try to be good to work with and make that experience really positive for everybody. I find that when you make a positive work experience, the result that you get is almost always positive.
You have pretty much done/are doing every job that you can have in the TV industry. If at all, how does the knowledge of all the inner-workings of a TV show help your work on screen or acting?
Understanding how everything works makes you more capable to organize, and that’s really all what producing and directing is. Producing is making sure that everything happens…whether that is in hiring the right people and overseeing them until it gets done, or doing everything yourself and making all the calls, filing all the paper work, sending all the e-mails, and everything that goes along with it. Understanding it all and having a first-hand experience with all of the experts in each of the fields has given me the ability to be a better producer. I’m sensitive and sympathetic to each person’s personal contribution to whatever the production is…[which] makes our working relationship better, and that ultimately makes the end result the best it can be.
If not already, very soon you will be balancing four TV shows (Family Guy, Robot Chicken, Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H, and Dads)! How are you going to/how do you do that?
How do I do that? Well, it’s crazy. It’s really crazy. It’s probably foolish and my health will probably suffer. I’ll make an extra effort in my diet, exercise, and sleep to try to make up for how much energy I’m expending everyday. But it’s a trick; I wouldn’t be able to do it if the Dads schedule wasn’t going to be what it is. It’s a multi-camera show and we’ll only have two major days that are completely full; every other day will be very specific casts in each area. With the Robot special I’m directing at the head of the season, we’re in pre-production right now, so it’s just about communication, getting as much done in advance as possible, and then being able to trust my team to do all of the things that we’ve discussed even when I’m not here.
Well, congrats! That’s a huge accomplishment to just have one TV show, so four is beyond.
It’s crazy. I kind of can’t believe that we’re doing [Dads]. It happened very quickly and I don’t think I’ve haven’t quite absorbed it. It was just a pilot and then we were picked up… I think until I’m really on set and driving between Fox’s studio and our studio to do Robot and Dads at the same time, I don’t think I’ll really take it in until I’m actually there. [Seth laughs]
Congrats on having Dads picked up for the fall. Obviously Seth MacFarlane is the executive producer on the show. Your character Chris on Family Guy and Eli on Dadsboth seem to be a little discombobulated in navigating their lives.
I guess that’s accurate, but I think you can say that about most of the characters that I play. Eli’s dad [played by Peter Riegert] left when he was five years old– divorced his mom and fled the country. Until he was seventeen, he had no relationship with his father…Eli leans into his mother and kind of grew to hate his father… But as a result, every girl that he dates is someone he would never commit to because he watched his father never commit to women. He doesn’t really have any positive relationship models, but he’s got women that work with him in parental roles: his assistant at the office [played by Brenda Song] and his housekeeper [played by Tonita Castro] both run his life essentially; they don’t let him make bad decisions.
It’s different than Chris in a lot of ways because Chris is so silly. For as much realness we invest in that character he gets the luxury of being incredibly goofy. [Seth laughs]
You have certainly done a lot of on screen acting but a large chunk of your work has also been voice acting. What are you looking forward to about consistently acting on screen on Dads that the voice acting doesn’t do?
I love multi-camera format. I grew up watching multi-camera live audience shows: everything from Happy Days to Growing Pains to Family Tiesand All in the Family. There’s a great success in those shows right now: from Big Bang Theory to How I Met Your Mother to even Two and a Half Men. Audiences are still really connecting with this format– stories about relatable people in funny situations that you want to hang out with every week.
My main hesitation with doing a show like this, for the last several years, was that nothing came up that felt like it was something that was good for me. This fell together in the most coincidental of ways, but it’s a really good show with a lot of people that I’ve known for a long time. I think you’ll be able to see that on screen; I think that you’ll be able to see that Giovanni Ribisi and I have known each other for over twenty years. You’ll see the he and Martin Mull and Peter Riegert and I all worked together years and years ago. Plus, it’s very high quality entertainment. The guys that wrote Ted, Alec [Sulkin] and Wellesley [Wild], created this show and it’s based loosely on some of their experiences in their own lives…What I expect to get every week is a lot of fun with these people I’m really enjoying working with. I love acting! Acting is my first love and as much success I’ve had producing, writing, or any of the other behind the camera stuff, I’ve always enjoyed acting the most and when I’ve got a shot at performing really good material with other great performers that I love, that’s really all I’m hoping for.
What is your favorite part about doing comedic work?
I think that it’s something that I’ve always had naturally (the ability to make people laugh or smile). I’ve always really enjoyed being a part of a performance that changes somebody’s latitude. I love doing comedy; laughter’s the best medicine. It’s something universal– no matter what language you speak, no matter what religion you follow, no matter what area you live in, every human being can laugh. And there are some jokes that are so universal that they don’t need words to be conveyed; there are basic concepts of human beings that everybody understands. And so, I love doing comedy and being a part of comedic things, especially stuff that makes people feel good or think.
Who do you find funny?
Oh boy, that’s a long list! I love what The Lonely Island is doing these days. I think they’re really funny. I think that Will Ferrell is hilariously funny. He always makes me smile. I think Aziz Ansari is funny! [Seth laughs] There’s a lot of great funny out right now. I think that Seth Rogan is reallyfunny… I think that Simon Pegg is great. He’s not just funny though.
What shows do you watch on TV?
I watch a bunch of stuff right now. I love Archer. I’m really enjoying NTSF:SD:SUV::. [Seth laughs] It’s a show on Adult Swim that’s exactly a parody of those CSI adventure shows. There’s another show on Adult Swim called Childrens Hospital that I love too. I was enjoying 30 Rock, New Girl.
What’s something you learned early on in your career that you still live by today?
You are not the most important person on set no matter what people have told you.
What advice do you have for aspiring actors or anyone who wishes to work in film and TV?
I have found that I’ve never gone wrong with hard work. [Seth laughs] There’s no entitlement. No one can come in and believe that they’re owed something. No matter how successful you are, no matter how far down you are, it’s never too late, but nobody ever owes you anything.♦