Until 2005, Seth Green was probably best known as the philosophical werewolf Oz from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, the snarky Scott Evil in the Austin Powers movies, or the voice of Family Guy's Chris Griffin. But these days, he's also known as the co-creator (and writer, director, producer, and performer) of the Emmy-nominated Cartoon Network series Robot Chicken.
The A.V. Club: Let's start by talking about the career-defining role that most people know you for: that two seconds in the background of Weird Al's "White And Nerdy" video. How did that come about?
Seth Green: [Laughs.] That was a great fluke, actually. I met Weird Al a while ago, and he apparently was a fan of Robot Chicken, and he approached us about producing a video for him. He was putting out a new record and wanted to do some videos in conjunction with some of the songs, and he was approaching different animation houses. And we made one for "Weasel Stomping Day." I got to work closely with him and put this together for him, and then I brought him on the show to do voices and such. It just kind of cemented our relationship. Then he invited me to be in that video, and I, of course, leapt at the chance.
AVC: Were those your action figures?
SG: Actually they aren't mine—I'll rat him out, those were my partner Matt Senreich's action figures. That was just a sack of toys that had been brought from an office and were sitting in the back of his car, and Al was like, "You think I can get any toys from the show?" And Matt was like, "Funny you should ask, I have a crate of them in my car."
Robot Chicken—various roles
SG: I long for the time when I didn't have my days scheduled for the next several months. That's what I think of when I think of Robot Chicken.
AVC: There's so much packed into those episodes, particularly old TV shows and pop-culture references. Do you sit around and just brainstorm childhood memories?
SG: We do. We write for 20 weeks, and we produce the content for 20 episodes in those 20 weeks. So we have a team of writers, and we all sit around throwing out ideas and topics, scenarios, toy properties or nostalgic references, stuff that we want to build sketches around, and then we start trying to fine-tune them into actual sketches.
AVC: How do you determine which voices you do vs. which you have other people do?
SG: If there's something I know I can do… If we're doing a sketch that involves Hulk Hogan, we're gonna go out to Hulk Hogan and ask if he wants to do it. And if we don't get him, we're gonna try to find someone that sounds like him. And if I can do a good impersonation, then I'll do it. It's usually money-specific. We don't have a lot of money, so we can only spend it on so many people, and I wind up picking up the rest.
AVC: Have you gotten to the point yet where you approach somebody and say "Robot Chicken?" and they say "Oh my God, Robot Chicken! I'm totally in!"
SG: Yes, which is a dramatic difference from the first season, when I not only had to explain what our show was, but for some agents and managers, explain the concept of stop-motion, and that Ted Turner founded Cartoon Network. There was a point where we were trying to get Harrison Ford on the show, and we went to his manager, who had no idea that there was a Cartoon Network, let alone an Adult Swim. It's an uphill climb trying to explain this show to someone who has no idea what it is, and that's what we dealt with in the first season. But after that, people started hearing about it and seeing it, and we had kind of a place in pop culture. Now when we approach people, they're at least aware of it.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1997-2000)—"Oz"
SG: Great experience. Lot of work. Tons of hours in make-up. But a good time. I got to be a foot-kickin', zombie-stabbin', guitar-playin' werewolf! That was a pretty cool show!
AVC: Did you have any input into the character?
SG: Not in creating it, but I think in defining it. Over time, I got to add my flourishes and ideas or suggestions along the way, but Joss Whedon and the writers on that show had really great ideas, and I felt that if I could just interpret them, I'd be in good shape.
AVC: When he left the show, how much of that was your impetus and how much was theirs?
SG: There was a point at which I approached Joss and just said I was really… I felt like we hadn't done anything that we had talked about. I felt like the character's potential vs. what we actually were doing were in drastic opposition. And I was getting other opportunities, so I asked to be let out, because I spent an entire season as a regular on the show, not doing or saying anything. They'd bound me to a series-regular contract, yet the character didn't really necessitate being in every episode and every scene, so I found myself forced into scenes contractually that I really had no place or role in. So I'd spend five days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day, to be in a scene with nine other people, and hopefully get to say "I think Buffy's right!" I was like, "This isn't what we talked about." And I had another opportunity to do a movie, so I requested being let out for six episodes to do it, and it was just… As much as the character was peripheral, to get me off for six episodes apparently would've caused too much turmoil, so they just found a way to make me exit gracefully.
Family Guy (1999-2007)—"Chris Griffin"
SG: Family Guy's one of the best jobs I've ever had. Ever. It's a show I love to watch, so it's a thrill to get to be on it. It's a fairly easy job to do, and I have a lot of fun. And the fact that fans are responding, too, it blows my mind. I mean, it's exciting that people like it. It makes me feel like there's a similarity in consciousness… No, that's not a good way to explain it. I feel like there's a similar sense of humor. It's nice to feel like I'm not crazy for thinking the show is funny. Know what I mean?
AVC: Did the dynamic change at all among the cast when the show came back after being cancelled?
SG: We were all emboldened by the support. [Laughs.] We came to the set wearing sunglasses and glittered sneakers. We were like, "Who can stop us now? You tried to keep us down, and now we're on the air! Suck it!" So all of us just crash our cars directly into the valet stand, and we're like "I'll be back in an hour, put that somewhere nice."
The Austin Powers trilogy (1997-2002)—"Scott Evil"
SG: Austin Powers was a blast. We made that first movie as all but an independent film, and it was successful, so we got to come back. It's the same kind of thing, where once there's support behind something, you feel a little more comfortable trying new things and experimenting, and just taking it further and being sillier. You don't feel as self-conscious, so you're more likely to try new and more outrageous things, which can either work well, or you'll fall flat on your face.
AVC: The character seems closer to your own personality than most, at least judging by your talk-show appearances. Does it feel that way to you at all?
SG: No, I've got a really good relationship with my dad. [Laughs.] I like to think that I'm not quite as petulant, and don't have quite the same need to dissect everybody else's interests. But I definitely think of myself as a logical observer, so we're similar in that. And we look a lot alike, me and Scott Evil.
Idle Hands (1999)—"Mick"
SG: [Laughs slowly.] Um… [Laughs more.] The best thing about that movie was that everybody working on it had a different mission statement. We all thought we were making a different movie. Me and the boys—the other actors, Devin [Sawa] and Elden [Henson]—we were convinced we were making a high drama with some comedic elements, and we tried to make our relationship as lifelong best friends believable. And, uh… [Laughs.] The director, Rodman [Flender], was attempting to make a throwback Italian horror film, like a Dario Argento flick. The writers really wanted it to be Heathers. And the studio was listening to the test marketing and saying that if this movie didn't have… They really wanted the zombies to be cuter, and have more wacky antics, and apparently all the kids in the audience thought that there should be more pot-smoking, that pot should save the day, and somewhere, somehow, Jessica Alba needed to get her top ripped off. And that's how that whole new ending got shot, where she's up on the car lift and gets her midsection ripped off, and pot saves the day. Like I build a giant bong out of a carburetor. [Laughs.] That was the alternate ending that we shot over the summer. I do love that movie. It was grueling to go through three hours of makeup every day for three months. That's an awful, awful experience. But at the same time, we had a lot of fun.
Knockaround Guys (2001)—"Johnny Marbles"
SG: Knockaround Guys is the movie that I essentially left Buffy to do. This was an incredible opportunity that got presented to me. The guys that had written Rounders were directing their first feature. Lawrence Bender was producing it, a relatively unknown Vin Diesel was starring in it. Barry Pepper and Andy Davoli, and then Tom Noonan, John Malkovich, and Dennis Hopper. So it was a great opportunity for me to play something that I'd never played before: a darker, more complicated, kind of tragic character. And that movie, it just got tied up in politics. New Line was going to release it, and they had had a string of failures leading up to it, and were kind of bottoming out their distribution budget and focusing everything on starting Lord Of The Rings. They were about to put all their money into developing and producing three back-to-back movies, and as a result, a ton of pictures got shelved until they could figure out what to do with them. Some were going directly to DVD, some were gonna get released on cable, some were still being held out for theatrical, and they felt like Knockaround Guys was a theatrical release. So it got held for a while, and unfortunately, that wound up looking like… It got held long enough that Vin Diesel became a big star and got paid $20 million to do XXX, and then the marketing people thought "Well, we should just wait until XXX comes out to release this movie, as opposed to trying to put it out beforehand." And what that looked like was an opportunistic release, leading people to believe that the movie was no good and that they were just trying to capitalize on the success of XXX and Vin becoming a bigger star. It was just unfortunate, because I really loved the movie, and I don't think it ever got seen by anyone, and there was kind of a stigma around it that it was shelved for a lack of quality, which just wasn't the case.
Without A Paddle (2004)—"Dan Mott"
SG: Without A Paddle is one of the best experiences I've had making a movie, but also the hardest movie I've ever made, because it was so physical. And cold. And exhausting. And everything in that movie is us in our underwear in some kind of unforgiving environment. But three months isolated in different areas of New Zealand with Matt Lillard and Dax Shepard—I couldn't have been happier. We just had fun every day. It was a really, really great experience.
Four Kings (2006)—"Barry"
SG: Four Kings was a tremendous amount of potential, I thought. I was very excited to do that show with the guys who created Will & Grace. I loved the cast that got put together, and it unfortunately was at a time when NBC was really unclear as to what kind of shows they wanted to be making. And here was a show about lifelong best friends that was supposed to be how these guys look out for each other, and how your best friends are the people that know you the best and can shit on you the worst. Instead, at least once an episode, one of us said to another, "I just don't know if we can be friends any more" over some kind of ridiculous conflict. So instead of it being a show celebrating friendship, it became a show about these bizarre conflicts between us that were somehow making us not interested in being friends.
AVC: You were actually on Will & Grace for one episode. Is that how you got involved?
SG: Yeah, that's how it happened. I came into the table read for Will & Grace. They just asked me to cameo on it, and Max Mutchnick had been developing this show and casting it at the same time, and they asked me if I wanted to do this other thing.
Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (2004)—"Patrick"
SG: Really fun. It was one of those movies where you get that offer, and it's like, "Is this gonna hurt or help me? Or neither? Is it just something I get to do?" And I had a great conversation with a friend of mine. We just determined that it wasn't anything that would hurt me, career-wise. It was a fun opportunity to work with friends of mine, to do a really fun kids' movie that was iconic in pop culture. You know, it was an easy job. [Laughs.] It was a blast, too. I got to wear glasses and be a museum curator.
AVC: Have you ever been in a movie that was just absolutely no fun to make whatsoever?
SG: You know, I really try not to take stuff that's not gonna be a good time.
AVC: You've never gone into something you expected to be fun that wasn't?
SG: No, I've been very lucky as far as the things that I've picked, and the way they've worked out. I try to pass on stuff that looks like it's gonna be a bad time.
Sesame Street (2004)—"Vinny"
SG: I called them up to see if I could get on the show. I was like, "Am I famous enough that I can call and ask to be on Sesame Street yet?" And I guess I was. So they were like "What do you want to do?" And I'm like, "Anything, just put me on with some Muppets, please!" And I actually flew to do Sesame Street immediately after filming Without A Paddle. I flew back from New Zealand, I was in Los Angeles for less than four hours, then I flew to New York and got in at midnight for a 7 a.m. call. That's why I look so haggard on it. But it was a really incredible experience. They pulled a bunch of the old Muppets out of storage and let me play with them, so I got to meet Grover and Oscar, and Big Bird and Cookie Monster, and the Count and Bert and Ernie. It was the greatest.
AVC: What exactly was your Sesame Street role? What did you do?
SG: I played a mailman that delivered letters—letters of the alphabet. It was great.
AVC: Was it actually with those old Muppets, or did they just bring them out to show you?
SG: No, they just brought them out to show me. My scene was with Big Bird and Telly Monster.
AVC: Why were you keen to be on Sesame Street?
SG: I grew up loving Sesame Street. It was really inspirational for me. As a kid, they taught me all my best lessons and my ABCs, and what it was to do a commercial. It was just such a deeply embedded childhood fantasy to be on that show, and I really wanted to be a part of it. I was thrilled to be able to.
Greg The Bunny (2002)—"Jimmy"
SG: That show just came to me. They were making a show for Fox, and casting that part, and I got that offer, and they sent me a bunch of the things that Dan Milano and Spencer Chinoy and Sean [Baker] had done for IFC—their wraparounds. I just… I couldn't believe how fun and clever and original it was. I just thought, "I really want to make something like this." So I went and met with Dan and Spencer, and I just fell for Dan. Right away, we just clicked so quick, and since Dan was going to be playing Greg, I knew all my scenes would be with him. And I got really excited at the prospect of making that show on a regular basis. I just thought we'd have a ton of fun. It would be a unique creative experience, and unlike anything that was on television. So I was thrilled. [Laughs.] And the Fox show was a little bit hands-tied because of the edicts of the network and what they wanted the show to be, vs. what the IFC show had been, but we had a ton of fun, and have since done some specials for IFC. There's a whole second DVD that's all non-Fox-related Greg The Bunny stuff that I just love the most, because it's what the show was meant to be at its purest.
Billions For Boris (1984)—"Benjamin 'Ape-Face' Andrews"
SG: I remember a lot about that, oddly enough. I was 9 years old when I made that movie, and I got to film all on location in New York, and I remember we were doing this scene where we were in the zoo… The whole thing is about—I play this kid named Ape-Face who's a technical genius who rebuilt a television, but now it plays shows from tomorrow. So I'm watching TV programs from tomorrow, today, and as a result, I've got all this prophet-like information about gambling and the weather and a botulism outbreak in soup cans and all this really silly stuff. We were filming this scene in a zoo where I had predicted there was gonna be a rainstorm, and my older sister had not been prepared. She was wearing these fine leather boots, and I said "Hey, your boots are gonna get ruined when we go to the zoo today, because it's gonna rain." She was like, "That's not true," and I wore a rain slicker and galoshes. And of course, we're at the zoo and it's pouring rain. But what I remember the most was the animal wrangling, because at one point, there were people running by with fucking llamas and a zebra. [Laughs.] And when you hear the AD calling out, he's like "All right, and background, and people, and llama! Llama! Llama!" It just seemed so surreal.
AVC: It's your first credited film. Was it actually the first thing you worked on?
SG: No, I actually did a movie called The Hotel New Hampshire before that, about a year prior. I don't know why it's listed as earlier.
AVC: What was that first experience on a set like?
SG: Well, I'd worked on commercials for a year, maybe a year and a half, maybe two years prior to that, and done some guest spots on soap operas. I worked a lot as a kid, so I was fortunate. By the time I got to a movie set, I was very prepared. And the first movie I made—Hotel New Hampshire—had a ton of well-respected, professional actors that had been doing it a long time. I got to watch what they did and learn what they were doing and listen to any advice they would give. Really, I just paid close attention. I wanted to do it. I wanted to be good at it.
The X-Files (1993)—"Emil"
SG: X-Files was really cool. It wasn't "The X-Files!" when I did it, it was the first episode after the pilot had aired. It had just gotten a pickup of 13, and this was the first real episode. So they didn't know what it was, they didn't know if the team was correct. Fox had some concerns about the casting. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson were both just so relaxed and at ease and excited to have work. [Laughs.] The episode that I did was about spaceships and government testing and secret planes and stuff, and I just played a stoner kid. I had really long hair at the time, and ironically, had never smoked pot. [Laughs.] I'd cornered the market on the affable stoner in TV and film, so it was a blast. The one thing I remember—and he'll give me shit about this—I love David Duchovny. We had a ton of fun, because he's an improv guy, so we just goofed off the whole time. The first day that I met him, he had been doing this scene where he was running around a track, and it was blazingly hot outside. He'd been shooting for over an hour in the hot sun, running around this track. So when I met him, he just reeked of body odor. He was wearing a sleeveless shirt, too, and… [Laughs.] He was kind of playing it up. I think he for sure knew it, and was playing it up, just being very forward with his scent nearby, getting close to me to really make an impression. [Laughs.]
AVC: What stands out for you as a minor role that was particularly enjoyable or that you worked particularly hard on?
SG: Oh gosh, "Third Youth at Hot Dog Stand," in White Man's Burden, I think was really a defining moment for me. It was a time when I knew that I was really making it as an actor. [Laughs.]
AVC: That was your turning point.
SG: [Laughs.] I don't know, I always bring up Party Monster, just because nobody saw it and I was really proud of it.
AVC: What was making that like?
SG: We shot a 90-minute movie in 26 days with 50 costume changes, all of which required at least an hour's worth of elaborate prep. There were these very dramatic makeup processes. We were playing the Club Kids of the early '90s, and all these kids spent weeks planning their outfits and spent hours and hours and hours putting them together before they went out. It was an exclusive piece of art—they only wore this outfit, this costume, this design, once. We replicated that, and it was just an amazing experience, because we were working with all these kids that were really a part of that time, and trying to tell a story which was dramatic and utopian and tragic all at the same time. It was just a great experience. I loved it, and I was really pleased with the ultimate result.
AVC: What was it like working with Macaulay Culkin?
SG: I just love that boy, and I think he's so talented. We met about two years prior, and were both interested in that project and had kind of committed to it unofficially, waiting for them to get the financing going. Mac and I just spent a bunch of time researching these characters. There's so much information available about them, because they were so narcissistic and selling themselves constantly, so we pored through hours and hours of actual video from their own cameras, and took the opportunity to leisurely study them. It was a great experience.
AVC: Culkin is a little younger than you, but do you feel that your experiences as child actors were at all alike?
SG: We really related because of our similar experience. He had kind of a stratospheric success at a young age, whereas I just kind of plodded along successfully without becoming famous until much later. But we really related to each other as far as disposition and shared experience, and just our opinions about people in the business. I think very highly of him; he's an excellent, excellent friend.