Will Arnett on Going Dramatic for 'Riviera,' Filming in France & More
Will Arnett has joined the fray as Jeff, Georgina's American-based uncle with whom she reconnected in this season's third episode.
As Season 2 progresses, viewers will see Jeff's role grow, and we spoke with Arnett about what fans can expect. Below, he opens up about taking on a more dramatic role, what it was like filming in France, what's next, and which show he's currently obsessed with.
What drew you to the role of Jeff?
Will Arnett: Well, I liked the idea of going to do something totally out of my wheelhouse. I was just handed this big, sprawling [project] with crazy rich people doing bizarre things that most of us don't ever get to see or experience. I thought it would be fun. It was a great group of people, a great cast and just an awesome team. I was really intrigued about the idea of going and playing a guy who's in that world and kind of actually a voice of positivity... In a world of bad guys, [he'd] be good guy.
You typically are associated with comedy. Does that make taking on a dramatic role like this one more appealing just because it's so different?
For sure. Yeah, the idea that I get to go there and that it is just a totally different gear — it's not a pure, heartstring drama, but it is a different animal a little bit — was very appealing to me for sure.
Does your approach shift between genres then?
Well, it is different. It's different in the sense of how I look at it, how I approach it... Of course, with a comedy, you're always trying to look for what is funny about a scene... Then all of a sudden now, you're showing up on set and you're not looking to make it funny [Laughs]. It's kind of like doing somebody else's job in a way. It is different. I turn to the people I work with and rely on them a little bit more and get a vibe.
The other thing is the show's been around. I stepped into the second season so you never want to come in and be at a different volume than everybody else... The ability to come in, take the temperature where everybody's at and then sort of fit in and do my part was definitely a new muscle for me.
You got to film on location in France, how was that experience?
That part was definitely also an appealing component. I'm not going to dress that up. When somebody says to you, "Hey, do you want to come and shoot this big, fun, sprawling show for three months in the south of France in the summer?" it definitely gets your attention. It certainly did mine. It was really great.
Of course, we got to shoot on these incredible locations, which were just as beautiful as they look on film. Being over there really helped get into that vibe and enhanced the whole thing. We [were filming] in a place that is the playground for billionaires, so it certainly enriches the experience and, just on a personal level, it was super fun being there, and I was able to bring my family over and have a great time. It was awesome.
Jeff's character really is a key to Georgina's past this season. Were you surprised by their dark family history?
I don't think that I understood the full breadth of it when we were first talking about it with the people in the show. Jeff comes in, and he's got this connection, and he's the younger brother of Georgina's mom. There's some stuff there. I'm like, "Okay, yeah, sounds great," and then we go the Canada, and we start shooting for this North American component, and I'm like, "Wow, it's super dark."
But also, again, I really used it as an opportunity right from the get-go, and I think that it ended up influencing later scripts. I was very vocal about the fact that I wanted Jeff to be a force for good in Georgina's life and ultimately maintain this kind of core moral center, this touchstone that she could go back to and look at and go, "Wait. Wait. This is right. This is wrong"... which set Jeff apart from a lot of other people in her life.
You mentioned you had some influence over Jeff's moral center, but how much creative input did you have overall with your character?
I actually wasn't in the writers' room, but I did get an opportunity to go week to week... [and try to] find moments where Jeff could interject a little bit of humor... Ultimately, Jeff ends up becoming the voice of the audience in a way because everybody else is involved this world and Jeff looks at the absurdity of a lot of the things that are going on and calls them out... For me, anyway, I thought it was really crucial to who Jeff was, that he wasn't going to stand there and just listen to a bunch of nonsense and not comment on it.
What else should we expect to see from him as he mingles with Georgina's life in the Riviera?
I think if you're a fan of the show, or even if you're a first-time viewer, you can expect to see... Jeff as a cool breeze of fresh air... I'm lucky, because all of these awesome people have set this table for me, and then I just come in and breeze through and go, "Um, I don't think so." I get to have some lighter moments but also have moments where I, hopefully, have some sort of moral impact.
You share most of your scenes with Julia Stiles and Lena Olin. Who is quicker to break in a scene?
Probably Julia, but they are both really fun. I like to keep it pretty light, and they're both fun and super easy to work with. I honestly couldn't have asked for two better people to work with. It was fantastic.
Were you a fan of the show prior to being cast?
I spend half my time totally unaware of what's going on around me... Then once I caught on to what it was I was like, "Oh, wait, this is fun"... I wanted to go do something fun and so now I'm a fan.
You're a busy guy but when you have free time, what's a show that you've recently binged or really enjoyed on TV? (apart from Riviera, of course).
Well, I think like a lot of other people I'm watching Fleabag. I just finished the second season about a month ago. I've got say it's one of the more brilliant shows, for me anyway. In my humble opinion, it's one of the better shows I've seen in a long, long time. Just the writing and the performances and everything — it was just unbelievable.
One of the great key elements in a comedy that I always look for is just that element of surprise. [Fleabag just has] it in spades. Honestly, I have a tough time getting over how brilliant it is, and I think about it all the time. I find myself thinking about it. I think Phoebe Waller-Bridge has got to be one of the great comedic voices of this century, truly.
Riviera, Season 2, Thursdays, Sundance Now