TR Interview: Seth Green and Matthew Senreich on Robot Chicken and Star Wars Detours
In the last of our series of Robot Chicken interviews, we go straight to the creators, Seth Green and Matthew Senreich. Geoff Johns was scheduled to be part of the interview as well, but who knows – perhaps he read some of the nastier things I’ve said about Sir Lazer-Lot, and felt I should not meet the one Responsible This. But who am I kidding: most likely he had take a bathroom break or something.
Seriously, Robot Chicken gang – Sir Lazer-Lot must be fed to Mo-Larr on your show. Someday.
Luke Y. Thompson: So how often do you try to get Geoff Johns to show you the Ben Affleck costume, or confirm if the Rock is playing Lobo?
Matt Senreich: You know what’s weird? We don’t really do it. We’ve known each other for so long.
Seth Green: We don’t really talk about it.
MS: You know the lines, and what not to cross. It’s so casual between us, we’ve known each other for so long that it just…
SG: Sometimes you just forget, because we’ve known each other for a really long time, and sometimes you forget. We’ll go to Cons together, and you’ll see people shit their pants when they see Geoff Johns, and I’m like, “Oh, yeah! You’re, like, ‘The Dude’!”
MS: Yeah, we don’t blink an eye. This might be our elaborate way of saying maybe we know it all. Ha ha ha!
LYT: When you want to do a DC special, is it as simple as you call him up?
MS: It was really that simple. When Geoff got this job – I mean, Geoff and I wrote our first pilot for TV together – that’s how far back it goes, just from being friends before that. When he got the job, we were out to dinner one night, and he’s like, “We should do a Robot Chicken DC special.” I’m like, “Sure.” And he’s like, “OK!” And then the next day we were doing it. It was that fast and that easy to be able to pull something like that together.
But again, you start with the same people. We were all low-men on the totem pole, back when we were starting in comics.
SG: We’ve all been actors now for over 20 years, so…
MS: Yeah, we’ve been doing this since at least ’96, and now we have the position to make decisions, and we just pull the triggers on those.
LYT: Is there anything he won’t let you do with his characters?
SG: No, it’s not like that. Usually, it’s never a “Hey, don’t do this with the character,” it’s more, “That’s not possible,” or “I’d prefer this iteration of the costume.” But as far as creative restrictions, there’s almost none.
MS: Yeah, the only restriction he had to start was this is TV-14.
SG: Which is not a lot of swearing…
MS: We know what that means, yeah. It’s the same limitations Lucasfilm put on us.
SG: Although we blew it with the nudity. There’s tons of nudity.
MS: Literally. That’s what makes it TV-14.
LYT: So is the decision to focus on mostly the Silver Age versions of the characters – is that your choice?
MS: I wouldn’t say it’s all Silver Age. We were inspired by Super Friends. I mean, look at Superboy. Superboy is not Silver Age! [chuckles]
SG: And neither is that Poison Ivy! No, but we have some modern incarnations of the characters, but a lot of times the outfits are funnier or more interesting. It better serves the character interpretation we’re going to use.
MS: Yeah, I think that’s…
SG: And then we bounce all that off of him, and as long as it’s cool.
MS: Yeah, I think it’s finding the funniest versions of those characters to play with. That’s what it boils down to.
LYT: Or does it have anything to do with the fact that Megos are more poseable?
MS: They’re not, as much as you think.
SG: We all have to customize, at this point.
MS: They’re all customized, yeah. They look like Megos, but they’re not Megos. Everything is wire armature with silicon – yeah, it’s an elaborate process to make them look the way they look, because toys lose their poses.
SG: Yeah, animation – stop-motion animation is rendered over tens of twelves of hours, you know what I mean? Weeks and weeks, and you need something – even if something is durable for a child to play with it, it’s not going to withstand the rigors of animation. It has to hold the pose firmly for hours at a time. No, toys just don’t do that.
LYT: That’s true. I’ve had many of them falling off my shelf. But Chemo, for instance, looked like the real Chemo.
SG: Yeah. We were trying to figure out what that big robot was, because it was originally going to be – what’s that guy? Metallo? Who is…?
SG: No, no, no. Was that who it was? It was a robot.
MS: I don’t remember.
SG: It was a robot in the beginning, and then I was in San Diego, and we hadn’t started shooting yet, and I saw that massive Chemo build-a-figure, and I was like, “Pssht.” I took a picture of it, and I sent it to Geoff, and I said, “Hey, what do you think about this for that scene?” And he was like, “Perfect!” Although he said we invented a piece of mythology, because now Chemo, according to Robot Chicken mythology canon, has a dad. Has a father that he wants to call.
LYT: I was going to ask, is it canon that Sinestro sunburns black?
LYT: Was that a conversation that you had?
SG: We did talk about it in the room that we had scheduled. We were like, “What if he’s, like, crispy? What if he’s like straight up blackened charcoal?” Everybody agreed that’d be the funniest.
LYT: It would be his Blackest Day.
MS and SG: [laughing]
LYT: Seth, your approach to playing Batman is pretty cool, because most people naturally go with the Christian Bale rasp, or the Adam West, and yours is kind of a unique thing. How did you find that sort of character take?
SG: It started with Bale. It started with Bale in, like, season 2, after that first movie – wasn’t it? Do you remember where it started?
MS: I don’t know what we did before that. It’s just that raspy voice.
SG: It was – because I got into it through him, because of the [raspy]“blah blah blah” – that super low-throat, borderline congested thing. And then it’s just evolved into our own sort of…
MS: I don’t know if that’s true, actually. I think it goes further back. I’m thinking about it – we did The Real World: Metropolis back in 2000.
SG: Oh, you’re right! You’re right!
MS: So it was even before…
SG: That was super…
MS: It was just…
SG: Real World: Metropolis was at the end of ’99.
MS: It was also that Michael Keaton – like, trying to keep the gruff voice, but you know…
SG: Let’s be honest – it’s always Frank Miller for me.
SG: My Batman is always Dark Knight Batman. It’s that, like, 50 year old, weather-beaten, [gravel voiced]“My name’s Bruce” Batman.
MS: I know. It’s think it’s just been around for so long. I mean, the first time…
SG: Bleeding in the back of an alley, talking to a child that’s helped save your life – “My name is Bruce.” That’s always been my Batman.
LYT: Not the more modern Frank Miller, “I’m the goddamn Batman”?
SG: I’ll take that Batman. I don’t mind that Batman.
LYT: How long does it take an episode – just the animation process – how long to construct and finish a full episode?
MS: We shoot so much at the same time to try to consolidate and cheapen the cost for everything, but the DC special was probably about 22 weeks.
SG: Well, 22 weeks from the time we sat down to start writing until the time we delivered. So the actual animation is probably 10 weeks. 10 straight weeks.
MS: But it’s shooting at the same time as – it’s, like, 6 days for 11 minutes of animation, so probably 12 to 13 days.
LYT: So do you have multiples of the same characters?
SG: Oh, yeah!
MS: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah!
SG: That’s the great thing about shooting a show like Robot, is you can have the same actor in 10 places at once.
LYT: My wife wanted me to ask, when is the Gummi Bear coming back?
MS: She’s not. Is she in this season? She’s briefly in the DC special.
SG: I think something in the season – I feel like there is something in the season.
MS: I don’t know if she’s in this season. We always like to bring her back. It’s when it makes sense, though. I don’t know if she’ll show up this season or not, though. I can’t think of it off the top of my head. But Michelle Trachtenberg has defined that character for us, and we will always lure her back to do that, because it makes us laugh. She was in our hundredth episode. I think that’s the last place that she was.
LYT: Has Disney killed Star Wars Detours?
SG: No, no, and I think – I’ll correct this again – there’s a misinterpretation that Disney had anything to do with that decision. That was 100% a Lucasfilm decision, and it was born from the time they decided to make new movies. We started having conversations about what the next three years of Star Wars were going to be before those movies came out. And it was months of talking with Kathy Kennedy, and the decision makers at the company.
The decision really was that because our show – the way it was conceived – is timeless, and because we’ve got nearly 40 completely finished, ready for broadcast episodes, but because the tone of the show is comedic, and it’s more like the Simpsons universe within the Star Wars universe, it was counter-intuitive to spend the next three years targeting young kids and teens with a show that was kind of a deconstructionist view of the characters that they just, three years from now, were going to be meant to take very seriously.
SG: You know, when the new Star Wars starts, after Return of the Jedi, the death of Darth Vader, the death of the Emperor – those need to be akin with the death of Stalin, the death of Hitler. And so our show portrays those characters the same way that Robot Chicken does, as sort of beleaguered, middle-management, the higher-up, head of a CEO that’s running some intergalactic space station.
MS: The worst thing that people tell us all the time is that they introduce people to Star Wars through Robot Chicken, which is the worst thing that you can possibly do. It’s backwards.
SG: It’s just handicapping your kids’ ability to interpret the sincere version of something by introducing them via the ironic one.
MS: And knowing that there’s a sincere version coming, and we are the comedic version – we can take stage after they actual present the new…
SG: It’s a delay, it’s not a cancellation. There is so much material, and I really believe the media is going to catch up to it.
MS: So much.
SG: In the same way that networks are focusing on green-lighting whole seasons at a time, the same way that Netflix is building an entire series that people can view via download – that’s where Detours will live. But it won’t be for, like, five years. So everyone’s just got to be patient.
MS: It’s a Disney question.
SG: Well, it’s still a Lucasfilm question. Don’t pass it off on Disney. [chuckles]
MS: Yeah, okay.
Robot Chicken’s DC Special 2 airs Sunday night on Adult Swim.