The show has tackled everything from legitimate sources of stress like traffic and family Thanksgiving to the more absurd, like New Mexico or The Wolfman. It's somewhat shocking, really, that tomorrow's episode--"Dan Vs. Anger Management" is an idea that's taken so long to hit the airwaves.
Armstrong joined ComicBook.com to talk about the method of going from the soft-spoken, good-humored man we interviewed to the vamping, ranting maniac at the heart of Dan Vs.
It's surprising how little I really have to do. It started out when they were first developing the show and I read for it, but I had no idea what to expect.
I do have a temper--a lot of people don't see it because I try not to show it that much but I could give you the names of people and you would hear a very different story. So it doesn't come out often, but I do have a temper.
What was funny about Dan was realizing as we went along that these people were writing things that Dan was angry about, which make me angry, too. They have no way of knowing this; they don't know anything about me as a person but I found myself, especially with traffic and technology--these are things that annoy everybody.
Very early in the process, I found a root to the black heart of Dan, which is very easy for me to access because sometimes it's frightening how much he reminds me of me.
One of the interesting thing of course is that he takes everyday irritations and blows them into these outrageous proportions to where they're on the scope of an action movie.
[Laughs] Yeah, sort of. And especially with Elise, who actually sort of is an action movie, although no one knows it.
I will say that occasionally, you do get some oddball one where it's not an everyday irritation and not something we routinely encounter. I mean, do you have anything against George Washington yourself?
No, I have nothing against the father of our country. There are things which I'll have to put in some other context.
Like Canada--I love Canada. I have a cabin in Canada; I love going there. It's one of my favorite places in the world. So I then have to be Dan-angry with Canada. But as the old joke goes, that's acting. So I just pretend it's somewhere that I really do dislike. That makes it easier.
I always just assumed the Canada thing was for [co-star Dave Foley's] benefit, honestly.
You know what? It wasn't, I don't think. It was funny, though, and it was a great source of amusement because of course Dave has this pretty noticeable Canadian inflection in his voice, which no one ever bothers really correcting. I've been on shows with Canadian actors and they're playing Americans, and you've got people saying "We've got to watch the 'aboots'" and all that. They never do it with Dave--so as a result, here we are on this revenge plan to Canada, and he's talking away in his Canadian voice and it just amuses us.
Well, and we talked to Paget Brewster about the fact that all three of the principals in this animated show use your same voice, which is an interesting choice for an animated series.
No, I know--it's strange. I work on several other animated series -- one on Nickelodeon, one on Fox -- and the characters are played by voice actors almost across the board. They're people who have a long career in voice work. So if I'm in a scene with somebody like Maurice LaMarche or one of these people who have been doing it a long time and are really gifted, I'm dazzled by it. In the case of Dan Vs., for some reason, they just made this decision that the three of us were going to be basically doing our own voices. And it is my own voice, except angry all the time--or at least irritated, most of the time.
When I look at these other people and I realize that I'm not a voice actor at all, I don't know about Dave and Paget, but I know that if someone held a gun to my head, I couldn't do the kinds of character-animation stuff that a lot of the guys I work with can, and I'm always in awe of them. All I can ever do is basically a version of my own voice. Fortunately, it's a distinctive one and when people want a Curtis Armstrong voice, I'm generally the place they go for it.
Paget was saying that she thought on a scale of one to ten, you were about a seven or eight in terms of range in animation. Do you think that's just because climbing the ladder of insanity makes for a variety of compelling situations?
Yeah--but it always comes out sounding like me, though. It's different levels and certainly in Dan Vs., I probably have the widest range of rage that I've ever had playing any character, which is one of the nice things about it. I mean, it's a lovely part to be able to play.
And then I do have those scenes--these ridiculous little scenes with Mr. Mumbles or even the occasional potential love interest who pops up once in a while and there are moments of almost normalcy, but they're certainly few and far between which is how it should be.
It's also interesting to me that while Dan is clinically insane, and a danger to himself and others--
--He's still more of a functioning adult than many of the other characters you've played. I mean, I can't imagine Charles DeMar getting a job.
No, that's true--and it's hard to even imagine Booger having a job. A lot of those characters are sort of similar.
But I can see Dan holding a seat in the Senate for six months if at the end of it he got to drop a bomb on somebody he thought had wronged him.
Yeah, probably--you know what's funny about him? This never occurred to me at the time when we first started and I don't think it has anything to do with what they were intending -- but as a result of the recent election, I found myself thinking, because I was looking at the first few episodes of this new season, how in a different context, people could actually have made an argument that Dan is sort of representational of the "Angry White Man," as referred to in sort of an electoral context.
Everybody talks about the angry white man, and it's sort of taking the idea of an angry white man who might not like certain political opinions or might not like African-Americans leading the country or whatever it is and taking it to a surreal place, where it becomes, "I've decided that New Mexico has bothered me." Or the beach needs to be dealt with, or baseball. It's almost sending up that kind of intolerance, which I just find amusing even if it wasn't intended.
See, can you think of anything that you'd have a really hard time hating, or is it all just acting?
It's just acting. It depends on what you mean by what they would present me with but I understand what the joke is, and so to me--you know, I don't have a problem with New Mexico. It becomes a kind of alternative thing which I don't have any real emotional connection to one way or another; I just am angry about it. It's hard to make analogies about what I get angry about in my life, my actual life, and compare it to what Dan gets angry about because Dan just gets so over-the-top about anything.
You marvel at the fact that Chris is still friends with him after all this time. It seems incomprehensible that he would be friends with him, because he's such a horrible person in so many ways.
If you have access to anger, which we all do, but some of us at least have better angels of ourselves. That's our ability to not let that take you over. With Dan, he just doesn't have that. There's no filter, there is no part of him that says, "Maybe you shouldn't say this," let alone "Maybe you shouldn't try to commit this felony. It's like the rest of us have evolved in a way that is completely different from this character for the most part -- and then the people who are like Dan in real life end up getting arrested and then they find bodies in the floorboards of their house of people who have upset them. But that's in the real world. Dan's world is a lot more fun.
Is it fun to step into that insanity? I would think it's cathartic.
It is in its way.
Paget was saying that when you record together, you will get into Dan mode and you'll shoot her a look if you blow a line or something.
Yes, I know! The first that happened, we laughed for fifteen minutes, because I was utterly unaware. I was doing something, I was angry about something, and I blew the line -- one of those big rants -- and I just glared at poor Paget for no reason! I wasn't even thinking that I was glaring at her; that's how much it had taken over me. I thought I was looking at her to say, "I'm sorry, I f---ed up, I'm going to have to do this again." In fact, she exploded into laughter because it looked as though I was blaming her for my mistake. And we laughed and laughed and laughed.
It's always fun when the three of us are in the room together because we just make each other laugh constantly. The one thing that's a bit of a drag is that unfortunately all of us are working actors so there are always conflicts and schedules and so on. So sometimes they'll be there together and I'm not there--sometimes I'm in there and I'm all by myself.
And what winds up happening is that I get all of the screaming and the rage--and it sort of feels different when you're alone in a room by yourself. It feels a little crazier, like actually you might be a little insane, because I'm in a room with no one and I'm just screaming into a microphone for four hours. That can get a little crazy-making. There were times Paget was on her show and Dave was on tour with Kids and so there were a period of weeks where I was going in and recording all of my stuff by myself--and I actually really didn't like that. If I don't have people to laugh with, then all of that rage starts to get a little toxic. Even though it's fake, it can get a little toxic.
You said you've looked forward to season three a little bit. Are there any particualrly absurd things you have to get angry at this time?
Oh, it's hard. The first one is anger management, of course, which is just meant to be. I don't think there's anything in the current season that is more ridiculous than before, but I do think the current season is maybe the strongest yet.