Eagleheart returns tonight on Adult Swim, with the season three premiere set to air at midnight. The fast-paced action-comedy, starring Chris Elliott, Maria Thayer, and Brett Gelman as a trio of US Marshals, heads into new territory this year as the show does its first-ever serialized plotline. Season three is one 10-episode-long continuous story called Eagleheart: Paradise Rising that’s far more ambitious than anything the show’s ever tackled in the past — and more ambitious than what most TV comedies are doing, for that matter.
I recently talked to Chris Elliott and Maria Thayer about Eagleheart: Paradise Rising, getting jealous of your costar being covered in fake blood, and how this season is like one big movie.
What was filming this season like compared to shooting a bunch of unrelated episodes?
Chris Elliott: Well, it was fun knowing that we were doing one long, big story. I like knowing that in the back of my mind, but in general, it was sort of similar to shooting the first two seasons because we were shooting out of sequence. But at the same time, there was a little bit more of an emphasis put on how we’re supposed to be acting in these scenes because in seasons one and two, you had to know that you were mad or angry or happy or sad or whatever in the scene but you didn’t necessarily have to know why. You kind of had to in this ‘cause you were hopefully tying it altogether.
Maria Thayer: We go on a journey, so as we trudge through everything, it was like, how exhausted are we? It was harder. Sometimes, I didn’t know what to feel.
Elliott: That totally is the opposite of what I just said, but you know, that’s what makes horse races. You have your opinion; I have mine.
There are a lot of over-the-top violent scenes in the show that you both act in. What’s your mindset when you’re doing a scene that’s super gory?
Thayer: I love it so much, not to be creepy. Is that creepy? I love being covered in blood.
Elliott: Okay. “Not to be creepy?” How do you get around that when you say, “I love to be covered in blood?”
Thayer: [Laughs] I don’t know. I never get to do anything, and then this year — is it a spoiler to say I got covered in blood?
Elliott: No, you see it in the promo.
Thayer: That’s right. So I got covered in blood, and it was really fun. It was not real blood. Make sure that’s in there. [Laughs] I mean, I don’t think it was.
Elliott: No, I don’t think so. I guess you were happy about being covered in blood. I never thought about it.
Thayer: Because you get to be covered in blood all the time, so it’s not a big deal to you.
Elliott: But you’ve done a lot in seasons one and two and stuff. We did have that big shoot-out in episode three.
Thayer: But you got covered in blood the first time out of the gate. In season one, you got covered in blood.
Did you get jealous?
Thayer: Yeah! Yeah, I did. See, it’s old hat to you.
Elliott: No, I just never realized that. So when I was walking around all hoity that I was covered in blood, that was…
Thayer: [Laughs] Oh yeah. “Look at this, this is blood!”
Elliott: I’m sauntering around, covered in blood, and you’re sitting there all prim and proper in your little Marshal Susie outfit. You were jealous?
Thayer: Yeah, are you kidding? Yeah, I was.
Elliott: I didn’t know that. I hope I didn’t make you feel worse ‘cause I know a couple of times, I sat down next to you covered in blood and just sort of flaunted it.
Elliott: [The violence] is not strange because it’s so over the top that it’s not like we think anybody is gonna think this is real in any sense of the word, and as long as we’re playing it straight and not being goofy with it and acting like we actually are getting shot or getting hit in the face or whatever and then suddenly we’re fine or going on to the next scene, it’s almost commenting on how violent television or movies are in a way.
Thayer: It feels really cartoonish.
Elliott: There have been jokes that they’ve had where I punch somebody in the stomach and my hand goes right through their body and I shake my own hand from the other side.
Thayer: I’m also jealous of that.
Elliott: I think that’s what Young Maria was referring to when she said “cartoony.” I think. I don’t want to speak for you, but somebody should.
Do you guys have any input ever as far as where the story goes, or do you have directions you’d like to take your characters?
Elliott: Not a lot. I sat with the guys for a little bit. I can’t keep up with them. They work on a completely different plane than I work on. I essentially just sort of play around with my own stuff. In terms of the larger story, I put in my two cents here and there, but they have the whole picture of what this was and where it should go and all that. And it’s great! It is sort of feeling like a movie. It feels like Maria and I are getting to do stuff that we were’t able to do in the first two seasons. We were sort of locked into this kind of part-relationship, and in this, there’s a little bit more of a partnership kind of thing. The show’s kind of evolving into this other thing, which we always wanted it to not just be the same.
If you guys do additional seasons, would you want to do it the same way?
Elliott: I’d want it to keep evolving, yeah…
Thayer: Yeah, me too.
Elliott: …and keep to the point that where doesn’t look like season one at all; it just has moved into something completely different.
Do you guys each have a favorite episode from past seasons?
Elliott: Yeah, I do. “Little Dude” from last season with Maria Thayer; I think was the best last season. The first season, I liked that ventriloquist one. I just thought that was funny. That one was more traditional cop show parody. “Little Dude” took the show into a whole other world and suddenly opened it up. ‘Oh, this could be something completely different.’ And I think we picked up on that this season.
Thayer: I like “Death Punch” because I like the death punch, and also, I like all your scenes with your family. Those made me laugh.
Elliott: I’m glad I tickled you, Maria.
Elliott: That one made you laugh. Episode one, season one. I guess the show hasn’t evolved much.
You guys are acting opposite a lot of character actors. How’s that different from working with comedic actors in other stuff?
Elliott: You know, it’s always weird for me. If I’m doing something that I’m the center of, I tend to set the rhythm for how the scene is gonna be played because I feel like I have that right, that it should be sort of geared towards me. Actually, Maria is the one person I never did that with. I always felt like, ‘Oh yeah, I know where she’s gonna go with this, and I think she knows where I’m gonna go with it.’ When you get outside actors, it’s this weird dynamic where you have to kind of see, ‘Are they gonna pick up on this and understand they have to jump in here? And they have to do this that way, otherwise my timing’s gonna be screwed up.’ It’s a bit of a challenge, actually, for me because I’m not much of an actor anyway.
Thayer: That’s not true.
Elliott: I think it’s hard for them too. Whenever I do something where I’m just coming in for the day on something, I hate it because A) you don’t feel like you’re part of the family and B) you don’t know the dynamics between everybody, and there is that thing in a scene where, ‘Oh, I’m not the main guy in the scene here, so I’ve got to follow whoever the other person is and see how they’re gonna play this.’
Thayer: This show has a very specific tone. When friends of mine audition for the show and they want some sort of advice, I always say, “Don’t make it a joke. Play everything really straight.” I feel like those straight actors are actually the best fit.
Yeah, they’re great in it. It’s just gotta be unusual for them as opposed to bumping around from Law & Order and CSI episodes.
Thayer: Yes, and that’s where a lot of them come from.
Elliott: But the best ones just treat it like that, like they’re doing another Law & Order.