If you thought Chris Parnell was the model for his nebbish Archer character, Cyril, you’d be wrong. Cyril is actually the two-dimensional incarnation of well-hung Atlanta restaurateur Stuart Fierman, a friend of Archer executive producer Matt Thompson. In fact, when the producers first asked their animators to develop the show’s characters, they handed over pictures of a ragtag group of friends of the show and fellow animators that they wanted to use as physical guideposts: Lana is a Hooters waitress from whom Thompson once ordered hot wings, and Archer is, of course, a former model. Thompson gave us the inside story about each of the show’s muses and showed the real-life inspirations side by side with their ISIS doppelgängers. (Also, take a look at our new series: Vulture’s Week in Obscure Archer References with Matt Thompson.)
CHARACTER: Sterling Archer, superspy
MODEL: Jason Fitzgerald, professional photographer/former model
VOICE ACTOR: H. Jon Benjamin
Out of all of our characters, Archer looks the least like the actor voicing him. H. Jon has some funny things to say about how people tell him that the show is ruined for them once they’ve seen his face. We even did a video based around this idea for the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival. The gist of it was that Archer is in a terrible accident and when he wakes up in a hospital bed, his roguish good looks are gone. He looks like the real-life H. Jon, and his world is irrevocably changed.
Jason Fitzgerald has gotten the most mileage out of modeling for us. His friends even use his casting on the show as a pick-up line at bars. Archer makes the best wingman, even when he’s not there. Just knowing him is a panty-dropper. Jason was even asked to audition to play Archer for a convention once because he looks so much like him.
CHARACTER: Malory Archer, head of ISIS and Archer’s mother
MODEL: Kathleen Cohen, local Atlanta actress
VOICE ACTOR: Jessica Walter
We did not use Jessica — first, because we didn’t want to bother her with having to pose for a bunch of pictures. Both Adam and I consider her something akin to acting royalty. We knew we were extremely lucky to have her, and we didn’t want to abuse her time. When the show launched, we really didn’t know her like we do now. Now we know she is not only extremely gracious with her time, but up for almost anything. In hindsight, I think she would have gotten a hoot out of posing.
Additionally, Malory does look similar to Jessica, but I think Malory is more extreme-looking. When you see Jessica, especially in person, you realize what a beautiful woman she is. We wanted Malory to look a little meaner and a little more pissed off.
CHARACTER: Lana Kane, superspy and thorn in Archer’s side
BODY MODEL: Kynyetta Lester, beautiful wing-slinger
VOICE ACTOR: Aisha Tyler
Aisha Tyler is gorgeous, but she also is the busiest person I know. She could not fit us into her schedule until June 2014. So we had to cast someone else.
For [series creator] Adam Reed’s birthday a couple of years back, we went to a Monster Truck Rally because, why the hell not? Afterward, we went to Hooters to grab some wings, and our waitress Kynyetta was … shapely. So we decided to do the office a favor and cast her as Lana’s body model. For illustration reference, we take pictures of the models doing stuff here every day; it’s all pretty normal. But then there are those days when beautiful women dress up in tight clothes. There are also those days when ripped guys take off their shirts to show their eight-packs, but I tend to focus on the former. Now you know the real reason why Lana seems to somehow lose her top at some point every season.
CHARACTER: Cyril Figgis, ISIS comptroller and sometimes field agent
MODEL: Stuart Fierman, director of operations, Fifth Group Restaurants
VOICE ACTOR: Chris Parnell
Cyril and Chris Parnell look a lot alike, so most people assume he was the model. In truth, the model was a friend of mine who runs a group of great restaurants in Atlanta. The staffs of these restaurants are all hip to Stuart’s involvement and will frequently high-five him after an episode airs in which he bangs Lana.
One of the things Cyril is most known for is having a giant penis. This is a direct result of our experience taking photographs of Stuart. It is a wonder that either of them can walk around without tripping over themselves. My secret wish is to get Chris down to Atlanta and have dinner with him at one of Stuart’s restaurants. I want to see Stuart move his mouth while Chris talks, and also to have Stuart comp the dinner. Because I am super cheap. See the $1 Stuart got for his pictures.
CHARACTER: Pam Poovey, ISIS director of human resources
MODEL: Candi McElhannon, Atlanta antiques dealer
VOICE ACTOR: Amber Nash
Candi is super sweet and shares very few qualities with the foul-mouthed, hard livin’ Pam. When I picture Candi’s real-life mouth hole saying, “I’m so wet that I just drowned a toddler in my panties,” I feel a little guilty. Whenever we cast a model, we take about 1,000 pictures of them. Look angry. Sad. Wistful. Like you have to poop. Well, the day before Candi’s shoot, she had gotten Botox on a whim. She had to really put some effort into making those faces. It felt like a very Pam moment.
Candi and Amber live in the same neighborhood in Atlanta, so they run in to each other frequently. Usually at bars. One of them will leave shortly thereafter to protect the character’s longevity in case of an attack. Kinda like the way the president and vice-president are not allowed to travel and stay together.
CHARACTER: Brett, ISIS worker who is constantly getting shot and bleeding all over the place. Nickname: Mr. Bloodmobile
MODEL: Neal Holman, Archer art director/producer
VOICE ACTOR: Neal Holman
Neal’s mom loves hearing his voice and seeing him on television. She does not love that he mostly screams expletives and/or dies. As Archer’s art director, he is one of the main leaders of our large staff, handing out orders, etc. I think the staff secretly loves to see one of their bosses getting shot repeatedly and generally mistreated. It’s cathartic in a morbid way.
Neal’s greatest wish is to be in an episode and not get shot. Every time he reads the script, there is a phrase like “Brett bleeds out on the bull pen floor.” He gets a little scared he’s not going to make it to the next episode.
CHARACTER: Cheryl Tunt, Malory’s secretary and psychotic heiress
MODEL: Siobhan Price, writer/producer of Adult Swim–sponsored promotions
VOICE ACTOR: Judy Greer
Siobhan is friends with many people on our staff, having worked for Adult Swim in Atlanta. She is currently in production on a pilot she created for them, which is probably more exciting to her than being the face of a beautiful yet insane cartoon woman. Even if that woman is voiced by the equally beautiful and considerably less insane Judy Greer.
Cheryl Tunt is a nut job in a lot of respects, but the one kink people mostly associate with her is her love of choke sex. And unfortunately it is this question that is most frequently posed to Siobhan: “Cheryl likes autoerotic asphyxiation. How about you?” Again, this brings about feelings of guilt on our part. And for all of this trouble she was paid $1 by the production. More guilt.
CHARACTER: Ray Gillette, openly gay field agent and frequent voice of reason
MODEL: Lucky Yates, actual voice actor for Archer’s Dr. Krieger
VOICE ACTOR: Adam Reed, show creator
Lucky is the model for Ray but the voice of Dr. Kreiger, who in turn is modeled by one of Adam’s best friends, while Adam is the voice of Ray. Confused? It is a bit hard to follow, but Lucky boils it down pretty simply: If we ever get action figures, he gets two.
I am waiting for the scene in which, for some reason, Ray and Dr. Krieger kiss. I want to see how Lucky reacts to making out with himself. The universe might explode … at least for him. The only people that recognize him as the face of Ray are his ex-girlfriends. He says they probably always wanted him to be blond. And also gay.
CHARACTER: Dr. Krieger, ISIS’s creepy version of Q
MODEL: Dr. Ben Brieger, Austin’s coolest ER Doctor
VOICE ACTOR: Lucky Yates
If you are in Austin, Texas, and heaven forbid you are in a car wreck, you may be taken to the emergency room only to look up and see someone who looks just like Dr. Krieger taking care of you. The model for Dr. Krieger is Dr. Brieger, longtime friend of Adam Reed and current ER doctor. They went to college together at UNC Chapel Hill. I am not sure what happened there to make Adam want to turn Ben’s avatar into one of the creepiest (Nazi?) characters on television, but there it is.
CHARACTER: Bryan, king drone
MODEL: Bryan Fordney, Archer animation director/producer
VOICE ACTOR: None. He rarely speaks
We frequently need characters to populate the background of a scene. We need someone to walk across the street in Tangiers or work on a computer in the ISIS control room. We call these characters drones. Our most frequently reoccurring drone is a handlebar-mustached man named Bryan. He has been in practically every episode of the show … somewhere. Our most frequent background character is also the face of our animation director, the same person who decides which drones go where.
Bryan’s favorite scene happened in the first season finale. His character was smoking a joint after pretending to have sex with Lana. And he actually got a line. When the man next to him says that he just slept with Lana, Bryan says, “Me, too,” and exhales a puff of pot. Bryan told me that he had to get high at work in order to animate that scene. He is just that dedicated.