Will Arnett: A Comedian's Open Wound Laid Bare
The Hollywood Reporter|April 8, 2016

Alcoholism? Relapse? Sounds fun! (sarcasm.) But after despicably arch roles on Arrested Development and 30 Rock and big success in The Lego Movie and Ninja Turtles, Will Arnett created Flaked, a Netflix series borrowed from his painful, personal battles with sobriety (and it's why those reviews sting even more.)

Lacey Rose

WILL ARNETT WEAVES THROUGH VENICE’S trendy eatery Gjelina to a table tucked way in the back, collapses into a chair and buries his face into his hands.

“It’s been a rough week,” he says, trusting that I’d understand what he’s referring to on this early March afternoon. His new, highly autobiographical dramedy, Flaked, which would officially drop the following day on Netflix, was greeted by unrelentingly harsh reviews, which Arnett, 45, has studied far more closely than I have. Before our water glasses are filled, he’s quoting from them, along with the barbs that have accompanied them on social media.

“Some guy tweeted at me, ‘From Arrested [Development] to BoJack [Horseman] to this?’ Like, shaming me,” he says, a smile unable to mask his frustration. “It’s like, was that guy with me for the 15 years where it was disappointment after disappointment? And when was it that I made a deal with everybody that I had to do what they wanted me to do?”

It would all be easier to stomach if Flaked were just another series that attached Arnett for his star power — and not something he’d poured his entire life into. He wrote, produced and co-created the show with pal Mark Chappell and plays the 40-something man at the center whose struggles with sobriety are drawn heavily from Arnett’s past. It is, without question, the most intimate, grounded piece of entertainment he’s ever been involved in, and the first day of shooting was set to coincide with the 15th anniversary of his own sobriety.

The idea for Flaked had come to him in summer 2012, he says, when he was “in a tricky place in [his] life.” His nine-year marriage to Amy Poehler, with whom he shares two sons, was unraveling, as was his once-promising NBC sitcom, Up All Night. “I started to write this character based on things that I loathed in other people and the sort of injustice of the world,” he says. Where exactly that character — a quietly crumbling Venice, Calif., heartthrob named Chip, who spouts AA mantra despite the fact that he is secretly drinking again — begins and the man playing him ends is something Arnett is still working through. The lines had blurred in ways that unsettled him throughout the process.

“Look, I think Chip is a good person,” he says. “I just think he never reached his bottom, and he got very comfortable in creating this persona for himself. He doesn’t really have to try. He doesn’t have to do anything. And he’s not able to …” Arnett trails off. He leans back in his chair, running his tanned hand through the thick head of hair buried under his L.A. Dodgers cap, then continues: “He’s had his heart broken, and I think that that’s the part that I share with Chip. And then at the end of episode six, he’s proved right: that when he finally let somebody in, he gets betrayed — and it’s like, ‘Yep, that’s why you can’t let anybody in.’ ” Another long pause. “And, yeah, I felt the same way.”

Tackling something this personal and, until now, this private, was supposed to be liberating for Will, who’s adored by friends and fans for his unfailing gregariousness. “He’ll give performance energy to make the barista at Starbucks laugh,” says Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz, a producer on Flaked and a close friend. His buddy Jimmy Kimmel calls him the ideal guy to have on his late-night show or by his side on the Hollywood party circuit. “You know he’s going to be funny,” says the host, who’s in Arnett’s inner circle with Jason Bateman, John Krasinski and Justin Theroux. “Will’s one of those guys like Bill Murray, Chris Elliott or Zach Galifianakis, where they make you laugh before they even say anything.”

But that humor is hard to detect as Arnett discusses the toll Flaked has taken on him. “It became this tough, uncomfortable process,” he says. “And because I was putting a lot of stuff about my own life in there, I noticed it really starting to affect my mood and my behavior.”

It should be noted that Arnett didn’t need to put himself through any of this. Ever since his career-making turn as the obliviously arch George Oscar “Gob” Bluth in the 2003 Fox comedy Arrested Development, attractive offers have flooded in. Among the more memorable: Jack Donaghy’s flamboyant nemesis Devon Banks on 30 Rock, which earned Arnett four Emmy nominations. More recently, his résumé has been loaded with follow-ups to box office smashes Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Lego Movie, for which his Lego Batman is getting his own spinoff; the titular role in Netflix’s animated darling BoJack Horseman; a regular gig on David Cross’ IFC comedy The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret; a likely fifth season of Arrested Development for Netflix; a development deal at Sony TV for his Electric Avenue production company; and a revolving door of lucrative voiceover gigs for companies including GMC trucks and Bank of America.

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