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.)
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.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
Don't Stop, Won't Stop Believing
Hulu’s The Path centers on a fringe religious movement, Meyerism, with Emmy winner Aaron Paul as a disruptive doubter — but during a visit from THR, cast, crew and showrunners all seem in perfect harmony.
Which Personality Disorder Do You Have?
Top L.A. shrinks advise on what makes four kinds of high-ranking studio execs tick — plus their secret anxieties.
The Plan To Reboot Paramount
Ten months ago, Jim Gianopulos was forced out as Fox chairman after 16 years. Now, in his first interview after landing atop Viacom’s struggling film arm, he lets loose on starting over, getting fired by the Murdochs, how Trump has changed his job and the strategy he hopes will bring stability (and profits) to a money-losing studio: ‘It’s surprising it got so bumpy here … because all the elements are in place’
It's CNN vs. NBC: Who Will Win The Trump Tug-Of-War?
With a post-Ailes Fox News virtually sidelined, ‘lucky bystanders’ Jeff Zucker and Andy Lack are feasting on a breaking-news buffet where even Megyn Kelly makes headlines.
The TriStar president on Wonder Woman envy, buzzy Baby Driver and the legacy of her director father
ESPN's Heirs Apparent In A ‘New World Order'
A trio of promotions led by Connor Schell could determine the successor to president John Skipper as the ‘worldwide leader’ suits up for an uncertain future.
Bald? Not Bruce Willis? There's Hope
From robots to Regenix bespoke formulas, amniotic injections and — eww — fetal foreskin, new treatments are helping industry men maintain a full head of hair
Sam Taylor - Johnson Is Ready To Throw Shade
One of Hollywood’s most successful female directors, now back with a sexy Netflix series, lets loose on Fifty Shades (‘Every scene was fought over’), surviving cancer (twice), her unconventional marriage and the plight of women filmmakers: It’s ‘ego-denting’
'Who Am I If Not The American Idol Guy?'
Ryan Seacrest spent a year trying to figure out what he should do post-Idol; then, days into his next act as host of Live With Kelly and Ryan, ABC announced the singing competition is coming back — thus began a fraught and frenzied negotiation to return him to the show that made him famous: ‘If I could do it forever, I would do it forever’
Is Netflix Shifting Its Strategy? Wall Street Certainly Hopes Not
‘The rules are different,’ says one analyst of the streamer’s $6 billion-a-year content binge, even as CEO Reed Hastings says he wants to cancel more of its shows
The Man In Trouble
Comedian Tim Robinson can’t resist playing characters who make him wince.
A Viewer's Guide to the Future of Entertainment
The pandemic has changed Hollywood. Here are five shifts that will last
PASSING ON YOUR PASSWORD? STREAMING SERVICES ARE PAST IT
Many of us were taught to share as kids. Now streaming services ranging from Netflix to Amazon to Disney+ want us to stop.
Television turns to magicaal realism to explore the trials of early adolescence.
FACEBOOK DELIVERS BIASED JOB ADS, SKEWED BY GENDER
Facebook is showing different job ads to women and men in a way that might run afoul of anti-discrimination laws, according to a new study.
NETFLIX SCORES STREAMING RIGHTS TO NEW TOP SONY FILMS
Netflix further beefed up its film catalog on Thursday in a multi-year deal that will make it the new streaming home to Sony Pictures’ top releases in the U.S.
Meghan Markle, Prince Harry Reveal First Netflix Docuseries
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s first Netflix series will center on the Invictus Games, which gives sick and injured military personnel and veterans the opportunity to compete in sports.
GRYLLS AMBUSHED BY GIGANTIC SNAKE!
Frantic fight for life caught on camera
Let's Get Physical
Having long marveled at the technology of the high-end workout equipment on the high seas, Porthole goes all in on putting together a home fitness center.
For All Mankind: Taking Apple Tv+ To The Moon And Beyond
Whilst Apple TV+ may still be small in comparison to Netflix and Amazon Prime, its string of successful series and breakthrough movies have positioned it as a must-have service for all lovers of immersive, thought-provoking material.