Always Challenging the Rules
by Jay S. Jacobs
Patrick Warburton isn’t all that manly.
Hollywood thinks it has Warburton figured out. Because he cuts such an imposing figure – with his strong, impressive frame, his chiseled aging-model looks and his distinctive baritone voice – television and film has a tendency to cast him as funny, stoic guy’s guys.
Warburton has been a near-constant presence on television for over a decade now, playing such intriguing characters as Elaine Benes’ vain and slightly dim boyfriend David Puddy on Seinfeld, a pompous anchorman onLess Than Perfect, a quirky superhero in The Tick, a robot spy in the film version of Get Smart and currently a long-suffering husband on Rules of Engagement, which returns for its third season premiere on March 2.
Even in animation – where Warburton’s unique pipes have made him pretty ubiquitous – he tends to play the same kind of roles. He is the title character in the Pixar spin-off series Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, the hulking nitwit Kronk in The Emperor’s New Groove, a macho policeman on Family Guy and a former coach turned Principal in Kim Possible.
While Patrick Warburton is damned good at that type of role, there is so much more to him.
In real life, Warburton is very much a family man. He has been married since the early 90s and has four children. He also has some decidedly un-manly interests.
“I like musicals,” Warburton freely admits. “I love Disney. I actually have something of a Christmas tree ornament collection. And I drink my coffee very frou-frou. It’s got to be very sweet. Now, if you put that all together, it might come across a little less masculine than people see me. In my defense, my wife is the one who really started the Christmas tree ornament collection with me. I love Marilyn Monroe. We were on a trip and I grabbed a Marilyn Monroe Christmas tree ornament and she said, ‘That is so gay.’ I said, listen – Marilyn Monroe is universal. The gays don’t own her. I know they think they do. She started getting me characters from the Wizard of Oz. I have Vivian Leigh from Gone with the Wind. I have my own, very special gay Christmas tree ornament collection, which has become sort of a Christmas tradition in the Warburton household.”
Warburton would like to explore that kind of surprising nuance in his Hollywood career. After all, he is an actor… he should be set to play anyone or anything. For example, in his entire career he has not been able to go completely against type – for example, playing a hyperactive, manic character.
“Someone who is just manic? I’d love to,” Warburton says enthusiastically. “That would be a lot of fun. The guy who seemingly drinks seven to eight cups of coffee each half of the day, right? Just something really different.”
Therefore, while he loves what he has been doing, Warburton feels that Hollywood has barely even tapped his potential. He could be a killer. He could be a lawyer. He could be a priest. He could be a parent. He could be a cock-eyed optimist in love.
“It’s interesting,” Warburton says. “It’s really easy as an actor to look at what you would consider to be your failures as opposed to your successes. To me, sometimes it just baffles my mind. I’ll do a film like The Civilization of Maxwell Bright or The Dish or The Woman Chaser. Even though they don’t work out perfect, there will be some critical acclaim for them. [However] I’ve never once been asked to work on a one-hour show in Hollywood. You know that? I’ve never done an episode of ER or Law & Order or anything like that. It’s almost like, ‘Oh, he couldn’t possibly do that….’ To me, it’s kind of absurd. There are a lot of opportunities I feel like I don’t get. I don’t know the reason. They are very narrow-minded still, in a business that’s supposed to be about art and pushing the envelope. They can’t wrap their minds around the fact that you potentially could do something else. They don’t take the time out to look or see anything else you’ve done. They just figure, ‘oh, he does that character Puddy on Seinfeld.’”
He did get the opportunity to really stretch his acting muscles in a small Australian film called The Dish, which was directed by popular Aussie comedian Rob Sitch – who is a member of the Saturday Night Live type ofsketch comedy troupe Working Dog and starred on the series The Panel.
“They wanted me for this film to play a NASA scientist,” Warburton explains. “It was really one of the only unfunny characters in the entire movie, but I just loved the film. I loved the idea of getting to do something that I felt was definitely something different than the goofball stuff I’ve been doing. It was just a sight-unseen offer. I said, this is interesting, you know me from Seinfeld – that was all he knew me from – and this is a serious character, not funny. What made you [think I’d be right for it]….? He just said, ‘Oh, I reckon you can do this.’ I was just like, God love you. God love you for having that kind of perspective and belief in me that nobody in LA would right now. I wouldn’t be getting offered this role in Los Angeles.”
He’s not complaining about his career, though. Warburton knows that he has found a unique and endlessly funny niche in show-biz – playing the kind of men’s men who paint their faces and hang out at boat shows – and he will suit up for the part whenever he is asked. He just doesn’t like to be pigeon-holed.
Much of Warburton’s current face value goes back to one specific legendary television role – David Puddy on Seinfeld. Ironically, for as iconic a character as Puddy was, fate (and contractual obligations) blocked him from playing the character as much as he and the Seinfeld brass would have liked. Originally, in 1995, Puddy was supposed to be a one-off guest-starring role.
“I was sitting on my couch watching the show with Cathy [his wife] two weeks before I went in,” Warburton recalls. “It was our favorite show. We watched it religiously on Thursday nights. We’d plan everything around watching Seinfeld on Thursday nights. Michael Richards would barrel through that door and it was like – God, this show is just brilliant. Why can’t I get on a show like this? Two weeks later I had an audition. I went to go in to read for Larry David and Jerry. It was just for a guest spot. It went well. Then they brought me back like two weeks later to do another episode. I was thrilled, but that was the end of it for me, because I was already signed to do a show called Dave’s World [with Harry Anderson].
“For the next two years, I got calls every now and then to ask about availability, and I couldn’t do Seinfeld because I was on Dave’s World at the time. Fortunately, that show got cancelled and I got to come back onSeinfeld during the ninth season. Hey, I enjoyed the cast and everybody I got to work with on Dave’s World. We had a good time. But that was the 70th rated show and I was getting phone calls from the number one rated show and I couldn’t do it because I’m on a low-rated show,” he laughs.
Warburton hasn’t looked back since. He scored the lead role in a FOX version of the cult-comic book parody The Tick, but despite critical kudos and a strong cult following, the show did not last long.
“The network had decided they were going to kill this one before we went on the air,” Warburton says. “They even held us a year. We were supposed to come out, they held us for a year because they decided that it didn’t matter that the critics loved the show. The show was too expensive and quirky. I don’t think [Rupert] Murdoch got it from day one. So the higher ups at FOX at the time – they killed it. They had also discovered that year that they could make a jillion dollars making reality TV, which costs nothing and got big numbers. So, we got screwed. It was a very clever show. I was honored to get to step into the shoes of The Tick. That’s how I see it. I’d love to get that opportunity again some day. Who knows if it ever will come up? By the time they make a big studio picture… because they will someday, The Tick is just a great character… somebody else is going to get to step into those shoes and I will be envious. At the same time, it will be great to see.”
Warburton followed that up with a few years on the Sara Rue sitcom Less Than Perfect. However, now he has scored a role that resonates with Warburton the family man. He plays Jeff in the comic ensemble Rules of Engagement. Jeff is a cranky, long-married man whose loves but torments his wife (Megyn Price). The couple act sort of as cracked role models for their best friends – a young engaged couple (Oliver Hudson and Bianca Kajlich) and a proudly… defiantly, perhaps… bachelor buddy (David Spade). The series in now going into its third season and Warburton sees nothing but promise.
“The cast has really good chemistry,” Warburton says. “I think the show is finally turning into its potential. I would argue that we’ve always had a great staff of writers, but you’ve got to figure out what works and what doesn’t work sometimes. We’ve hit bumps in the road. Our first season we only did seven episodes because we were mid-season. I think we did remarkably well for our first seven shows, looking like a cast that had spent some time together. The second season, there was a writer’s strike. We would have had a full season. Then the third season kind of got handed to us by our own network. – they made us mid-season. That’s going to happen, but I think we are a show that deserves better than that. That’s an age-old argument. You can always argue that it is a show that performs well and has great potential. Don’t do this to us; we’re trying to get rolling here. You know that we’ve got this potential. We’ve performed well. We’ve got to get to the next level. We can’t get to the next level if you keep doing this to us.
“Hopefully, we’ll lay the groundwork again this season and be able to come back for a full one next year,” Warburton continues, “because I haven’t enjoyed working with a cast and felt so positive about a show that I’ve been a part of since The Tick. It’s really unrealistic for me to think that I’m going to get the opportunity to do something as odd, quirky and ingenious as The Tick… that just doesn’t come along. That’s just an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For a sitcom, with a great cast and great show runners and great production behind it, I think it’s hard to do better than what we’ve got here with Rules and Happy Madison [Adam Sandler’s production company] and [show creator Tom] Hertz. So I want to see us get that support from the network, because this is a show that could really truly be a great half-hour show. I really do feel that we’re on the way. The cast has great chemistry. Everybody gets along really well. I can say that I truly like everybody in that cast.”
As a long-married man, the lived-in dynamic between his character Jeff and wife Audrey feels comfortable and realistic to Warburton. They may fight and be completely different, but he thinks that they really do work as a couple.
“Because at the root of it they do love each other and enjoy being together,” Warburton explains. “I don’t think that Jeff is just a one-note grumpy Gus. He’s got his opinions. He’s got his complaints. He’ll tell you exactly how he fucking thinks and feels about something. At the same time, you can see he’s got some perspective. Even if he knows he’s right, he’ll listen. He can still take it all in. I think he really enjoys the difference in the sexes, you know? But with Audrey – she still turns him on. He can be grumpy, but he can’t be truly unhappy. If he is then you ask yourself, ‘what are these two people doing together?’
“There is so much I can actually relate to in this. I’ve been married for eighteen years. I have four kids. You know, would I like David Spade’s life for a month? Absolutely! We all are basically in our shoes. Spade in many ways lives a very charmed life,” Warburton laughs. “Without spelling it all out, he lives a very charmed life. Jeff, he observes Russell. Russell is not tied down. Russell has lots of different options… opportunities in the way of lady friends. Jeff’s in a committed relationship. Sometimes you have to decide, what’s it going to be?”
For Warburton, marriage and family has always been the way. He taps that long history to get into the mindset of his character. It also gives him a hard-won perspective on the war of the sexes.
“I think it’s fun sometimes if you can observe something that is happening in the relationship that comes from a very male perspective,” Warburton says. “Seems almost chauvinistic, but it’s right on the money. It’s fun to do that. Of course, a woman likes to do that too – just show a guy what an ass he’s being. How he’s wearing his blinders and he doesn’t see what’s happening peripherally. It’s great when you show that to a woman, because, personally, I’ve always given women the credit for being sharper and closer to all the secrets of the universe than men. And I know that I’m wrong. That’s just the old blinded by the beauty of the opposite sex.
“But, you know, it is fun to be right. In my household, it’s not a well-kept secret that my wife’s the smarter one. Yet we took an IQ test six months ago. I got a 135 and she got a 127. I remind her about it every single fucking day,” Warburton laughs. “You know, I love doing that. I call her 127. That’s what I call her now. And of course, all the kids know. Everybody knows daddy beat mommy in an IQ test. So, I have to grasp and hold tightly my little victories, because I know in reality she’s the one with the better head on her shoulders. It’s all fun.
“You can look at a relationship like this, when they’ve been together this long. Think about how complex the little [things are]… you know when they mess with each other, when they play games with each other. This is something that I argue with the writers and the producers. Let’s get smarter with this show. Let’s keep it smart. We don’t have to spell everything out. People know that when they’ve been in a relationship for fourteen years, little things happen. Nuanced. Subtly. ‘Oh, okay, he’s doing that to her right now.’ ‘Oh, I see how she’s responding to this.’ It doesn’t have to all be said in the words. Let’s see how they are messing with each other right now, in some interesting way.”
Warburton will also continue to pique his interest with a variety of voiceover roles – in television, movies, even computer games. In fact, he has recently signed up to play a role in the upcoming computer game in the classic “Leisure Suit Larry” series.
“It’s kind of a raunchy, crazy…,” Warburton says. “I never saw the older game, but I looked at the cast list they had for this and I just thought it looked really fun. You’ve got Artie Lange and Carmen Electra. It’s just a crazy, nutty cast. So I worked on it. I’m sure it’s something that my son Talon will love.”
The voice work is just another way that Warburton can stretch out – and he relishes the opportunity. Animation frees him up to do and be just anything – and he likes that freedom. It stokes his imagination. Plus, there is a much more basic benefit.
“It’s fun. I love working for Disney. I love doing the Adult Swim shows. Animation… it’s just fun to be a part of it. Hey, I made the Academy Awards last night.” He laughs hard. “For the least likely thing, if I were ever to pick… They were showing the animation montage last night. At the very end, my character from Space Chimps, Titan says ‘That’s got to hurt.’ That’s how they closed the whole animation segment. There was almost no dialogue in it, except for that line. I sat there with my wife and kids and said, ‘Well, I guess daddy made it. He’s on the Academy Awards.’ It was just very funny and unlikely. I would have expected to see first the Bee Movie or The Emperor’s New Groove or something like that.”
Of course, Warburton also has the ultimate “daddy made it” chip to use with his kids. He portrays the Captain who introduces riders to the theme park ride “Soarin’ Over California” at Disneyland California Adventure. (The ride is called just “Soarin’” at Epcot.) Ironically, for as many well-known characters as Warburton has played in his career – that one may very well be the part he has been seen in by more people than any other.
“I sometimes rub my wife’s nose in it a little,” Warburton laughs, “how not only am I a Disneyland dad… I am a true Disneyland dad. It’s like, you’re cool and everything and a great mom, but you don’t have your own ride, so you know what, I’ll take this one over.”
|#1 © 2008 Sonja Flemming. Courtesy of CBS Television. All rights reserved.|
|#2 © 2008 Monty Brinton. Courtesy of CBS Television. All rights reserved.|
|#3 © 2008 Monty Brinton. Courtesy of CBS Television. All rights reserved.|
|#4 © 2008 Monty Brinton. Courtesy of CBS Television. All rights reserved.|
|#5 © 2008 Monty Brinton. Courtesy of CBS Television. All rights reserved.|
|#6 © 2008 Monty Brinton. Courtesy of CBS Television. All rights reserved.|
|#7 © 2008 Robert Voets. Courtesy of CBS Television. All rights reserved.|
Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: February 28, 2009.