Will Arnett has gone from eccentric man-child to nervous man-with-child, but he wants the world to know that he made that choice himself, thank you very much.
"I know that was one of the many sort of knocks on me, if you will, was that like, 'Oh, he just does this thing or he plays a character like this,'" the 41-year old actor tells The Huffington Post. "The reality is a lot of the things I wanted to do, because I have historically found it much more interesting and/or fun, to play characters that are really flawed ... The combination of really dumb and really cocky is fun. It's just fun to play."
Arnett has made a successful career for himself on the basis of those choices, often playing a clueless, disproportionately confident and inheritance-rich moron that is both too outrageous and secretly vulnerable to hate. He most famously played that part as GOB on "Arrested Development," and brought some version of it to roles in "Blades of Glory," "30 Rock" and "Running Wilde."
Stung by the quick demise of that last show, which Fox canceled last year after half a season, Arnett had intended to lick his wounds on the sidelines for a while. Then he was handed the script for "Up All Night."
One read through and Arnett was sold on what would become one of NBC's more heavily promoted fall sitcoms. He stars alongside Christina Applegate; the two play new parents desperately trying to balance the sudden realities of having a baby with trying to hang on to some semblance of their more exciting past lives.
"I've really enjoyed it because it's very close to my own experience," Arnett, who has two young children with wife Amy Poehler, says. "The story is not the same as my story, but there's so many universal themes here at play that I identify with, which are spending my 20s and the bulk of my 30s with very little responsibility outside of my own health and that of my wife, and then of course, culminating with starting a family. I identify with that. This is an area that I get, so for me, that's been awesome."
Applegate plays a TV producer for an Oprah-like talk show starring a delightfully outrageous Maya Rudolph, and Arnett plays a lawyer turned stay-at-home dad. In the three episodes that have aired so far, the panic attacks and mini-crises the couple suffer are caused less by the baby than by the growth being parents forces in them. For example, the characters find it difficult to see themselves as full, responsible adults who are more likely to listen to cries on a baby monitor than Radiohead in concert.
It's a constant back-and-forth struggle for the couple, creating delightfully painful consequences. In the pilot, to prove to themselves that they're still hip, they go late night Jager-bombing, only to be destroyed early the next morning by their crying daughter. In the second episode, the pair tries to revamp their Facebook profiles to seem young; Arnett's Chris, embarrassingly, is a fan of their local dry cleaners and the band Train. Later, they pretend to be drunk at a young neighbor's party, after secretly calling the police to come and break up the loud event so their baby can sleep.
"I think that it explores the idea of people waiting until they're almost 40 to start making adult decisions. It's something that a lot of people can relate to," Arnett says. "When you start have to make serious decisions, you realize the first thing that suffers is your cool factor. So even if it's having kids or having a job where you can't do certain things because you're like, aww man, I can't do that because I have to go to my jobby job, it's like, alright, now I'm not this free-wheeling cool guy."
Playing Chris has been a nice change of pace, Arnett admits. Though Chris makes plenty of questionable decisions, they come more quietly, born of irrational fear or desperation. His character finds himself in more relatable scenarios -- how he can revive his love life, for example -- than the oddball dilemmas GOB faced in "Arrested Development," like how to get back in the good graces of his fellow magicians.
"There are a lot of moments where you get to just let things play out as opposed to beating it on the head," Arnett says, comparing is old and new roles. "They each have their own merits. Getting to play that character GOB was crazy fun, as fun as it looked. But then, conversely, playing this character, getting to let scenes kind of breathe and happen and have real conversations -- Christina and I, our characters get to have this stuff happen around very real situations and we have real conversations about them and that's fun, too. It has its own merits."
Still, Arnett's not ready to give up on his more absurdist acting. He features as an outrageously terrible corporate executive in "Arrested" co-star David Cross's IFC show, "The Increasingly Terrible Decisions of Todd Margaret." And he defends his turn as the wildly extravagant, immature and lovestruck trust-fund goof in "Running Wilde." The show was intended to be "surreal" and a "comedy fantasy island" in the midst of a terrible economic climate, Arnett says, and he has pointed words for reviewers who didn't quite get that.
"The funny thing is to read the reviews of it, the people that take it straight up. It's just like, some of them were so vicious and so ready for it, it was hilarious," Arnett says, still bothered by the negative reception the show received from critics. "TV reviews in general -- boy I'm going to get a lot of trouble for this -- they are generally so lazy. ... Listen, I can take criticism no problem, it's part of my job. What I can't take are lazy reviews, because I feel like, hey, you may not like my show, but you can tell that at least we put a lot of work into it."
As his new character, Chris, might, Arnett reconsiders, mindful of his show's infancy.
"I'd just like to go back and amend my statement," he laughs, "and say I have total respect for all the people that gave 'Up All Night' a great review."
"Up All Night" airs Wednesdays at 10pm EST on NBC.