The man inside David Cross: the return of Arrested Development's Tobias Funke
What is it like to play the most ridiculous sitcom character ever? David Cross reveals all (except the shorts)
“Do you mind if I adopt a leisurely position?” asks David Cross, as he reclines, theatrically, into a pose that might as well come with the caption: 'I'm Tobias Funke; paint me like one of your French girls.'
As the start of interviews go, it's certainly surreal - but not unexpected. For Cross has form when it comes to being a performer both on and off the screen. The night before we meet at a Mayfair hotel, for instance, he can be heard in the darkness of London's Arrested Development première, riffing loudly in character just before the start of the screening. After that, he held court at an after party in central London – his voice, unmistakable, soaring over adoring, crowding fans such as The Thick Of It writer Armando Iannucci and comedian Peter Serafinowicz. And earlier today, even whilst brutally hungover, he dominated the show's national press conference, replying lightning quick to Jeffrey Tambor's innocent memory of visiting Michael Cera and Alia Shawkat in their school room with “yeah, but then, legally, they said you had to stop...” The room erupts with laughter.
The extroverted need to be the centre of attention is obvious, but not irritating. If anything, all it does is leave you in an unshakable sense of affirmation that only a comic actor this ridiculous could play one of – if not the - most ridiculous sitcom characters of all time; the “analrapist” (the world's first analyst and therapist hybrid) turned aspiring actor, who, over the course of three seasons, earnestly bounded around the show with an array of Freudian innuendo (“Tobias, you blow hard!), over-zealous attempts of landing roles (“I'm afraid that I just blue myself”) and a rather serious case of “never-nude” syndrome, which means that he has to wear a pair of cut-off denim shorts permanently (even while crying in the shower) due to a crippling fear of being naked. His self-help book, The Man Inside Me, is also a roaring success in the gay community.
It's a role that has come to define Cross' career; which includes stints as a stand-up comedian, HBO sketch writer and 2010 British-American sitcom The Increasingly Poor Decisions Of Todd Margaret, which he created, wrote, produced and starred in. Above it all, however, hangs the never-nude; where every little mannerism and line is delivered with a distinct and devastating sense of comedic nuance. It was the part that he was born to play; the shorts he was born to wear. Indeed, it's enough to make you wonder whether Tobias is truly a creation of Mitchell Hurwitz's writing or Cross himself.
“I'd say 99 percent of the lines come from the writing,” he says. “I originally got the script and they asked me to look at Gob and Buster. They had a very difficult time casting Gob, and I didn’t get it at all. You know, when you see just words on a page and not much description. I just didn't... I couldn't imagine it. It didn't occur to me what that person was.”
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“Tobias was the one I immediately got. Just the look and feel, I said 'I know who this guy is.” And then had a call with Mitch about why I liked the Tobias character, and I said that I didn't have a handle on Gob but 'let me play this guy, and here's how I see him.' So when you first see Tobias.... That's me. That's just the beginning and how he formed... but, you know, the writing is all Mitch.”
That's all, of course, before Tobias had to "suck it up" and the show was cruelly cancelled in 2006. It's something that Cross, above all the cast, has been especially vocal about; ranting in a season two blooper video (below) that Fox should “fucking fire” a marketing team that couldn't boost the ratings of a show that won “five m*****f***ing Emmys.” Does he regret being so critical?
“I still stand by everything I said," he affirms. "I know it's not the diplomatic thing to do... The worst thing that happened to Fox was Arrested winning the Emmy, 'cos they had to keep it on. They didn't have any real guts… but it's a business [and] they're not in the business of putting out great TV, they're in the business of making as much money as they possibly can for Rupert Murdoch."
But times have changed. Arrested Development, aired in the wrong place at the wrong time, has found life beyond death in an age where gifs of its gags prosper and people can watch (and discover) what they want when they want. As Cross puts it: "The networks were still behind in figuring out how people were watching TV - they were still in that antiquated way that started in the '50s, with a Nielsen box."
Enter Netflix: the TV and film streaming site who are airing all fifteen episodes of the fourth season this Sunday. It's an exciting, ground-breaking step in how people watch television, but also, surely, a new way of making Arrested Development.
“There was a world of difference!” Cross confirms, excitedly. “It's a huge difference going to work and knowing you're wanted. And they're also very respectful to Mitch's creative process, as opposed to a place that's fighting with Mitch and giving notes all the time... Not that [Fox] were evil or shitty, but they did make it clear that, you know, we were not wanted... We spent over half the existence of that show going into work every day not knowing whether it was our last day. And that’s not an exaggeration; literally it was us going in and saying to each other, “Is today the day we're going to get shut down?”
There appears to be no danger of that anymore. With a movie proposed and Netflix already talking of future episodes, Arrested Development's future looks relatively safe. But what about this series? How, exactly, has the great analrapist-turned-actor changed? The never-nude, his leisurely pose still intact, is not revealing anything.
“He, definitely like a lot of the characters, goes on a bit of a journey - both physically and figuratively... and he meets new people along the way. I cant reveal too much, but... Six years is a long time.”
He's right: it is a long time. So, keeping that in mind... just how was it slipping into the shorts again?
“In terms of performance it already was pretty easy, but then it just became intuitive and second nature once you were acting opposite other cast members. Physically it was difficult as I've gained some weight, and they cryogenically froze those shorts, you see, and shipped them off to a museum. We got them out of the cryogenic chamber and had to let them out a little bit, as I've gained a good 5 or 6 pounds and I refused to drop them.”
“I said, 'Lets show that Tobias has aged not gracefully, but humanly in the last six and a half years...'”