Fred Armisen Welcomes You Back To 'Portlandia'


The dream of the 90's is alive once again now that the inspired insanity of IFC's Portlandia returns on Friday.

The brainchild of Saturday Night Live's Fred Armisen, Jonathan Krisel and former Sleater-Kinney singer Carrie Brownstein, the Emmy-nominated Portlandia has amassed a loyal legion of fans who have Put A Bird On It, spent too much time in a Feminist Bookstore and fallen in love with the oversize yet understated characters that have come to life over the past two seasons. ETonline caught up with Armisen to find out what fans can look forward to this season, how he juggled Portlandia duties with his SNL responsibilities and how long Armisen plans to juggle both.

ETonline: Portlandia went from sleeper hit to full blown movement last season, culminating in a multi-city sold out tour. How exciting has it been that the quirky show has been so widely embraced?

Fred Armisen: It's like the ultimate surprise. Even though Carrie, Jonathan and I are very ambitious and work-oriented and try to make the best show we can, we still took everything in little steps. It was, "Let's see if we can make this pilot. Let's do six episodes." It was very much step-by-step. As a result of that, we never took anything for granted, and we still don't. I always assume people on the street are going to bring up SNL to me, but it's now a lot of Portlandia, and that's really nice.

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ETonline: When you begin mapping out a new season, do the writers go on a retreat or is it more informal than that?

Armisen: It's actually both. There's a very traditional writer's room in Los Angeles that then moves to Portland. That part is very much the way it's always been in comedy writing on television, and I think that's for a reason. It's something we adhere to. It helps us focus and see it as a workplace. We care about the show being entertaining for people. We don't ascribe to the school of "Who cares what people think?" There is an arty side to it, but we want to do what's interesting for us and the viewers. We want to talk about things people in this country and around the world are talking about and experiencing. But then, the crazier part of it happens when we're shooting. That's when we start throwing things out the window.

ETonline: Does working simultaneously on Portlandia and SNL ever present a Sophie's Choice problem of deciding which show gets which character?

Armisen: No, I never have to worry about that. For me, it's all about what's in front of me. Because ideas can be fleeting and because they can be irrelevant one day later, it's all about timing. If I'm working on SNL, that's where the idea goes. If it's June and I come up with an idea, it goes to Portlandia.

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ETonline: What are you excited for fans to see in 2013? Lots of guest stars, right?

Armisen: The people we have on as guests are people we're fans of. Matt Berry, Jim Gaffigan, Matt Lucas, Dirty Projectors, Rose Byrne. It's them doing the thing that we, as fans, love them for. For example, we needed someone to play a violent ex-girlfriend and thought Juliette Lewis would be perfect. With Chloe Sevigny, she's so cool and understated but also very present. There's this charisma and presence in her stillness that makes us so drawn to her. [Character-wise], we have this guy who talks about the recording studio all the time. In my opinion, there's this new phenomenon where guys used to talk about cars a lot in the past. But, more and more it's becoming them talking about recording studios.

ETonline: You guys got a lot of attention for getting the cast of Battlestar Galactica on the show last year. What TV are you loving right now?

Armisen: Sometimes I think I'm a really interesting guy and like all these shows and have this qualified taste, but when I look at it, I like what everyone else does. I love Homeland, I love Game of Thrones, this last season of Mad Men was unbelievable, Downton Abbey I love. It's an exciting time for TV. It's something people really do cherish; they seek them out like record collections and that's kind of great. It's the opposite of what I think people thought would happen with the internet. I've never heard people talk about TV so much.

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ETonline: People have been buzzing about Saturday Night Live a lot this season. How long do you envision yourself being able to juggle both?

Armisen: I thrive most when I have to juggle things. The more I keep myself occupied and jump from thing to thing, the more I think it enriches both. I'm having such a good time on SNL, it's still so much fun.

Portlandia returns January 4 at 10 p.m. on IFC.