Even spies have to deal with the Human Resource Department. On Archer, the ISIS crew is stuck dealing with Pam Poovey, a rotund, dolphin puppet-wielding gossip. Luckily, while Pam herself isn’t much fun to be around, Amber Nash, who voices the outlandish character, couldn’t be nicer and more pleasant to deal with.
Nash, a lifelong Georgia native, got her start on television on creator Adam Reed’s previous show Frisky Dingo. We recently talked to Nash, who had just begun a European tour with her theatre group Dad’s Garage, about voice work, Comic-Con and what’s in store for Pam this season.
Where are you originally from?
I grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta, a little north of the city. My mom’s from Atlanta and my dad’s from the midwest, so I grew up in Atlanta and have been there pretty much my whole life.
How did you get into acting?
When I was in college, I was studying psychology. That’s what I got my degree in. I was going to school and working in restaurants. A friend of mine went to see an improv show and they were like, “You’ve got to go see this because you’ll really like it.” So I went and saw this improv show and I really liked it and I started taking improv classes. This is when I was like 19. I took the classes, then I kept hanging around and taking more classes and bartending at the theater, cleaning toilets and whatever I could do.
I eventually started doing sketch comedy there. They were doing a sketch comedy show at the time. And then started improvising with the theatre and then became a regular and quit my regular job and decided to start acting full-time.
How long have you been acting full-time?
Before Archer, you worked on Frisky Dingo. How did the voice work come about?
There is another guy that is an improvisor at the theatre I work at – his name’s Christian Danley. Christian is an animator. He was working with the 70/30 guys on Frisky Dingo – or maybe even before that, he was working on Sealab, I think. So some of the guys – actually Matt [Thompson] and Adam [Reed] – knew that Christian came from an improv theatre and would come and check it out.
So I guess they had seen me in an improv show and when Frisky Dingo was being created, it was actually a different show from what it became. The original idea was something very different. I think it was more of a family. So they were looking for a teenage girl. They had me come in and audition because they knew that Christian knew me, and I was totally wrong for it. It was not at all something I would have done. So they were like, “Well, you’re not going to play this part.”
Then the show ended up becoming something totally different. When the character of Val popped up, they asked me to come in and read for it. I did and they liked it. I think actually on the first episode, Val might have been voiced by a different actress. I’m almost positive. So they had me come in and do Val later for the rest of the series.
Once that series was over, they took a big break and they really weren’t doing a ton of stuff anymore. When they came up with the idea for Archer, they actually had me come in and I guess I was doing pick ups for something – they needed me to do something. And they were like, “We want you to look at this.” The first time I saw what Pam looked like, they had Pam’s head on the screen, but she was delivering a line that I had recorded as Val. It was pretty much the same voice, it was just a little different because it’s my voice, you know?
They were like, “This is what we want you to do for this new show.”
Where does Pam’s voice come from?
Val is just my total regular voice. And then Pam’s is just a little bit different. And so the voice is actually when I tell stories as my mother, that’s the voice I use when I’m talking as my mom. And it’s kind of midwestern and my mom’s not from the midwest. So my mom doesn’t actually sound like that at all. It’s actually me when I’m making fun of my mother, that’s the voice I use.
When you record your lines, you just go in a booth alone and record them, right? You never actually interact with the other actors.
No. The good thing for me, because everyone else is in LA, is that I actually get to go in and I’m in a booth and outside of the booth is Adam and then another guy named Casey. So I get to actually interact with them instead of just being on the phone with them.
So yeah, when I go in it’s just me in the booth. They don’t even read the scene with me. I usually just deliver the line three different ways and if I’m not getting it right, Adam will be like, “Well think about it like this” or “Try it like this.” For all the lines I have in an episode, usually it only takes 30 minutes. It’s the best job in the world.
As someone who does improv, does it make a difference to you not being able to interact with other people? Was that challenging to adjust to at first?
At first, it was different and Casey, the other guy who is there, would read me in so I would have something to react off of. I used to definitely do it that way because I wanted to have that interaction with somebody. At first, I would just stand in front of a microphone and talk. But then, I got a really good note from a friend of mine. He was like, “Move your hands. Act. Do what you would do if you were on stage.” So now in the booth I’m just like wacky and crazy and I move around so I can actually get that voice to sound right.
At first, it was definitely a little weird as an improvisor. Now I’m used to doing it. And a lot of times, Adam will be like, “Just try some stuff” or “Make something up” or “Say what you think Pam would say.” I actually get to improvise lines pretty regularly. He’s really good about it. He enjoys having actors do that.
How was the character of Pam originally described to you?
I think they described her as “the HR lady that everybody hates.” When I went in for the first record, that was what I was going with. Everybody kind of hates her and everybody kind of mistreats her. I think that’s how it kind of was at first and then the characters changed a bit. The overweight HR lady that everybody hates. And I didn’t even know that she was bisexual at this point. I think that came out later.
How would you describe the character to people now?
I think I would still kind of say the HR lady that everybody hates, but the thing about Pam is that I think now if she wasn’t there, people would really miss her. She’s like the person that everybody enjoys being mean to or fucking with. She’s like their little sister.
And there’s been times in episodes where I’ve been like, “Oh wow, somebody actually really cares about Pam.” In their own weird way, they’ll say something that’s like, “Oh, they actually really care about her.”
And she doesn’t give a shit. That’s what I love about her is she will do absolutely anything and everything. I think that’s why I get to say some of the most ridiculous things in the show because she’s the character that has nothing to lose.
Pam does get some great lines on the show. What is it like to read through the script and think, “I’m actually going to be saying that”?
I don’t think there’s ever been a time when I’ve been scared to say something or like “Oh my god, I don’t know about this.” I think Adam is so funny and his sense of humor is so different from what you hear on television today. I’m actually surprised by the amount of stuff he gets away with. That it’s actually on television is pretty amazing to me.
I know my parents don’t like watching the show. It’s way too dirty for them. But other than that, I really have no concerns for the kind of stuff Pam says. I’m always like, “Yeah, that is great.” I’m really lucky to have such hilarious lines I get to deliver all the time.
What’s in store for Pam this season? Can you give us a preview?
I don’t want to give away too much. I don’t know what I can say.
She gets into a little bit of a relationship. That’s all I’m going to say. Not like a real relationship, but she gets tangled up in something. [Laughs.]
Being in Atlanta, how often do you actually interact with the rest of the cast. We know you did Comic-Con together, but how often do you do events like that?
We do events pretty regularly. I’m going to see them in March. We did an event in November in New York at the Paley Center. So maybe five times a year, maybe a little bit less. But things like Comic-Con we do fairly regularly. Comic-Con’s the big one, of course.
The first time I met them was at Comic-Con. Then we did different appearances after that. Some people are always there, then other people – like Jessica [Walter] is busy sometimes, so she can’t be at all of the things. But everyone is really amazingly nice.
I was very nervous at first because all of these people are pretty big time actors. You know, everybody’s famous and there’s like, “Who’s this person from Atlanta? Who’s this girl?” But everybody’s so amazingly nice. Judy Greer is so nice and Chris Parnell is like the nicest guy on Earth.
What was it like doing Comic-Con?
It was pretty amazing. I was pretty nervous at first, especially when I did my first one because I was like, “Oh my god, I don’t know what to expect.” And we were backstage being walked to our panel. We passed some of the cast from True Blood and I totally geeked out because I’m a huge True Blood fan. Like, what a nerd.
It was very surreal to me because I was with all of these celebrities and it was crazy being backstage and seeing other celebrities. But the great thing was that I know Adam really well and so whenever we do something like this, I know that I can count on Adam. Or if I want to have a drink, Adam will go with me. So I had a buddy with me.
But then once I got to know everybody, everybody’s so gracious and just wants me to have a good time. The first time when we were at Comic-Con, I think we were going in to do a panel and you’re being kind of wrangled by people and you’ve got security with you and there’s so many hundreds of people there. I looked at Chris and I was like, “I don’t know what’s going on.”
And he goes, “Nobody does. You’ll be fine.”
Do you see yourself staying in Atlanta? Does it become a challenge as you move forward with your career to be based in Atlanta or are you just happy doing Archer and working with your improv group?
What I would really love is to be able to stay in Atlanta and do more work, but the problem is is that if you live in Atlanta, you can’t get an agent that can get you other television work. I got all the work that I have on television now by myself. I didn’t even have an agent help me do that.
I’ve been trying. I want to get a good voice agent and be doing other television and film and stuff. I think I’m going to maybe have to move, which is kind of unfortunate because I really love living in Atlanta, it’s a really cool city. There’s a lot of films being made in Atlanta now because they passed a tax cut bill and so there’s a lot of films being produced there.
But if you’re an actor in Atlanta, you can’t get hired as anything other than a small part because they hire everybody out of New York or LA. So I feel like I almost have to leave Atlanta at some point, which is too bad.
Right now you are out of Atlanta doing a European tour with Dad’s Garage Theatre. How did that come about?
This is our second European tour. We did one in 2009 at the end of the year and this is our second one. We’re just touring an improv show and we’re teaching along the way. So we’re either teaching every day or we’re doing shows. We start in Germany, so this is our first stop here in Berlin and we actually leave tonight to go to Norway.
So how long is the trip?
This time it’s about three weeks. Last time we did five weeks. It kind of depends on what we can get booked out here.
Do they have a similar sense of humor or is there a culture barrier at times?
No, it’s actually pretty different. I think they enjoy it because we’re American. In Berlin, there are many, many English speakers. We have a lot of people who are German and speak English who come out. One of the things we do because it’s an improv show, we tell the audience if there’s ever a time that they don’t understand something, they can just shout out: “I didn’t get that” and we’ll go back and explain what we were talking about so that they understand what we are doing, especially if it’s a reference to something totally American or Southern or whatever.
Does that actually ever happen?
It happened once I think in our last show, so it happen like once maybe every three or four shows. Because a lot of times they’ll be like, “Maybe I didn’t necessarily get that one thing, but I understand what it means in the context of what’s going on.”
How often do you work with Dad’s Garage? Is it a regular gig for you?
It’s pretty much what I do with most of my time because they do shows three nights a week. We do scripted shows there too. So depending on if it’s a scripted show or an improv show, I’m there at least once a week. But for this, I’m touring so I’m out of town. I do shows at other theaters too, so I won’t be there if I’m doing a show somewhere else. But yeah, pretty much a lot of my time is taken up by doing shows at Dad’s.
What would you be doing for a living if you never got into acting?
Before I started acting full-time, I was actually a counselor for trouble teenagers. What a weird transition. I would probably be a counselor. Or I’d probably go back to school and be doing therapy of some kind.
That is a big leap to go from that to acting.
Having a degree in psychology is actually really beneficial to working with actors because actors can be very difficult sometimes. I’ve found a lot of parallels working with actors and working with trouble teenagers.
Tell us something most people don’t know about you.
I don’t have a lot of time for hobbies, but one of the things I absolutely love doing is decorating cakes. My first job in high school was I worked for Baskin-Robbins and I would make ice cream cakes. I was the cake decorator. So whenever somebody has a birthday or if I have time, I’ll make some ridiculous cake that I’ve got to say is pretty well decorated. I’m not an expert by any means but I really enjoy decorating cakes.
What does the future hold for you?
I’d love to do voice work on another animated show. And I’d love for Archer to keep going. I think it’s really hit an amazing stride and I think it’s such a hilarious show that I hope it stays on the air for a while. And I’d love to do live work because that’s what I do regularly in theatre. I’d love to do some live-action stuff for television.
Interviewed by Joel Murphy. Archer airs Thursday nights at 10 pm on FX.