One on One with Rick and Morty’s Justin Roiland
Some of your best storylines, including the Meeseeks, have come from taking those other, more normal family members and putting them in extreme situations, Jerry, in particular, seems like he has been a comedic goldmine for you guys.
It was totally organic. I mean, part of it was we did the pilot isolated. The pilot was like us figuring it out and introducing these characters and learning who they were and what their voices were. And we had cast [Chris] Parnell. So by the time we got to the series green light, I think we were at least almost two years or a year and a half removed from locking the radio plays of the pilot. And in that time that Jerry character was just completely cemented or much more solidified in our minds than the other characters. And a huge part of that is because of Chris Parnell and just the performance that he brought to the character in the pilot. And us having spent so much time with that pilot prior to launching into season one writing.
So when we got into the writing process, there was no shortage of stories that feature Jerry. If anything we had to go, “Okay, we really need to focus on the sister, we really need to focus on the mom because we have too many Jerry stories. Every story is a Jerry story.” You know, it’s like Rick and Morty A-story, Jerry B-story. It’s kind of like we got to the point where we really had to start to be conscious of it towards the back half of season one. We were like, “Okay, he’s great, we love him, he’s awesome, and it’s always funny, and we’re always laughing at the different predicaments that he can find himself in, but we really need to at least try to explore these other two characters who could be equally as dynamic.”
But yeah, Parnell’s fucking great man. He brought so much to the table. I mean, the character is just this Charlie Brown character; you know just this lovable, yet unremarkable dipshit. But you just, I don’t know, you just love him. It’s so great. And I’m speaking about the character, not the human being Chris Parnell. Chris Parnell’s a very intelligent guy.
Rick and Morty have very distinct voices and speech patterns. You mentioned that the voices are something you’ve been doing for a very long time in different forms. Did they always speak the same way or were their speech patterns something that developed over time?
I think we were always like that. I think Morty’s voice might have been a little more wobbly and high pitched and grating. I think I pulled back a little bit on Morty. That was the byproduct of working on the pilot and finding the right way to play that character because I was playing him really, really fucking weird and high pitched and screechy. And I came to realize that he needed to be a little bit more grounded as a character.
So he goes there in some instances, but beyond that I feel like it’s kind of always been that way. A lot of the stuttering and weird specificity of the line reads, a lot of that is a byproduct of me retro-scripting their dialog, which Harmon has been, from the beginning, very encouraging of. In fact, when we did the pilot, I didn’t [change the dialogue at all]. I think out of respect for his brilliant writing. This dialog that he writes is so fucking great that I stayed on book. And I remember we got the first radio play cut and he was like, “Something’s not right, like something’s missing here.” And I think what he determined was, “I really think you need to just put the script aside and just riff.” And that’s what I did.
Ultimately, we realized that was really important to these two characters really popping. And now it’s kind of I guess a lot of both. It’s Dan’s dialog and it’s me retro-scripting. There’s places in the script where – I mean I’m in the writer’s room. I know everything. I’m breaking story with the guys and in some cases scripting stuff myself. So I always know what the intention of the scene needs to be, what information needs to be communicated, what’s different from the beginning of the scene verses the end of the scene. By virtue of that, when I’m in the booth, I’m directing myself and I’ll just run scenes with the characters. I’ll just build a script out and I’ll literally talk to myself, jumping back and forth between the two voices.
And what’s interesting, my brain is weird because I’ll say stuff and things will come out in a certain way that I would never in a million years think to type. Because when I sit in front a computer monitor with a blinking cursor and a keyboard, there’s a part of my brain that just disconnects or shuts off. It’s very strange, I’ve always been that way. I find if I work off of an outline and I know the story and I know what needs to be done, it’s going to be much more lively and fun if I just improv or just make it up, and it’s especially so with these two characters.
But the cool thing about the creative process and the collaboration between Dan and I is that I’m very cognizant of scripted dialog that might be a Rick line or a Morty line that needs to be as scripted in order for a joke to land, or just a brilliant line of dialog. I’ve gotten much better as a voice actor to be able to deliver Dan’s dialog and make that sound as natural as me when I’m doing my retro-scripting and just riffing. And the end result is pretty seamless, it’s pretty hard to tell what scenes were sort of scripted and what scenes were – I guess it’s not impossible to tell because Dan’s dialog sometimes is very specific. If you’re a fan of his and you’re paying attention you’ll know, “Oh, that’s a Dan line for sure.” But in terms of performance, I feel like they’ve gotten to a point where it’s pretty hard to tell a difference between when I’m just making stuff up and when I’m actually reading or performing specific dialog.
Can you give any preview of what fans can expect from the rest of the season?
It’s strange because there’s five more episodes to go. We’re working our asses off to make sure that they all run back-to-back in a five week run, which is going to happen. In those five episodes there’s so much variety from episode-to-episode. I think that some of our best episodes have yet to come. And I think that there’s one episode that is going to be very polarizing, I have a feeling, potentially two for different reasons.
It’s weird because I don’t know what people are going to love or hate and we wrote this first season in a vacuum. You know, no one knew what the show was, for the whole season we just wrote it for ourselves and [Adult Swim senior executive vice president Mike] Lazzo was incredibly cool and was just a fan and loved it. And it’s been so long since we wrote these episodes and now we’re in this world where the show’s aired and people really, really like it.
It’s so hard for me to tell at this point if these next five, are people going to like them more or they going to like them less? But I think they’re really good and there’s one in there that is just absolutely insane. There’s going to be a faction of people that hate it and there’s going to be a faction of people that think it’s the best episode yet. I’ll just say that it’s the episode where Rick installs interdimensional cable. It’s kind of a throw back to my House of Cosbys concept that I had years ago. It’s just insane. It’s fucking crazy. I’m actually a little afraid because we’re locking it right now and I’m just like, “God, man, I don’t know.” I’m too close to it right now where I’m just terrified that people are going to fucking hate this episode. I think it’s a brilliant episode, but I think Dan’s side of the episode is brilliant and then my side of the episode is just fucking insane and I’m terrified that people are going to hate it. That’s a very long way of me saying that I don’t know what’s going to happen.
What would you be doing for a living if you never got into television?
If I had never gotten involved in TV or never got a break, I really think I’d either still be living with my parents or I’d be living at my friend Ronnie’s house, his grandma’s house that he inherited. I’d be living with him. And I’d probably be working at the movie theater or Walmart or something like that honestly. I can’t imagine I would have had any sort of corporate legit job.
Maybe I’d be a firefighter. Maybe I would have gone the path of my buddy Nick. He’s my really close friend. His dad was a firefighter and he went through it and became one. My cousin is involved in that too and it’s a great living and they’re doing good work. So maybe I would have got caught up in that? Or maybe I would have foolishly signed up for the Army and gotten killed in Iraq. Who knows? I have no idea. I’d be a lost soul, that’s for sure.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
God, I don’t know. Well, it’s hard to say because most people don’t know anything about me really, so it’s like I could kind of go anywhere with this. I suppose – fuck, I don’t know. I want to say one thing but I’m not going to say it because it’s lame. So I’ll say that I was in a band. No, that’s lame. Who wasn’t in a band right? Everybody was.
That they don’t know about me – god, I’m the worst. I don’t know. I’ve been asked this question a lot and I never have an answer. It’s unacceptable at this point because I really should have an answer by now. It’s stupid. Oh, here’s an interesting thing that no one knows about me. I don’t know if this is good or not, but Mike Fry is the creator of The Bachelor. Him and his wife were my parent’s friends. When I was growing up as a kid my dad and mom were pretty good friends with him and his wife. That’s kind of a weird little fact, right?
And I remember we came out to Santa Monica after he started his production company and started The Bachelor and I was looking to become a PA and he was just not having it. And it’s so funny because I look back on that now and I would have been the same fucking way as he was. You know, I show up, 19 years old, fresh out of high school, you know like, “I want to be in TV world!”
He was just like, “Fucking get out of here.” You know what I mean? I had no resume, there was no proof that I would have been any good doing anything like that for his company. But that’s an interesting little fun fact right there.
One last thing – on a recent episode of Harmontown, you shared a theory that almond-eyed gray aliens were living among us and breeding with humans in order to one day take over the Earth. Since you have a new audience here at HoboTrashcan, would you like to expound on that theory?
Here’s the thing, to be completely in full disclosure on that particular theory, that was not invented by me, that concept. That concept pre-exists me. There’s a pamphlet you can buy called Allies of Humanity, which is fairly poorly written, in my opinion, and repetitive, but nonetheless incredibly fascinating. Pretty much, it summarizes the concept that the gray aliens are going to slowly, over the next 300 years or longer – they’re in for the long con, I mean it’s going to be over multiple generations – they’re going to reveal themselves as our saviors from ourselves because we are destroying the earth and each other.
That’s pretty clear, we’re a pretty fucked up race of creatures, the human race. And these grays are here, they’ve been here for a while. They’re going to reveal themselves as our saviors and they’re going to provide us with technology and clean energy and they’re going to basically save us and help fix our society.
But what we don’t realize is they are also, over the course of a multitude of generations, going to slowly manipulate mankind into being their slaves and we will be enslaved for the rest of our existence in the solar system. The Allies of Humanity are cosmic entities that have – much like how Joseph Smith was told about shit from fucking Moses or from God or whatever that was, this dude who wrote this book was channeling these benevolent alien gods from deep within the solar system, who are watching this take place and felt the need to warn us. And they warned us by sending telepathic information to some dude who wrote a book.
Now, with that said, I hope that doesn’t disappoint you that I didn’t create that. But there are plenty of theories that I have created that are completely unique and original in terms of where we go when we die and whatnot. I don’t truly believe any of these, but I don’t disbelieve any of them either. Like this whole thing about the gray aliens, I swear it’s as likely to be true as it is likely to be not true, as far as I’m concerned.
That’s how I’m able to get as enthusiastic and just worked up about it as I do. Because shit man, if you just start looking at all the evidence over the last 50, or I guess now 60, 70 years, they just first appeared, they’ve been fucking interbreeding us, they’ve been abducting us. I mean they’re literally creating hybrids. Once they get to the point where they’ve been able to breed and create a version of human that has enough of them in it that it can still be telepathically linked to them, but also still survive in our environment, that’s when they’re going to be able to reveal themselves because they’ll have people that will be sort of more sympathetic towards them because they’re part us but they’re also part them. It’s all part of this crazy long con to basically take over the Earth’s resources while also obtaining an entire planet’s worth of slaves to do their bidding. We’re just going to be in the coal minds, wherever they decide to put us.
We’re going to be like cattle. They’re going to be selling us to the intergalactic McDonalds and we’re going to be turned into McNuggets or McHumans or whatever we’re going to be called. And that’s kind of what the Allies of Humanity says, that’s there’s a larger – fuck, I can’t remember what the exact phrase is but there’s a bustling – I mean, it’s Star Wars. The guy says that there’s a whole greater community that we are not a part of, we have not emerged into yet. But we are known to aliens within the greater community who are very interested in us and blah blah blah blah. Again, I’m agnostic on a lot of things, religion and all this kind of shit. I don’t know. There’s no hard evidence that any of this is true and it’s very crackpot, crazy shit. But it can’t be disproven either, as far as I’m concerned. I mean, I don’t see how it could be disproven.
Interviewed by Joel Murphy. Rick and Morty returns with new episodes on March 10.