Given his large comedic output, it’s likely at some point Seth MacFarlane has made you laugh. The 44-year-old actor, writer, producer, animator, singer, 2013 Oscar host, and filmmaker has done it all. He created animated shows: Family Guy and American Dad. He directed the hit comedy films Ted and Ted 2, also voicing the foul-mouthed bear, and directed and starred in the comedy western A Million Ways to Die in the West, alongside Charlize Theron. Now he’s daring to go where few have gone before – re-interpreting Star Trek in the comedy series The Orville which he also wrote, produced, occasionally directs, and stars in as Ed Mercer, the captain of an exploratory ship from Earth facing intergalactic challenges 300 years in the future.
What’s your secret to making people laugh.
You have to continue to defy expectations and surprise people. Comedy and drama are both driven by surprise. If you can keep people guessing, whether it’s with a dramatic twist or a great, unexpected joke, that’s really at the heart of everything. With The Orville, we’re trying to continue with our pattern of not slipping into a formula.
What can we expect from the series moving forward?
It’s more of an anthology show so if we get it right, you won’t know what to expect. Also, there is more action as it continues because the early episodes were an experiment to get the response we wanted from the studio and they’ve given us more time and resources to film more complex scenes. We also brought in (24 producer) John Cassar, so there’s nobody better at doing action than that guy.
Is it a different skill set when you’re acting in a show versus just using your voice?
Some of it is the same and some of it is different. With animation, obviously you don’t have your face to work with, so it’s all got to come from your voice and everything has to be dialed up a notch in intensity. The western film was the first time I tried to act with more than my voice and I learned you can’t be shouting like Peter Griffin in Family Guy when your face is right next to someone. The older I get the more I find that ‘less is more’ is a phrase that applies to every walk of life.
What is a normal day like for you with so many projects?
The one stipulation I have with The Orville is that we have the scripts done before we start shooting so we do build in writing time as I have no desire to spend 12 or 14 hours a day filming something that I am not absolutely sure that I’ve polished to a perfect shine before the cameras start rolling. When I started doing Ted, that was when I left Family Guy so for me it’s all or nothing. I’m not one of those people that can be an executive on nine different things so I turned over the animated shows to the other producers and they’ve done a great job. I do record the voices for the animated shows on weekends, but I’m shockingly much more disconnected from those shows than people think and now my days are still full, but they are almost exclusively about The Orville.
Have you always been fascinated with space? Do you consult with any of the great minds in that area like [Space X founder] Elon Musk?
I know Elon, but I’m closer to Neil deGrasse Tyson and Annie Druyan, who wrote Cosmos, and is probably the closest thing to a genius that I know. I’ve always been interested in science and I’ve always felt science is the most powerful tool that we have as human beings. You look at how many tens of thousands of years that civilization has existed and only in the past few hundred have we made advances at such speed, so what changed? We discovered science and how to apply it! I’m always distressed at how it’s undervalued and this is my way of just reminding people if we don’t support science, our future might look pretty different than The Orville.
The Orville airs on SBS VICELAND every Monday night at 9pm, with the entire first season streaming now at SBS On Demand: