“The tendency with that type of character is to go into the ‘Mr. Mom’ arena. Make the dad kind of weak with the roles exchanged,” says co-star Christina Applegate, who plays his wife and the breadwinner of the fictional family. “But someone like Will, who is not a weak presence, has a lot to say.”
The series gamely made use of Arnett’s comedy chops, placing him in the center of a home front that spiraled into weird territory. He traded playgroup gossip with moms who freaked him out, encouraged fellow dads to express their primal masculinity, and acted as a first line of defense against Gene and Terry, the Brinkleys’ overbearing neighbors.
In every situation, the “Arrested Development” alum demonstrated a chameleon-like ability to alternate being both the straight and funny man.
Arnett’s comfort in the role speaks to how game he was to jump on board after Fox’s “Running Wilde” was canceled after a short run.
“I wasn’t thinking of doing anything and then I read the script and thought, ‘This is something I relate to,’ ” he says. “Whatever limits I had set for myself, or decisions I had made internally, were thrown out the window.”
Being a father of two certainly helped Arnett achieve the right mindset for the role. Specifically that, as funny as he might be, his kids will always have the last laugh.
“My son saw the pilot, and said he said, ‘That’s Dada’s brother?’ ” he recalls. “And I said, ‘No, that’s Dada.’ And he said, ‘That’s Dada’s baby?’ I said, ‘No, that’s not Dada’s real baby.’ And he said, ‘That baby’s real.’ ”