Patrick Warburton on Playing ‘Miserable’ Lemony Snicket in Netflix’s ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’

Patrick Warburton Lemony Snicket
Joe Lederer/Netflix

Netflix’s “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” is not the first adaptation of the wildly popular young adult book series. But Barry Sonnenfeld’s version of Snicket’s darkly funny world is a little different from the 2004 film; namely, the cast. Neil Patrick Harris has stepped into the role of the villainous count Olaf, replacing Jim Carrey; while Jude Law was the eponymous Snicket, the authorial persona of Daniel Handler, Law has been replaced for the series by Patrick Warburton, he of “Seinfeld” and “The Tick” and “Men in Black” fame. Warburton called up Variety to talk about coming to the series, which premiered Jan. 13, and what it’s like to be at the center of various fandoms.

You’ve got four kids; were they fans of the book series?

My kids actually wouldn’t read the books because the parents die in a horrible fire, so they wanted nothing to do with them after that. My wife and I even tried to tell them, “No, they were horrible parents, it’s okay.” No good.

But my eldest is 24, and he’s a moose, about 6-foot-4; he’s built like Thor, and he’s always been fascinated by entomology, the study of insects, and he loves lizards and snakes. My son has an actual giant centipede. He has an Argentine tarantula. A snapping turtle. He has scarier creatures in his room than Uncle Monty does in his reptile room.

So how exactly did this happen?

I got a text from Barry Sonnenfeld. “Can you come up to Vancouver to do my new show for five or six months?” I said “Yeah!” I found out that Daniel had gone to a screening of a film I did called “The Woman Chaser,” and the director and I were there and, unbeknownst to me, Daniel and his wife were there. The movie was an art film, shot in muted colors, film noir, and it was just odd and humorous and ironic. So Daniel was there and a big fan, and part of my character in that I believe inspired him to think of me as Lemony. And Barry had his own reasons. They already knew what they were going to get. Barry cultivated our Lemony, he’s the one who has kept Lemony in a certain vein.

What vein is that, exactly?

Not gussied up at all. As an actor you tend to want to take chances, do things outside of the box. But Lemony communicates directly with the viewer and Lemony needs to be within a certain vein or parameter. He’s miserable. There’s humor, but you have to find it. It’s not all entirely spoon-fed. It’s not tricky to follow these stories, but the way that the characters are and that it’s articulated is fine and clever and Lemony is very… words fail me. They wouldn’t fail Lemony, but they fail me.

Did you spend a lot of time with Daniel Handler and Barry Sonnenfeld talking about the character?

It was wonderful working with Barry. Daniel wasn’t there for a whole lot of it, but it was fascinating to talk to the man. I’m always fascinated by the persona like that, that can conceive of and then create such a body of work like this that’s so inspired, that affects so many people’s lives. It’s a huge following, there’s something special that happens. People speculate what that’s all about. I know that I do. Whereas that inspiration transcends a normal inspiration. What is it that makes something so special? And he’s just funny, he’s a funny, quirky, cool dude.

You’ve had a number of roles that might inspire people on the street to come up to you and say hi. What kind of fan do you get most frequently?

At this point there doesn’t actually seem to be a total consensus, which I love. There’s always “Seinfeld,” but “Tick” people seem to be big fans, and that was always inspiring. That was a very special opportunity. Then there’s the “Rules of Engagement” folks, and the hardcore ‘toonies, who know “The Venture Bros.” and “Family Guy.”

Have you seen any of the new “Tick” that’s on Amazon?

I think it’s great, I think Peter [Serafinowicz] does a great job. And Amazon wanted to do it their own way, recreate it from the ground up with Ben Edlund. I look forward to seeing that. You know, Supermans get replaced, Batmans get replaced, and Ticks get replaced. The character of the Tick I think will last forever. And anyone who gets stuffed into those shoes is a lucky man.

Might there be some sort of cameo in the offing?

Possibly! We’ll see. It has to be fun, otherwise there’s no point.