Patrick Warburton isn’t all that manly.
Hollywood thinks it has Warburton figured out.
Because he cuts such an imposing figure – with his strong, impressive
frame, his chiseled aging-model looks and his distinctive baritone voice
– television and film has a tendency to cast him as funny, stoic guy’s
Warburton has been a near-constant presence on
television for over a decade now, playing such intriguing characters as
Elaine Benes’ vain and slightly dim boyfriend David Puddy on Seinfeld,
a pompous anchorman on Less Than Perfect, a quirky superhero in
The Tick, a robot spy in the film version of Get Smart and
currently a long-suffering husband on Rules of Engagement, which
returns for its third season premiere on March 2.
Even in animation – where Warburton’s unique pipes
have made him pretty ubiquitous – he tends to play the same kind of
roles. He is the title character in the Pixar spin-off series Buzz
Lightyear of Star Command, the hulking nitwit Kronk in The
Emperor’s New Groove, a macho policeman on Family Guy and a
former coach turned Principal in Kim Possible.
While Patrick Warburton is damned good at that type
of role, there is so much more to him.
In real life, Warburton is very much a family man.
He has been married since the early 90s and has four children. He also
has some decidedly un-manly interests.
“I like musicals,” Warburton freely admits. “I
love Disney. I actually have something of a Christmas tree ornament
collection. And I drink my coffee very frou-frou. It’s got to
be very sweet. Now, if you put that all together, it might come across
a little less masculine than people see me. In my defense, my wife is
the one who really started the Christmas tree ornament collection with
me. I love Marilyn Monroe. We were on a trip and I grabbed a Marilyn
Monroe Christmas tree ornament and she said, ‘That is so gay.’ I
said, listen – Marilyn Monroe is universal. The gays don’t own her. I
know they think they do. She started getting me characters from the
Wizard of Oz. I have Vivian Leigh from Gone with the Wind.
I have my own, very special gay Christmas tree ornament collection,
which has become sort of a Christmas tradition in the Warburton
Warburton would like to explore that kind of
surprising nuance in his Hollywood career. After all, he is an
actor… he should be set to play anyone or anything. For example, in his
entire career he has not been able to go completely against type – for
example, playing a hyperactive, manic character.
“Someone who is just manic? I’d love to,”
Warburton says enthusiastically. “That would be a lot of fun. The guy
who seemingly drinks seven to eight cups of coffee each half of the day,
right? Just something really different.”
Therefore, while he loves what he has been doing,
Warburton feels that Hollywood has barely even tapped his potential. He
could be a killer. He could be a lawyer. He could be a priest. He
could be a parent. He could be a cock-eyed optimist in love.
“It’s interesting,” Warburton says. “It’s really
easy as an actor to look at what you would consider to be your failures
as opposed to your successes. To me, sometimes it just baffles my
mind. I’ll do a film like The Civilization of Maxwell Bright or
The Dish or The Woman Chaser. Even though they don’t work
out perfect, there will be some critical acclaim for them. [However]
I’ve never once been asked to work on a one-hour show in Hollywood. You
know that? I’ve never done an episode of ER or Law & Order
or anything like that. It’s almost like, ‘Oh, he couldn’t possibly do
that….’ To me, it’s kind of absurd. There are a lot of opportunities I
feel like I don’t get. I don’t know the reason. They are very
narrow-minded still, in a business that’s supposed to be about art and
pushing the envelope. They can’t wrap their minds around
the fact that you potentially could do something else. They don’t take
the time out to look or see anything else you’ve done. They just
figure, ‘oh, he does that character Puddy on Seinfeld.’”
He did get the opportunity to really stretch his
acting muscles in a small Australian film called The Dish, which
was directed by popular Aussie comedian Rob Sitch – who is a member of
the Saturday Night
type of sketch comedy troupe Working Dog and starred on the
series The Panel.
“They wanted me for this film to play a NASA
scientist,” Warburton explains. “It was really one of the only unfunny
characters in the entire movie, but I just loved the film. I loved the
idea of getting to do something that I felt was definitely something
different than the goofball stuff I’ve been doing. It was just a
sight-unseen offer. I said, this is interesting, you know me from
Seinfeld – that was all he knew me from – and this is a serious
character, not funny. What made you [think I’d be right for it]….? He
just said, ‘Oh, I reckon you can do this.’ I was just like, God love
you. God love you for having that kind of perspective and belief in me
that nobody in LA would right now. I wouldn’t be getting offered this
role in Los Angeles.”
He’s not complaining
about his career, though. Warburton knows that
he has found a unique and endlessly funny niche in show-biz –
playing the kind of men’s men who paint their faces and hang out at boat
shows – and he will suit up for the part whenever he is asked. He just
doesn’t like to be pigeon-holed.
Much of Warburton’s current face value goes back to
one specific legendary television role – David Puddy on Seinfeld.
Ironically, for as iconic a character as Puddy was, fate (and
contractual obligations) blocked him from playing the character as much
as he and the Seinfeld brass would have liked. Originally, in
1995, Puddy was supposed to be a one-off guest-starring role.
“I was sitting on my couch watching the show with Cathy [his
wife] two weeks before I went in,” Warburton recalls. “It was our favorite show. We watched
it religiously on Thursday nights. We’d plan everything around watching
Seinfeld on Thursday nights. Michael Richards would barrel
through that door and it was like – God, this show is just brilliant.
Why can’t I get on a show like this? Two weeks later I had an
audition. I went to go in to read for Larry David and Jerry. It was
just for a guest spot. It went well. Then they brought me back like
two weeks later to do another episode. I was thrilled, but that was the
end of it for me, because I was already signed to do a show called
Dave’s World [with Harry Anderson].
“For the next two years, I got calls every now and
then to ask about availability, and I couldn’t do Seinfeld
because I was on Dave’s World at the time. Fortunately, that
show got cancelled and I got to come back on Seinfeld during the
ninth season. Hey, I enjoyed the cast and everybody I got to work with
on Dave’s World. We had a good time. But that was the 70th
rated show and I was getting phone calls from the number one rated show
and I couldn’t do it because I’m on a low-rated show,” he laughs.
Warburton hasn’t looked back since. He scored the
lead role in a FOX version of the cult-comic book parody The Tick,
but despite critical kudos and a strong cult following, the show did not
“The network had decided they were going to
kill this one before we went on the air,” Warburton says. “They even
held us a year. We were supposed to come out, they held us for a year
because they decided that it didn’t matter that the critics loved the
show. The show was too expensive and quirky. I don’t think [Rupert]
Murdoch got it from day one. So the higher ups at FOX at the time –
they killed it. They had also discovered that year that they could make
a jillion dollars making reality TV, which costs nothing and got big
numbers. So, we got screwed. It was a very clever show. I was honored
to get to step into the shoes of The Tick. That’s how I see it.
I’d love to get that opportunity again some day. Who knows if it ever
will come up? By the time they make a big studio picture… because they
will someday, The Tick is just a great character… somebody else
is going to get to step into those shoes and I will be envious. At the
same time, it will be great to see.”
Warburton followed that up with a few years on the
Sara Rue sitcom Less Than Perfect. However, now he has scored a
role that resonates with Warburton the family man. He plays Jeff in the
comic ensemble Rules of Engagement. Jeff is a cranky, long-married man whose loves but torments his wife (Megyn Price). The couple
act sort of as cracked role models for their best friends – a young
engaged couple (Oliver Hudson and Bianca Kajlich) and a proudly…
defiantly, perhaps… bachelor buddy (David Spade). The series in now
going into its third season and Warburton sees nothing but promise.
“The cast has really good chemistry,” Warburton
says. “I think the show is finally turning into its potential. I would
argue that we’ve always had a great staff of writers, but you’ve got to
figure out what works and what doesn’t work sometimes. We’ve hit bumps
in the road. Our first season we only did seven episodes because we
were mid-season. I think we did remarkably well for our first seven
shows, looking like a cast that had spent some time together. The
second season, there was a writer’s strike. We would have had a full
season. Then the third season kind of got handed to us by our own
network. – they made us mid-season. That’s going to happen, but I think
we are a show that deserves better than that. That’s an age-old
argument. You can always argue that it is a show that performs well and
has great potential. Don’t do this to us; we’re trying to get rolling
here. You know that we’ve got this potential. We’ve performed well.
We’ve got to get to the next level. We can’t get to the next level if
you keep doing this to us.
“Hopefully, we’ll lay the groundwork again this
season and be able to come back for a full one next year,” Warburton
continues, “because I haven’t enjoyed working with a cast and felt so
positive about a show that I’ve been a part of since The Tick.
It’s really unrealistic for me to think that I’m going to get the
opportunity to do something as odd, quirky and ingenious as The Tick…
that just doesn’t come along. That’s just an once-in-a-lifetime
opportunity. For a sitcom, with a great cast and great show runners and
great production behind it, I think it’s hard to do better than what
we’ve got here with Rules and Happy Madison [Adam Sandler’s
production company] and [show creator Tom] Hertz. So I want to see us
get that support from the network, because this is a show that could
really truly be a great half-hour show. I really do feel that we’re on
the way. The cast has great chemistry. Everybody gets along really
well. I can say that I truly like everybody in that cast.”
As a long-married man, the lived-in dynamic between
his character Jeff and wife Audrey feels comfortable and realistic to
Warburton. They may fight and be completely different, but he
that they really do work as a couple.
“Because at the root of it they do love each other
and enjoy being together,” Warburton explains. “I don’t think that Jeff
is just a one-note grumpy Gus. He’s got his opinions. He’s got his
complaints. He’ll tell you exactly how he fucking thinks and feels
about something. At the same time, you can see he’s got some
perspective. Even if he knows he’s right, he’ll listen. He can still
take it all in. I think he really enjoys the difference in the sexes,
you know? But with Audrey – she still turns him on. He can be grumpy,
but he can’t be truly unhappy. If he is then you ask yourself, ‘what
are these two people doing together?’
“There is so much I can actually relate to in
this. I’ve been married for eighteen years. I have four kids. You
know, would I like David Spade’s life for a month? Absolutely! We all
are basically in our shoes. Spade in many ways lives a very charmed
life,” Warburton laughs. “Without spelling it all out, he lives a very
charmed life. Jeff, he observes Russell. Russell is not tied down.
Russell has lots of different options… opportunities in the way of lady
friends. Jeff’s in a committed relationship. Sometimes you have to
decide, what’s it going to be?”
For Warburton, marriage and family has always been
the way. He taps that long history to get into the mindset of his
character. It also gives him a hard-won perspective on the war of the
“I think it’s fun sometimes if you can observe
something that is happening in the relationship that comes from a very
male perspective,” Warburton says. “Seems almost chauvinistic, but it’s
right on the money. It’s fun to do that. Of course, a woman likes to
do that too – just show a guy what an ass he’s being. How he’s wearing
his blinders and he doesn’t see what’s happening peripherally. It’s
great when you show that to a woman, because, personally, I’ve always
given women the credit for being sharper and closer to all the secrets
of the universe than men. And I know that I’m wrong. That’s just the
old blinded by the beauty of the opposite sex.
“But, you know, it is fun to be right. In my
household, it’s not a well-kept secret that my wife’s the smarter one.
Yet we took an IQ test six months ago. I got a 135 and she got a 127.
I remind her about it every single fucking day,” Warburton laughs. “You
know, I love doing that. I call her 127. That’s what I call her now.
And of course, all the kids know. Everybody knows daddy beat mommy in
an IQ test. So, I have to grasp and hold tightly my little victories,
because I know in reality she’s the one with the better head on her
shoulders. It’s all fun.
“You can look at a relationship like this, when
they’ve been together this long. Think about how complex the little
[things are]… you know when they mess with each other, when they play
games with each other. This is something that I argue with the writers
and the producers. Let’s get smarter with this show. Let’s keep it
smart. We don’t have to spell everything out. People know that when
they’ve been in a relationship for fourteen years, little things
happen. Nuanced. Subtly. ‘Oh, okay, he’s doing that to her
right now.’ ‘Oh, I see how she’s responding to this.’ It doesn’t have
to all be said in the words. Let’s see how they are messing with each
other right now, in some interesting way.”
Warburton will also continue to pique his
interest with a variety of voiceover roles – in television, movies, even
computer games. In fact, he has recently signed up to play a role in
the upcoming computer game in the classic “Leisure Suit Larry” series.
“It’s kind of a raunchy, crazy…,” Warburton says.
“I never saw the older game, but I looked at the cast list they had for
this and I just thought it looked really fun. You’ve got Artie Lange
and Carmen Electra. It’s just a crazy, nutty cast. So I worked on it.
I’m sure it’s something that my son Talon will love.”
The voice work is just another way that Warburton
can stretch out – and he relishes the opportunity. Animation frees him
up to do and be just anything – and he likes that freedom. It stokes
his imagination. Plus, there is a much more basic benefit.
“It’s fun. I love working for Disney. I love
doing the Adult Swim shows. Animation… it’s just fun to be a part of
it. Hey, I made the Academy Awards last night.” He laughs hard. “For
the least likely thing, if I were ever to pick… They were showing the
animation montage last night. At the very end, my character from
Space Chimps, Titan says ‘That’s got to hurt.’ That’s how they
closed the whole animation segment. There was almost no dialogue in it,
except for that line. I sat there with my wife and kids and said,
‘Well, I guess daddy made it. He’s on the Academy Awards.’ It was just
very funny and unlikely. I would have expected to see first the Bee
Movie or The Emperor’s New Groove or something like that.”
Of course, Warburton also has the ultimate “daddy
made it” chip to use with his kids. He
portrays the Captain who introduces
riders to the theme park ride “Soarin’ Over California” at
Disneyland California Adventure. (The ride is called just “Soarin’” at
Epcot.) Ironically, for as many well-known characters as Warburton has
played in his career – that one may very well be the part he has been
seen in by more people than any other.
“I sometimes rub my wife’s nose in it a little,”
Warburton laughs, “how not only am I a Disneyland dad… I am a true
Disneyland dad. It’s like, you’re cool and everything and a great
mom, but you don’t have your own ride, so you know what, I’ll take this
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