Aisha Tyler of Archer

Exclusive: Aisha Tyler gets all torched up as Lana for Archer: Dreamland

Contributed by
Mar 29, 2017, 5:23 PM EDT

Actress Aisha Tyler is about to get all torchy for Archer: Dreamland. Her animated character Lana Kane, and the rest of Archer's lovable self-centered former spies, head back to the 1940s for a film noir filled with reimagined roles for our heroes. Archer's a private eye, Lana's a torch singer, and Pam is ... well ... a man and a cop for the show's eighth season, which premieres Wednesday, April 5, at 10 p.m. ET on FXX.

"We don't know if this is a dream. We don't know if Archer dying was a dream," said Tyler in an exclusive interview with Syfy Wire. "We don't know. It's called Archer: Dreamland, but I think there's a lot of questions that people are going to have, and a lot of them will get answered as the season progresses."

Season seven left Archer floating face down in a swimming pool, apparently dead, shot down by a trigger-happy actress who was trying to get away with murder. Well, maybe Archer's dead ... possibly ... or it could have been a second robot double ... or an Archer clone ... or something else. Season eight, Archer: Dreamland, takes the gang to the past for a serialized eight-episode adventure.

Tyler (Criminal Minds, Who's Line Is It Anyway?) talked to Syfy Wire about Archer's death and Season 8. She gives us an update on Criminal Minds, and she considers life without Archer.

What can you tell us about the new season? I mean, obviously Archer is dead. 

Aisha: Yes, exactly. It will be very brief (laughs). It will be a very short season. A funeral and a short memorial.

Luckily anyone can die and come back to life on Archer.

Aisha: Well, they are cartoons. They are immortal. I mean, this next season, which we revealed a little bit at Comic-Con last summer, takes place in a different time. And it's the same characters but inhabiting different lives. So there are a lot of surprises and twists with the season. But the main thing is that it's in 1940's Los Angeles and it's this film noir style and Archer is ... I actually don't know what Archer does in this season. It's so funny. I'm completely focused on Lana. Lana is the torch singer in a nightclub and Pam is still Pam. Pam is now a man and a cop (laughs). So there's a lot of the same dynamic, the same incredibly witty repartee and the same combative dynamic between the characters and just in a new setting.

It looks like Archer is a private eye ... It must have been fun to reinvent Lana a little bit. 

Aisha: It was a blast, and I got to sing. I actually have to sing the songs that she performs on the show. To portray her in a different way with a different dynamic and a different dynamic between her and Archer because their relationship is different. The previous seasons they were on and off again lovers. Then they had a child. Now it's a completely different environment. So yeah, it was really fun to recreate her while still making sure that what people love about her and find familiar about her stays at the core of the character.

She finally gets a different outfit (laughs)?

Aisha: Yes, she does get a different outfit (laughs).

Archer: Dreamland with Lana

You get to sing this time round.

Aisha:  Yeah, it was really cool. They asked me to sing and luckily I was in an a cappella singing group in college and my mom is a jazz singer. So it was actually pretty easy to do. It was fun.

Did they know you could sing?

Aisha: They just said, “Can you sing?” and I said, “Yeah.” And then I went in and I did it and they were like, “Well, people typically say they can sing and they can't and you obviously were telling the truth.” And they were thrilled because I think they had like a Plan B on deck, which is to hire a singer to come in and sing the songs for me if I couldn't do it. They are happy they didn't have the pay another salary. 

What kind of themes are we looking at for this season? 

Aisha: The show has typically been about spies and then they moved into private investigations. There's more of a dark noir underworld thing with crime, kingpins, gangsters and then some things I can't reveal because they develop as the season goes on. But that kind of brilliant L.A. Confidential-style, film noir that we love. That's going to be really cool.

Archer has been renewed for three more seasons, with the end of the series planned for season 10. So two more eight-episode seasons after this one, with every season having a different theme of some sort. What are your thoughts if season 10 is the end for Archer?

Aisha: Well, nothing lasts forever.

Why not?

Aisha: (Laughs) I'd like that to happen but in this business, more than any other business, you're always prepared for a show to come to an end. That's just the nature of things. This entire show has sprung from the brilliant and complex mind of Adam Reed and he writes all the episodes. We don't know if the show is going to end at season ten, but I respect the idea that someone might feel like they want to explore other avenues and other ideas and write for other characters. He and Matt are the co-eps but Adam is the writer and he actually might be exhausted.

I would think he'd be exhausted, writing all those episodes.

Aisha: He just performs at such a high level all the time. These scripts are extraordinary and it's not a team of people breaking stories. It's one guy generating these complex, brilliant, hilarious storylines, and I could see him feeling, “Okay, I've explored this world. I've explored these characters fully and now I want to move on to something else,” which I fully respect. I think his genius is bottomless. Obviously it will be incumbent on him to figure out how he wants to move forward.

Will it be a little sad though if you have to say goodbye to Lana at some point?

Aisha: No. We'll go out on top. I love the show so much. I loved doing it from the pilot. It's been always just a beloved project for me and something that really feels like, I think for me and for the cast collectively, our baby and, yeah, you're sad to see something that you love come to an end but it just has been such a great and transformational spirit for me creatively. Every single season has been a gift. I mean I didn't even know if the show was going to get picked up. So everything since then has been gravy.

It must seem like you've been doing it forever too.

Aisha: Luckily it never feels burdensome. I have so many other shows. It really only takes me an hour every couple of weeks over several months and a big joy for me has been interacting with the cast. We don't record together. We only see each other when we're at Comic-Cons or when we do live shows. This show as brought me this incredible set of friendships and these people whose comedic work I really admire and respect and whose friendships I really value. And like I said, the brilliant mind of Adam Reed, who's just driven this incredible runaway train of brilliance for such a long time. So yes, bittersweet maybe, but not lamentable. Great shows have a life span and I hope the show goes on forever. I'm really lucky I'm so busy now. I have three other series and I just directed a movie, so I understand when someone feels like they want to put their creative energy somewhere else... He's a truly brilliant guy and he'll stay busy for the rest of life.

It's not like Archer's going to be gone anytime soon. There is still a lot of episodes to go.

Aisha: For quite a bit of time. We'll be making the show until like 2019 (laughs).

Archer - Aisha Tyler

You're also on Criminal Minds. Of course the shows are quite different, one being a cartoon and one not, what's the difference between doing comedy and drama? Especially drama as serious as Criminal Minds?

Aisha: Frankly, and this is not a slam for Criminal Minds, because I love doing that show, but any dramatic actor will tell you that comedy is way harder. Just there's a math and an ineffability to comedy that requires a certain kind of approach and set of skills, and drama is about playing the truth, and in trying to make things feel as authentic and truthful as possible. With drama you don't have to put a spin on it. You can be as forthcoming and direct and truthful and as connected to the show if possible. Hopefully that plays. Comedy requires a different set of skills. But to me I'm really lucky that I get to do both and I get to use both skill sets and I get to challenge myself. There's a balance. I'm using certain parts of my brain on certain days and another part of my brain on other days. I'm wildly lucky to be doing both shows. It's highly unusual. But yeah, Criminal Minds is just such a great show and such a great cast and they've been so welcoming to me, from my very beginning on the show. I was only supposed to do six episodes and I've been there for two seasons.

As far as Criminal Minds goes, is there anything you want to tell us about what's ahead?

Aisha: It's been a great season. It's been a serialized season, which is a little unusual for Criminal Minds. We typically are solving a crime every episode. We've had this great running arc with Scratch this season that's been really satisfying to play and allowed people in differently into the team’s relationships. We had some cast changes this year and that's always an adjustment for any show, but I think what we've all found is that we emerged stronger and closer than before. We're just dedicated to making the show the best it can be and it's been a really playful... I mean as playful as a show like Criminal Minds can be (laughs). It's pretty dark subject matter, but it's been a really playful, satisfying year for me. I love that cast... We just wrapped the season. All the female cast members spent the afternoon sitting in a hot tub just chatting about the year and it's rare that you have that kind of connection with your co-stars. I feel incredibly lucky to be there.

I have to admit to you I love Criminal Minds and I've been watching it every since the first couple years. However, I had decided at some point I was going to stop watching it because it's so dark. It's like, "Do I want that in my head?" And I just decided I was going to stop watching it and I am a failure at doing that.

Aisha: You haven't been able to stay away?

I haven't. Every time I think, "Okay, I'm not going to watch the show anymore," I end up watching it again.

Aisha: That's great. That makes me really happy. We work really hard on the show.

It's so well-written and acted. It's just so well put together.

Aisha: I think people love the show despite the dark or maybe because the dark subject matter, because it's comforting for people to know that there are smart people out there working to make people safe.

And that they'll win eventually.

Aisha: They're imperfect, but they're dedicated, and I think that the appeal of this show is knowing that there are people out there fighting very hard, making the personal sacrifices to make people safe. Even though the show is fiction, it's based on a real team and real police work. And we have real profilers that are on our show that write and consult with us... We really lean on them and rely on them for authenticity and that I think that's part of the reason why people connect with the show so deeply. 

Archer - Lana and Archer

You're a talk show host, an actress, a singer, a comedian, an author, a producer, a writer, and a director. You're the very definition of a renaissance woman.

Aisha: Or I'm a workaholic. A workaholic or a renaissance woman... I don't know if I would say I'm a renaissance woman but I may be Jane Of All Trades and Master Of None. But I do like to stretch myself and push myself and do things that are different and outside of my wheelhouse. I like to be challenged and sometimes to be a little frightened. I think that's an important engine for growth, to push yourself toward things that you fear.

What's your favorite role and what's it like to do all these different things?

Aisha: I can't really pick a favorite honestly. I guess I'll answer the last question first, which is just it's energizing. I don't know how to be any other way and maybe I'm kind of chronically dissatisfied but I want to be challenged. I'm not satisfied to just get up and go to work and subsist on layups. I want to be challenged. And I want to struggle. I think that's the only way you really grow is to see yourself out of a state of comfort. So sometimes it's challenging to do all that stuff but it's really energizing. It's incredibly satisfying. I can't pick a favorite although I will say I really enjoyed directing. I just did my first feature, but before that I'd done seven shorts and it's definitely something I'm going to be doing more of going forward. It was just wildly satisfying in every way and also incredibly difficult because I was getting up at five in the morning and editing until 8. And then going to The Talk, then going to Criminal Minds and then going back to the studio and editing from like ten at night until two in the morning. It was a really, really hard schedule to maintain but it was just so satisfying and energetic.

I don't know how you manage it with Criminal Minds because that's got to take up a huge amount of time.

Aisha: Yeah, I just was really tired, a lot.  I was very sleepy most of the time, and working through the weekend. That also was a part of it.

What do you want to tell us about your new movie that's coming up? 

Aisha: It's a tiny little independent film. It just got into multiple film festivals, so I'll be going out with it over the next couple of months and showing it to the world and interacting with viewers. It will be really fun to talk about it as a process because I shot the film very quickly in just seven days, which was all the time I had off last year to make a film. It was a really accelerated schedule, very compressed, but really really wonderful and we shot the film like a play essentially. My lead actor learned the entire film and we shot it all the way through every day for seven days.

What's it called?

Aisha: Axis.

What's it about?

Aisha: It's about a recovering drug addict, who on a single day in L.A., he's been able to claw his way back from rock bottom and then on this one day when he's driving through Los Angeles, his world starts to come crashing down around him. And it's about him trying to hold onto his relationships and hold on to his sobriety. And to this kind of newfound balance that he's been able to create in his life when things start to go sideways. So it's a thriller. It's set entirely in a car with a guy driving through L.A. during rush hour.

Do you have a release date yet?

Aisha: No, it's a tiny little film. I made it. I own it. We don't have a studio. It's a true indy so we'll go out to festivals in May and June, hopefully it will be released later in the year.  But the first process would just be to expose it to audiences and get to talk about the unique way that I made this movie. And that I'm preparing to direct another film. I'm writing something and I have something been written for me and I've got a couple of other things. I'm just trying to figure out what my next feature is going to be. 

Anything else coming up?

Aisha: The fifth season of Whose Line Is It Anyway? We just finished shooting that. So that will start later in the spring. We don't have a release date yet, but it's going to be late spring early summer.

Back to Archer for the final question. What does Archer and your character Lana mean to you? 

Aisha: It's been such a satisfying comedic experience for me. I came out of stand up and I've been lucky to have a lot of success in drama, but it was just this return to my comedic roots in a truly pure fashion. Adam Reed as such a brilliant sense of humor. The team there is so talented and to be a part of what I think went from really a cult hit to a seminal comedy show has been really wonderful. Like I said earlier, I never thought the show would get picked up because I thought it was too smart and too funny and too dirty to be on TV. I remember thinking it's just too smart of a show. So to be a part of something that I know people adore, they dress up like our characters for cons and for Halloween and they repeat our lines and they have them on t-shirts, and for a lot of Archer fans they watch these episodes over and over again because the lines are so literate and so layered and there are so many jokes. I mean it's just a joy to be a part of it. There's still plenty of Archer on the horizon. There is still plenty of show coming, so I haven't started writing a eulogy yet. But it'll be one of the high points of my career for sure.

Here's a look at Archer: Dreamland: