The new Hulu comedy Crossing Swords isn’t your typical family-friendly stop-motion animation series. In fact, it’s not family-friendly at all — but you would know that already if you have seen anything on Robot Chicken. Created and written by Robot Chicken executive producers John Harvatine IV and Tom Root, Crossing Swords takes us to the time of royals, peasants, knights and mythical — and things get hilariously lewd and quite graphic. If anything, it will make us look at toy peg people in a completely different light. Seth Green, who lends a voice to the series and also serves as EP was more than excited to reteam with his Robot Chicken cohorts to tell this very fun — and R-rated — story.
“John [Harvatine] and [Tom Root] came up with this concept and all I had to do was say it was awesome and then help get it to air,” Green told Deadline. “I’ve really let them do the bulk of the heavy lifting with the development and the production of the show — but I am all in on this thing… and think it’s really fun.”
Crossing Swords, which debuted on June 12 on Hulu, follows Patrick (voiced by Nicholas Hoult), a peasant who becomes a squire at the royal castle. The dream job turns into a nightmare when he learns his beloved kingdom is run by horny monarchs, crooks and charlatans. On top of that, Patrick is the outcast of his own family and now his criminal siblings have decided to come back into his life to make it as hellish as possible.
The voice talents of Green and Hoult join Luke Evans, Tony Hale, Adam Ray, Tara Strong, Adam Pally, Yvette Nicole Brown, Maya Erskine, Breckin Meyer, Wendi McClendon-Covey and Alanna Ubach. The actor talked to Deadline about building the all-star cast, hitting the sweet spot when it comes to raunchy comedy and how entertainment and laughter can be critical during a time of crisis.
DEADLINE: Crossing Swords is a very different kind take on the medieval fantasy genre, but before we get into that, how did you manage to assemble this amazing voice cast?
SETH GREEN: Some of it is just timing and good luck, but there also is a thing where a lot of dramatic actors don’t get the opportunity to play silly. They don’t really get the same opportunity to do comedy — and some of that has been to do with their physicality, which is one of the things I love the most about voiceover. It’s something that works for me really well. There’s a variety of characters that I could play in an animated thing, that I couldn’t possibly physically play. In this case, we just felt really lucky.
We’ve been able to forge relationships with incredible performers through the Robot Chicken and so that gave us an access point to present them with something that we’d already sort of proven the concept of. With Luke Evans, he’d come to do our show a couple of times and he already knew that it was a place where he would have fun and have a degree of creative freedom, so getting him to play this King was a win for us, but also something that he seemed to actually want to do.
DEADLINE: As a voice in the series and as an executive producer, what was it that attracted you about John Harvatine and Tom Root’s concept for Crossing Swords?
GREEN: Well, comedy is a little intangible and it’s very difficult to describe how or why something is funny. There’s a quote, I think it’s from Dennis Miller where he talked about your sense of humor just being that — it’s a sense like your sense of smell or your sense of taste. So there are things that are going to read very funny to someone else, whereas to you that that might just taste like vomit…that’s the fun thing about comedy, but for this, it was the way that they pitched it.
DEADLINE: How did they pitch it?
GREEN: They talked about Game of Thrones-style — feudal land with a King and a Squire and getting to play with all these tropes that we know from fantasy and actual feudal kingdoms, but using that for comedic purposes and also by filming it this way and using these type of characters. They don’t even have arms and are a kind of an extrapolation of those early children’s toys that we would have played with. It undercuts the seriousness of any of these concepts or conflicts and allows you to laugh at them and maybe see an incredibly complex sociological or civic issue through the lens of the most basic of its attributes.
It’s one of my favorite things about South Park. They make some of the most consistently astute social commentary, but they use these crudely drawn and rendered almost childlike images to do it. There’s an effect to it that breaks down the severity of the concept and lets you hear something potentially important because you’re able to laugh at it… and so it’s just the visuals and severity of it, the things that they were talking about, but the way that these messages are being conveyed. I just thought it was so funny and not trying to change the world. It was mostly trying to entertain, but also having the opportunity to have a conversation about more complex concepts. That was really appealing to me.
DEADLINE: What kind of themes and issues in the show exploring through its comedy?
GREEN: Well, it’s the basics. It’s identity, family and your intent to drive out on your own and have your own ideas, beliefs and not be obligated to the life that your parents led, but also how all of these family dynamics get overlaid in every aspect of life — your business, friendships and relationships. We really loved exploring the idea of control and governing and the importance that you place on icons or concepts without even doing a tremendous amount of research. It’s the way that the bonds of family tied you, even when people are working against you. We love exploring Patrick and his siblings, which is something that you’ll see in future episodes. He can’t ever quite get out from under them, even though their main goal seems to hurt him. They can exploit his love or his desire for family connection and use it to their own advantage.
DEADLINE: You’ve worked in stop-motion animation a lot before, but what is it about this particular medium that appeals to you the most?
GREEN: I love animation of all kinds. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to produce a bunch of different types of animation. With our studio, what we focus on is what we believe is the correct aesthetic or style for any individual program. And even though something may use the same technology, like stop motion, we try to set them apart, at least from each other by having a very unique and specific aesthetic. The thing I love the most about stop motion is the effect that it creates. You’re seeing a real thing that is photographed, that has a genuine shadow and actual lighting. It’s treated almost entirely like cinema, except that you photograph it frame by frame. And so In some cases that creates an effect that is impossible to define, but it gives your eye, your brain, this extra benefit of interpreting and saying, “Oh, that’s real.” When you’ve got an animator that’s truly talented and they can bring something inanimate to life and give it a personality that the audience can really relate to — that’s a great tool for comedy.
DEADLINE: Crossing Swords is definitely an adult comedy and has many not-suitable-for-children moments. But when it comes to R-rated comedy, when do you know when you’ve hit that sweet spot that doesn’t put it too far?
GREEN: I really try and trust my gut. I really try and consider all sides of it. I also believe that sometimes humor needs to be bold and needs to be provocative if it’s going to start a conversation. If it’s going to challenge the normal ideas and say something that either hasn’t been said before or can be supportive of something positive. We never start out to make jokes that are going to actually hurt someone’s feelings and I do look to something like Airplane as a great example of being able to make jokes about everyone that are not hateful or hurtful. They’re more pointing out inherent ironies or using some basic creative transformation to make something funny. But as far as where the line is or how when something is too far, often you have to put it out there to find out.
Just as times change — and times have changed so quickly in such a short period of time — it’s a product of valuable and important evolution. There are even jokes in Robot Chicken that I looked back on — jokes that we told less than 10 years ago that at the time seemed totally OK, that I would never support making now. So you do your best to trust your gut in the moment. I’m never coming from a hateful or hurtful place. We really just want things to be funny.
DEADLINE: Laughter and entertainment is always needed, but with the current landscape of protests and this pandemic, I always ask myself, “Is it okay to enjoy this?” How do you see the role of entertainment during this time?
GREEN: I do think that entertainment and distraction are a necessary thing. It can’t be avoidance or burying your head in denial, but you also can’t stay steeped in dark angry chaos or else you’re not even helping the problem. You have to rest and you have to be able to clear your mind. You have to be able to get a firm sense of who you are or what it is you believe in — and sometimes laughing is critical. It is really easy to stoke hate and division. It is really easy to stoke the inherent basic paranoia that every human feels in their biology — like a fight or flight of being attacked or targeted. That’s all real and we need to be having conversations about it, but it also is critical to laugh. It’s critical to smile. It is critical for us to see the good in one another and find ways to point to that and say, “That’s our natural state. This is what we should be striving for.”
DEADLINE: How do you think Hollywood is navigating the landscape?
GREEN: I think everyone is just dealing with asking themselves, “What do I do? How can I do something?” and activism and entertainment should be separate categories, but they become more and more combined as individuals are regarded more as brands or mouthpieces or challenged to use their platform to make a difference or affect social issues.
I appreciate Hollywood trying to carry on and continue to exist, but it’s also becoming clearer and clearer that we’re in the midst of something that no one can ignore. That is beyond what streamer you’re subscribing to or whether or what platform is going to work. We’re in a more dangerous and volatile time and I think it does become important for us all to speak out…and not in defensive ways where we’re drawing battle lines, but where we’re actually looking for the common ground.
The very same issues that we’ve been dealing with for over a hundred years are still the issues that we’re dealing with and something needs to change. And as much as we all want to just lean back and watch the behind the scenes documentary of The Mandalorian or even watch the Space X launch, we can’t turn a blind eye to the conflict and struggle that is still going on every single day.
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