Chris Parnell on playing Mr. Peabody, visiting the Wright Brothers and loving Tim Gunn

With one of the most distinct voices in Hollywood, Saturday Night Live alum Chris Parnell was a natural for a string of animated projects that includes Hotel Transylvania 2, WordGirl and Archer. The Memphis-raised actor loves that he can play such a wide variety of characters with just his voice – even a genius dog, his latest role on The New Mr. Peabody and Sherman show, currently streaming on Netflix Canada.


Sherman and Mr. Peabody ready for their next adventure. Photo: © Netflix Canada

“It’s also very freeing in a way because I don’t have to worry about what my body is doing… as long as I’m not hitting the music stand or the mic,” he tells Hello! “And the time commitment is just so much less than doing an on-camera show, so I can spend more time with my own son.”

While his toddler isn’t quite ready for the comedian’s latest offering, audiences who remember the original Mr. Peabody and Sherman are sure to love the updated take. It stays true to the story of a brainy pooch and his boy embarking on time-travel adventures to help famous historical figures, but with modern-day touches. “We have this late night talk show, which we do from our swanky New York penthouse.”

Here, the 48-year-old tells us about stepping into Mr. Peabody's paws, SNL chums he’d love to see on the show, meeting the Wright Brothers and his love of Tim Gunn.


Chris Parnell has had audiences in stitches on SNL,30 Rock and Suburgatory. Photo: © Getty Images

How did you bring your own spin to a character that's already been done?
I wanted to try to do my version of what Bill Scott did, who was the original Mr. Peabody. But I'm not a super mimic, so I could only get so close. And the material itself, because Peabody is now the host, along with Sherman, of a late night zany talk show, he needs a bit more showmanship to him. So when I brought my own thing to Mr. Peabody, they seemed to like the me that came through that.

Many animated kids are actually voiced by adults, but not Sherman. What was it like working with child actor Max Charles?
My favourite thing about working with Max is when something really genuinely cracks him up in the writing and to see him as this [then-10-year-old], just to see him really crack up and have to take a moment to get it together is pretty great. He’s such a fantastic actor and a very sweet young man… Max is awesome, he puts me to shame!

Which historical figure have you loved visiting in the WABAC machine?
It’s interesting because the characters that we meet, while they’re real characters in history, are often involved in such a whacky and insane sort of scenario from that time that they’re somewhat true to who they are but we also really put a spin on the history. So it was really cool to go back and meet the Wright brothers, but these Wright brothers are two super-bickering brothers who can’t make anything happen because they’re always trying to one-up each other.

Who would you love to see guest star on a future episode?
I’d call on a lot of my old Saturday Night Live chums. Will Ferrell, Horatio Sans, Tim Meadows, Molly Shannon, Rachel Dratch, Ana Gasteyer. I actually get to do some stuff with Ana on a show called The Croods that DreamWorks is also doing.

What advice would you give your son if he wanted to become an actor?
I guess the best I can do is try to get him to take a kind of similar path to what I took. I started doing plays in junior high and then through high school and then I went and studied drama at college and got the professional theatre training and all that jazz. I would have mixed feelings, I think, if he wanted to be an actor I wouldn’t want him to start too young, necessarily. I would like for him to have as normal of a childhood if he could. But, you know, I’m very lucky in that I’m able to do what I love and I’m actually able to make a nice living at it, so I know how lucky I am.

Any shows you ’ve been binge watching?
Now that we have a 19-month-old, we don’t binge watch anymore. My wife and I used to do that but we don’t have those swaths of time to delve into these shows, but we just picked back up with The Good Wife, which we love, and we love Game of Thrones. We like Project Runway quite a lot. Tim and Heidi. It’s something about seeing these people who are so talented and see them come up with these amazing fashion pieces each week. I’m no big fashion guy myself, but I love watching people who are. And we love Tim so much; he’s just such a mentor and a sweet man.

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