'Arrested Development': Ron Howard on his guest spot, playing the narrator and... Bluth holiday specials?

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Image Credit: Steven A Henry/WireImage

Ron Howard isn’t just the folksy narrator who ties it all together on Arrested Development — he’s one of the show’s executive producers and biggest champions who helped bring the 2003-2006 cult comedy back to life. (Netflix will unleash fifteen new episodes at 3:01 am ET/midnight PT.) “Having been around enough shows, I just recognized that there was something so entirely unique about this combination of a brilliant cast and a creator/showrunner [Mitchell Hurwitz] who was at his very best writing for those characters,” says the Imagine Entertainment co-founder and former Happy Days star, who has directed such films as Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind. “I just lamented its passing in a big way. So I was always interested in trying to fan the flame.” Here, Howard warms up on a variety of Arrested topics.

On one early possibility he discussed with Hurwitz for a reboot of Arrested
“I talked about the fact that if it’s not a film, maybe on cable you could do holiday specials — Thanksgiving with the Bluths, Halloween with the Bluths. I was just kind of spitballing to keep the idea alive.”

On how Arrested Development came in handy while he was working on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign at the Iowa caucuses
“They do this first phase of voting and then, once your candidate is counted out, if you’re a delegate you then get to choose a second choice. So I’m standing around and you’re allowed to lobby these people, and somebody says ‘Hey, what about the Arrested Development movie?’ A couple of college guys. They were Joe Biden delegates. I said ‘I don’t know. We’ve all gotten kind of busy….’ And, I said, ‘What do you think if Joe doesn’t make it this go-round? Will you jump to Hillary?’ And they said, ‘Well, I don’t know….’ We talked about that a little bit. And I circled around. I’d done about as much lobbying as I was willing to do and these guys waved me over. And this young guy, a big guy, said to me, ‘Okay, here’s the deal. You don’t have to promise the Arrested Development movie, but I want you to promise me that you’re going to call Mitch Hurwitz and try to get him to focus on it. And if you’ll promise that you’ll do that, then we’ll go over to Hillary.’ And I said, ‘You’ve got my word on it. If you go to Hillary tomorrow morning, I’m calling Mitch Hurwitz and I’ll try to light a fire.’ And they did. They went over to Hillary, I gave them a little nod and I was good to my word. The next day I called Mitch.”

On the Netflix deal for new episodes, which came about in 2011 after Howard crossed paths with the company’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos, who was impressed with the show’s streaming/DVD rental performance, and arranged a meeting with Hurwitz
“It seemed like the very boldest thing you could do was to try this on Netflix. And that’s kind of the nature of the show, you know? I mean, it’s all been kind of an experiment. Tonally, it was something that was new territory when we began, and there was just something that felt right about this. And look, the fact that it was coming back did have everything to do with fans, and it was most apparent statistically and most quantifiable on Netflix.”

On Hurwitz working around the limited availability of his actors by constructing the new season as the prologue to a movie, in which each episode spotlights one Bluth (with guest appearances by other family members)
“It was viable only if Mitch was really ready to kill himself because this is not only a writing feat, it’s a pretty staggering logistical feat. When I went into the writers’ room and saw the way he had broken down all the episodes, it was a little bit like a moment in a movie I directed, A Beautiful Mind, because literally there were arrows drawn and cards and little pieces of tape and Post-its all over the place. But when Mitch took me through what he was going to do with all the characters, weaving in and out of each other’s lives, and catching us up yet propelling along hilarious new stories… it was an extraordinary storytelling feat.”

On the feel of this season versus previous ones
“Satisfyingly familiar. But it’s not like a reunion episode of a TV show. It feels fresh at the same time. So that’s what’s sort of stunning about it. It’s like when somebody does a really great sequel to a movie that was good the first time. It’s not a remake. I think it’s going to be really satisfying for fans. The other little thing is that while each one is roughly the size of an episode, he doesn’t have to cut it to 22 minutes and 15 seconds or whatever you get for a network show. They’re more like the director’s cut. So I think they’re a little funnier because things breathe just a little bit more and yet there’s still that dense volume of jokes that work in myriad ways, whether it’s physical comedy, verbal wisecracks, one-liners or reference jokes, or using the narrator or flashbacks to be cinematically funny and entertaining.”

On how the new episodes might help the prospects of the movie
“I would love to see [a movie] happen. It’s something we’ve all wanted. And I think in the same way that the fans sort of got the show back, if there’s a movie, it’s going to be because they prove that it’s incumbent on a studio to believe in it. I was talking to Portia [de Rossi] about this, and Jeffrey Tambor and Jason [Bateman], and in separate conversations, everybody’s just saying, ‘God, we miss these characters and it was so much fun to do them, to play them again.’ And they love Mitch. I think what everybody’s saying is: Any chance we have to play these characters again in the future, we’re going to try to find a way to say yes to that. It’s all a bit of an experiment, and I think we’ll know a lot more in another month or so.”

On returning as a guest star in the new season
“It’s rather involved, but Ron Howard definitely has an interest in the Bluths. And it turns out to be a little more complicated than Ron expected it to be when you get involved with the Bluths…. Most of my scenes were with Jason Bateman, which was great because I was actually pretty nervous and kinda rusty at first, and Bateman is one of these guys — a little like Tom Hanks or something — it all seems like it’s just the easiest thing in the world [for him]. It was honestly fun and really soothing to get to work with Jason. I had some nice stuff with David Cross as well. And Brian [Grazer, Imagine co-founder]. It was really fun.”

On how he got back into character as the show’s narrator
“I did a few warm-ups, a few me-me-me-me’s. I did have to find it again. I always thought the narrator was a guy who would do this sort of contemporary psychological documentary series about the Bluths and then the next day he’d be booked to do a National Geographic Lifestyles of the Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon Basin. So I tried to be always kind of clinical about it. Mitch always likes the narrator to become a little judgmental or cop a little bit of an attitude — be a little insulted by something that he sees or hears or become a little defensive — and I think that’s pretty funny. I love doing it. It’s a blast. You’d have a hard time ripping the microphone away from me.”

Read more:
‘Arrested Development’: Inside the cult comedy’s comeback
‘Arrested Development': Jason Bateman, Will Arnett and Tony Hale on the Bluth brothers and new episodes
‘Arrested Development': David Cross and Portia de Rossi talk new season, Tobias and Lindsay
‘Arrested Development’: Michael Cera and Alia Shawkat reveal what’s in store for Maeby and George Michael
‘Arrested Development’: Jessica Walter and Jeffrey Tambor dish on the new season
‘Arrested Development’: Creator Mitchell Hurwitz talks new season, movie and… bees
Bluth Binge! EW’s giant recap of Netflix’s 15 new ‘Arrested Development’ episodes
‘Office’ star John Krasinski to appear on ‘Arrested Development’
Ben Stiller to guest on ‘Arrested Development’
‘Arrested Development’: The writers’ room was like a ‘psycho killer’s apartment’
‘Arrested Development’ sneak peek: Buster and Lucille get closer than ever


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