Fox’s animated comedy Bordertown takes a bold look at the changing face of America, taking on real issues of xenophobia and immigration through an Archie Bunker-like lens. Set in a town on the US-Mexico border, its fictional conceit is not unlike the actual events currently making headlines. DIRECTV was pleased to sit down with several of the show’s veteran voice actors at New York Comic Con last fall—Alex Borstein, Hank Azaria, and Nicholas Gonzalez—as well as creator and executive producer Mark Hentemann and writer Lalo Alcaraz. Now that the show’s into the season, we thought it would be interesting to look back at their thoughts before it hit the airwaves. Enjoy the interviews below, catch up on the first few episodes On Demand, and set your DVR for Bordertown, Sundays at 9:30/8:30c on FOX!
What about this project gets you excited to go to work?
Alex Borstein (Voice of Janice and Becky Buckwald): For this show, there are a lot of things I’m excited about. The amount of talent involved in this show—Hank Azaria, who I think is unreal, Judah Friedlander I’ve known from stand up for a long time, him [sic] and I have done some shows together, Missi Pyle who I love from Galaxy Quest…you know, the caliber of people here, it’s phenomenal. It’s really rare. You don’t get that many times in the voiceover world, people who are really amazing actors—not just that they do funny voices—but really good actors. That excites me. The material is rich, it’s about something; it’s not just nonsense. It’s about something really real and really specific—this disappearing majority of the US—the US is changing color, baby, and it’s exciting. This show is riding that crest, and we’re going to be right in-line with the elections and we’re not afraid to be extremely political, and it’s exciting.
Talk a little bit about your character.
Alex: I play two characters. I place Janice Buckwald (the wife and mother), and I play Becky Buckwald. Janice is kind of cautious— she plays “whatever you say, dear” but she knows what’s going on and she is very gently trying to guide (her husband) towards the future, and be there when he realizes he is no longer the man in this country. So, she’s got a little bit of sass there, a little frisky. The daughter Becky is very large and kind of sounds like Chewbacca!
How do you find the voices for these characters? How do you consider a character on paper and go, “this is the voice”?
Alex: I worked with Mark (Hentemann, showrunner) years ago on a show that he had done on MTV and I had something in that similar sound and he had loved it. So when this show came up, he had said I want you to do something similar to that for Becky. She just demanded this big sound; it was really just fun to do. She’s very feminist. Very outspoken. She’s very left wing. It’s really fun; I like playing these two very different types of women. Becky’s also like really sexual and aggressive. It’s really fun to play that, too.
Do you draw from your real-life experiences to inspire these animated characters?
Alex: Everything is stolen from your real life. The voice I do on Family Guy is a cousin of mine. The voice that I’m doing for Janice is kind of an amalgamation of many midwestern women that I know. You just kind of steal from everything you know—you can’t not. The best writers and performers are just observers.
Can you talk a little bit about this show being on air in a time when Donald Trump is making waves in his own way on TV talking about building walls at our borders?
Mark Hentemann (Creator & Executive Producer): We’re geniuses, we predicted that this would happen! Honestly, it was by accident. This show was pitched in 2007 initially, when George Bush was president and immigration was a hot topic in our country, and I was worried that when they didn’t pick it up and it was shelved, immigration would fade into the background. The show would be irrelevant. But, miraculously or not, it’s still there. With someone like Donald Trump, who just showed up and is running for president after we finished making all of our episodes, it kind of brought the show right back into the center of national debate. It’s important that when you do comedy, you have to think to yourself, “What made me laugh as a kid?” It’s often in childhood—what were the things that killed you and made you want to do this for a living? And for me it was me liking comedy that had an edge to it. I loved it when comedy was a little bit uncomfortable, when it was hitting something real. Family Guy can do a lot of relevant, political stuff, but this show is sort of set out to be something specific, about the shifts that are happening. I think that makes the jokes funnier, when there is truth behind them.
Nicholas Gonzalez (Voice of Ernesto Gonzalez): It feels great. It feels like you get a voice! I think that’s, across the board, one of the icings on the top of the cake which is this project. This project was supposed to deal with these hot-button political issues straight out of the press. I think that was something that really attracted a lot of us.
Hank and Nick, can you tell us a little bit about your characters?
Nicholas: I play Ernesto Gonzalez. He’s a patriarch of the Gonzalez family who lives next door to Hank’s character, Bud Buckwald, and he’s sort of the foil to Bud’s racism and negativity, and he’s just so fun loving.
Hank: Yeah, Bud is unabashedly racist and he doesn’t even know that he shouldn’t be—much like Archie Bunker. Ernesto is doing much better than him, he’s got a really good business, makes more money, has a much happier family life, and it just infuriates Bud. It’s almost like a Homer and Ned Flanders relationship. You know what I think happened on this show? [Seth] MacFarlane and what they did on Family Guy created a sort of safe context to go really far with whatever—whether it was insulting celebrities or sexist jokes. So this show sort of borrowed that point of view and said, “Let’s apply that to racism and poverty and politics and social issues and do the same thing.” It’s a little touchier. I’m curious to see how people react to this show.
Why do you all think, in a country full of immigrants—made by immigrants—that problems of racism still exist?
Nicholas: That’s probably why.
Hank: In one of the episodes, Bud, in the town they live in, white people have officially become the minority. They are outnumbered, and Bud is so bummed about it, he’s just really, really upset about it. That’s the entire episode, him just freaking out about it. It’s pretty incredible.
Mark: Yeah, it’s ironic for a country that was founded by immigrants. Me, you know, I’m a white guy, but my father told us my family’s immigration story a thousand times growing up, and every family in the United States has that story. Somewhere in their history they immigrated to this country.
Lalo Alcaraz (Writer): I’m first generation here, my parents were Mexican immigrants, and I tease Mark, I said it took him two generations to get into television; only took me one!
Do you think content like this could not just raise awareness, but strike up some form of activism against such behavior?
Nicholas: I think anything where people are kind of informed or realize that we’re faced with it…we’re not always faced with this kind of naked reality of racism all the time. The show raises the fact of basic human decency.
Hank: It satirizes any extremist point of view, and certainly the ones that are most in our culture today. If you remember when All in the Family was on TV, Archie Bunker saw him for what he was, which was a horrible racist parody, but some people just rooted for him, thought he was just awesome, as if someone was speaking their truth.
Nicholas: Like Trump, as if he’s speaking what we all want to say and you have people who are saying that, who feel that way. We’re curious as to what the reaction to this show will be.
Mark and Lalo, how do you guys deal with any creative challenges or differences between you?
Lalo: You always listen to the boss [laughs]. I dropped in from outer space to do this show—that’s how I feel, because I was working on my cartoons for years, and then Mark called me to work on this show. So there are times when I was doing stuff that you aren’t supposed to do in a comedy writing room, which is fight with the head writer. I’ve argued with Alex [Carter, writer] about some jokes that I thought were a little lame as far as being stereotypical. I thought they were lazy jokes. But I say dude, that’s why Mark brought me in!