Archer is an outrageous show, full of spy-fueled action, liquor-fueled shenanigans, and libido-fueled insanity, on top of the show’s tightly-written dialogue and surprisingly deep character work. But even in such an over-the-top series, Pam Poovey, the drift-racing, hard-charging, HR director-turned-field agent manages to stand out.
Amber Nash is the award-winning actress who’s brought Pam to life over the last eight seasons of the show. I had the pleasure of chatting with Amber about the new direction Pam’s taken in the noir-inspired Archer: Dreamland, her inspirations and influences, and what the future holds for the inimitable Ms. Poovey.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Andrew Bloom: This season Pam is a bit of double agent. She’s helping out Archer on the one hand and working with Cyril on the other. Has playing a version Pam who’s keeping some secrets from the people she’s working with affected your performance at all?
Amber Nash: I think everybody in the show is hiding something at some point. It wasn’t actually something that changed too much. Whenever anybody’s working with Cyril, they’re always maybe going to stab him in the back. [Laughs] I don’t think any of them likes Cyril all that much. I think, more than anything, what really affected stuff this season was that the character is “Poovey” and gender neutral, so I was more concerned with that than I was with that with the double agent aspect of it.
Bloom: This version of “Poovey” is at least somewhat inspired by Russell Crowe in L.A. Confidential, right?
Nash: That’s correct. That’s the information that I was given by Adam [Reed, Archer’s creator and head writer] before we started making Season 8, and I was really stoked when I found that out because that’s so much fun, and it gave me an excuse to go back and watch L.A. Confidential which I hadn’t seen since it came out. I think I was too young when it came out to really appreciate how good of a film it was.
Bloom: Did you do any character study of Russell Crowe’s character? How did that bear on your performance as Poovey this season?
Nash: I definitely watched the film with that in mind, and I watched a few other noir films just to bone up a little bit on that. Actually, for the first day of recording I asked — because I’d been told that — so I said, “Do you guys want me to change anything in the way that I sound or do you want me to deliver stuff in a different manner?” And they said, “No, you’re still the same in essence.” But I think that having all that information in the back of my mind hopefully came through in my intention, even though I pretty much sound exactly the same.
Bloom: In that same vein, we’ve gotten little glimpses of Pam’s imagined future life with a group of women who are holed up in her apartment. What’s it been like playing a version of her who’s proud of a dozen children who are all graduating from high school at the same time or celebrating a hundredth birthday with a grandchild on her knee?
Nash: It was really funny! Every time I got a script I was really excited to see if there was going to be something about the ladies in it, and every time it’s so funny! It’s just such a nice little nugget. I feel like the best characters in television are characters that have some kind of secret that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the plot or what’s going on in the show. I don’t know if you’ve been watching Fargo this season, but the main bad guy is bulimic in it, and it really doesn’t have anything to do with anything else going on the show, but it’s just this great rich little piece of character information, and so that’s how I felt about about all the ladies that were in Poovey’s house.
The hardest part about it was having to speak Mandarin because I literally have no frame of reference and no ability whatsoever with languages. They had it recorded for me from a Mandarin speaker. They would type it into my headphones, and I had to parrot it back the best I could. It took a while. I was definitely struggling with that the most.
Bloom: You had to do foreign languages a few other times on the show, right?
Nash: Yes, and I’m always terrible at it, and they know. [Laughs]
Bloom: Having those little quirks or interesting details, something true of Fargo, feels very borrowed from the Coen brothers, but it’s also very true of the characters on Archer as well. It’s not just a workplace show — you get these little glimpses into their lives and the little things that are happening when they’re not being spies or detectives or double agents.
Nash: Yeah, it’s so fun. I love stuff like that like. It’s a testament to how good the writing is. Adam created the show and is the sole writer, and he’s been with those characters for so long, so the fact that he does what he does with them is just incredible. He’s such a genius.
Bloom: What is your favorite Pam quirk apart from this season?
Nash: There’s so many! Over the years she’s really amassed quite a few special talents and quirks. But I think one of my favorites is the fact that she’s a drift car driver — definitely a fun little thing to have. I think it’s so cool because anytime there’s a weird thing that they need somebody to do it’s like “Well if you ask Pam, she can probably do it.” That and the fact that she’s super strong and apparently she can’t be hurt no matter whether it’s physically or emotionally. She’s just indestructible.
Bloom: She definitely has a Swiss army knife quality as a character so you can put her in any situation and imagine her doing what’s necessary.
Nash: That’s such a great way to put it. I’m going to steal that.
Bloom: Going back a little bit, is it true that you started in radio spots?
Nash: That’s right. I started out doing improv. I was working in an improv theater, and that’s how the guys that work on Archer now found me back in the day. One of the guys that I did improv with was a creative director at an ad agency, and he just needed somebody that would show up and do something for cheap, and that was me at the time. That’s how I got started, just doing radio spots here and there. I think that for the first few I didn’t get paid at all, which I tell people all the time — don’t be afraid to work for free, especially if you’re trying to learn a skill and get stuff for your reel. So I started out doing radio spots.
Bloom: Do you remember what any of the spots were for or what you had to say?
Nash: The only one that I can really remember was one for this place called Monkey Joe’s, which I guess is like a big warehouse where kids can go jump in a ball pit. I don’t know exactly what it is — I never went there.
Bloom: Sounds like a place you might not come back from.
Nash: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah, it sounds pretty dangerous.
Bloom: Did you have a specific radio announcer voice that you would use or was it just your normal speaking voice?
Nash: It was my normal speaking voice. It was around the time actually when the “everyman voice” was what was in. The only reason why I have a career is because I don’t have an announcer voice. I don’t have a trained voice and so people hired me because I sounded like a normal person, and that’s exactly why I still have work today. I get auditions and they’re like “We want somebody that sounds totally normal and sounds untrained.” I’m like, “that’s me!”
Bloom: Do you think that helps bring Pam, who lives in a pretty exaggerated world, back down to earth a little bit?
I think so. The guys that make the show — I used to work with them on Frisky Dingo and then before that they made Sealab (I didn’t work on Sealab but I had friends that did) — I think what they’ve always really liked is working with people that have regular voices. They don’t employ a lot of voiceover artists or people that are known for doing voiceover work. So they really like that regular quality.
Pam is a bit of a character voice. She’s like my voice heightened a little bit and a bit more Midwestern, and I think they were actually a little uncomfortable with that in the beginning because one of the reasons why they don’t like character voices is because they’re hard to maintain over time, so they were worried about it. And if you listen to Pam in Season 1 versus Pam in Season 6, I sound a lot more like Pam in Season 6 and a lot more like myself in Season 1, so it became even more “Pam” over the years.
Bloom: Do you feel like Pam has emerged as this fully-formed character and voice over the eight seasons of the show?
Nash: I’d like to think so. I think she’s even over-formed. [Laughs] Pam’s like, so insane at this point. But yeah, I tell people all the time that I’m proud of the character. From where the character started and where the character is now — and not just in Season 8 but in Season 7 before the big switch happened — so much has happened, and she’s developed in such a cool way. She just represents so many cool things. I like that Pam’s this weird sex symbol, and it’s sex positive and body positive and there’s so many women that are cosplaying as Pam. It’s really really fun! It’s crazy what’s happened over the years with the character.
Bloom: Have you had a lot of fans come up to you and talk about what Pam has meant to them as a role model or inspiration?
Nash: Oh yeah, I get that all the time. I get it more on social media than anything because I’m in contact with people more there than I am in regular everyday life, but people talk about it all the time. I live in Atlanta and the big con that we have here is Dragon Con. It’s huge and people cosplay. I see more cosplay at Dragon Con than I do at any of the other cons I’ve been to. So there it’s really cosplay-heavy, and there’s so many people that cosplay as Pam. Usually one of the nights we do an Archer meet-up, and everybody that’s in Archer cosplay decides to meet at this one place, and we take pictures. So I have had several years where I’ve been in the picture with thirty Pams, and it’s just incredible to be a part of.
There was a woman last year at Comic-Con in San Diego that stood up at our panel, and she said that she was so happy with the show and the character of Pam specifically because she finally had a character to cosplay as. She didn’t have to cosplay as “fat Princess Leia” or “fat Cinderella.” She could just be Pam, and I was so excited about it! She really was super stoked.
Bloom: Were there any characters that you found inspiring or helped bring you into comedy when you were consuming television shows and films when you were growing up?
Nash: When I was a kid I watched a lot of The Carol Burnett Show. It was huge when I was a kid — my mom watched it — and so I really got to see a lot of that. To see a woman holding down a show in such a huge way and play so many amazing characters was really cool. Then the biggest thing in middle school early high school was In Living Color. Jim Carrey blew it all apart, and I was just like, “Holy shit who is this guy?” I was definitely informed by that too. My favorite growing up was Lily Tomlin, and I still think that she is one of the most incredible comedic actresses on the planet. I was watching The Incredible Shrinking Woman and all those weird films that she did in the late 80s. Those are all the people that I loved watching.
Bloom: I’ve also heard that you’re a big Golden Girls fan. Is that true?
Nash: Oh my god, the biggest! I’m a huge Golden Girls fan.
Bloom: What do you think that the Golden Girls would make of Pam?
Nash: I don’t know what they would think of Pam. She might be a little bit too much for them. I think if anybody responded to Pam, it would probably be Dorothy because she has such a no nonsense, “cut the crap” kind of approach. And maybe Blanche because Blanche likes the naughtier side of things.
Bloom: You mentioned that you started in improv. Has that informed where you go as a performer? How much do you get to of flex those muscles as part of Archer?
Nash: In a nuts and bolts kind of way we don’t actually do that much improvising on the show because the scripts are so tightly written, and it’s just not necessary. But I think that with how I approach things, improv is definitely where I come from; it’s what I still do. I’m most comfortable being onstage doing improv.
I think that foundation has helped me a lot, and I take that to everything that I’m doing. It’s just a comfort that I go in with, but it’s also very helpful with creating characters — not necessarily with what I’m doing on Archer because I already know the character of Pam so well, but when I was creating that character or when I was working on Frisky Dingo, I did several characters, and so whenever I have to create a character voice, having my background in improv is really helpful.
Bloom: And speaking of the creator side you also write Pam’s Twitter feed, right?
Nash: That’s right. Season 3 or 4 is when I started writing it, and it’s been so much fun. This season has been a challenge because not only do we have to write in the voice of 1947, [but] I’m writing in a different gender and a different time period, and there’s so much going on, which is great because it’s a lot to play with. But it was definitely a little bit of a mind-bender in the beginning.
Bloom: Have you tried to filter in more 40s slang or the 1947 equivalent of BRB or LOL?
Nash: Yeah! There’s this great website — I can’t remember the name of it — for when I’m writing tweets. Sometimes I just run into a wall, and I need something. There’s a few websites that have 1940s slang. It reminds you of what was going on at that time. When it works well is when you’re writing a tweet that you would write anyway, but you’re just putting it through the filter of 1947. Those are some of the most fun ones.
Bloom: Are there any that stand out?
Nash: One of the things that is really funny is a phrase that means “a good dancer.” The phrase is something like “ducky shin-cracker.” What the hell like kind of words were they using? It’s so weird.
Bloom: What was it like writing for a character whom you’ve already performed for four seasons, being on the other side of the script so to speak?
Nash: It was really intimidating. The first time that the executive producer Matt Thompson actually came to us with the idea, it was me and Lucky [Yates] who’s Dr. Krieger, and he writes Krieger’s Twitter feed. I was so intimidated. I was like “I don’t know if I can write for this character that Adam writes so well.” And so I tried — we usually write them in chunks and so I’ll send a couple weeks’ worth of tweets — and in the beginning I wrote a month’s worth of tweets just to kind of try it out. I sent them to Matt, and he sent me back an email that said “These are entirely too dirty.” I was like, “What?! What are you talking about?” So I went back and changed some stuff, and then we settled into what the voice of the character would be on Twitter. So I feel like I’ve gotten better at it over time.
The thing that’s been really fun is to kind of imagine the world outside of the show — what Pam’s second job was or what she did at night or what she cooked on the weekend and stuff like that. It ended up becoming a really fun thing to do. Then the animators, in the off-time, would get wind of some of the tweets and would draw something. So there’s some stuff that exists online that is only from Pam’s Twitter feed that’s not from the show that is just incredibly wonderful. One of them is a picture of Pam for the Fourth of July, and because it was downtime for the show’s production, they did this incredible picture of Pam riding a Fourth of July rocket. It’s so great!
Bloom: I have to admit, it’s hard for me to imagine tweets that could be too dirty coming from Pam.
Nash: I know! That’s what I was saying! Now he’s kind of backed off, but I don’t think he even reads the tweets anymore. [Laughs]
Bloom: Now you also you record the dialogue that you do separately from the other actors. Is that correct?
Nash: That’s right. We’re all separate when we record.
Bloom: What was it like going from that recording process to then being with all of the other actors and doing these scripts together as part of the Archer Live productions?
Nash: Oh, it was a dream! Working alone — in the beginning it’s all I knew. I think we were done with production on Season 2 before I met any of the other cast. I learned how to do voice work basically doing Archer. I’d done a little bit for Frisky Dingo, but all I knew was working by myself. But then to get to be on stage with Chris Parnell was such a dream come true because he’s such an incredible guy who I grew up watching. He was a comedy icon to me. Then [I met] Jessica [Walter], and she’s so incredibly classy and wonderful and talented. The whole cast is just incredible. We really got close doing Archer Live.
It’s unfortunate because Jessica and Judy [Greer] weren’t really able to be with us. But I’ve been good friends with Lucky for twenty years because we work at the same theater company. Getting to know Aisha [Tyler] and [H. Jon Benjamin] and Chris better and being in a city where none of us live — we’d do a show together and then we’d go out to dinner in like Cincinnati or whatever town we’re in — it was really fun. I actually miss doing that.
Bloom: Did you guys go on any group outings together in your off time?
Nash: Oh yeah, Aisha — I don’t know how she knows this — but she’s definitely a foodie, and she really knows amazing restaurants and amazing bars and places to get cool cocktails, so every city we went to, we would just not even have to think about it because Aisha would take care of where we would go to have drinks and eat food.
I think we were in Chicago, and we went to this crazy bar late night — a members only kind of thing where there’s no sign and you have to be on the list to get in. We go in, and it’s this insane bar where one of the drinks came encapsulated in a ball of ice with a slingshot over the top of the glass. You’d pull the stone, and it would hit the ball of ice and then the drink would come from the inside. It was just insane the kind of stuff that was going on in this place, and I was like “Where are we and how do you know about this place in a city that none of us live in?” Stuff like that happened every time we were in these cities. It was really really fun.
Bloom: It sounds pretty interesting. How do you consume a drink that you need a slingshot to break into?
Nash: Well once you break the ball of ice it kind of falls open. Then it’s just the drink in the glass because the ball’s in the glass, so you break it and then it’s just sitting in there. There was another drink that was in a pillow of lavender and — so so stupid — it comes with a knife! It’s in this plastic bag and you have to stab the bag to let the air out, and then your cocktail’s inside. Just craziness. [Laughs]
Bloom: There are two more seasons of Archer after this one, right?
Nash: That’s what we’ve been picked up for so we know there’s going to be at least ten seasons. There might be more after that, but we don’t know.
Bloom: Where do you imagine Pam going over the course of those two seasons?
Nash: Gosh, I don’t know. At this point, I think that we’ve really established that anything’s possible in the Archer universe, so who knows. We could be doing anything next. I think Pam’s kind of emerged as a little bit more of a frontrunner when it comes to action, which has been really fun, so hopefully that’ll continue.
Adam’s done a really good job each season. Every character, at least the last few seasons, has been a little bit more heavy on one character or another, and it’s showcasing the characters in different ways which has been really fun. So I really have no idea. I think the sky’s the limit. I’d love to see Pam in a relationship just because I think it’d be really funny, even if only for a couple of episodes, just to see who she would end up with.
Bloom: What do you imagine Pam’s dream partner is like? Who do you think Pam settles down with if it’s not an apartment full of two dozen Chinese women?
Nash: I have no idea. I feel like it could be just a really burly everyman kind of motorcycle-riding dude. Or it could be a woman. It really could be anybody! I like it when we got to see Pam go back to her hometown and see her ex-boyfriend, so a guy like that, the farm, salt of the earth kind of guy.
Bloom: Somebody who understands what a dairy is without needing to be told about it?
Bloom: Is there anything that you really hope that Pam accomplishes as a character or that you’d like to perform as Pam before the end of the series?
Nash: The only thing is — I’ve told Adam about this and he’s like “yeah yeah” — we always joke about if there was a spin off that it should be set at Poovey Farms, and I get to play all of the family like The Nutty Professor. [Laughs.] When we had Edie’s [Pam’s sister’s] wedding, I of course did not get to play Edie because the amazing Allison Tolman played [her]. So I was like “OK I get it,” but it would certainly be great if I got to play Pam’s dad and Pam’s mom and Pam’s aunts and uncles. That’d be super fun.
Bloom: Do you have voices in mind for Pam’s various relatives?
Nash: Not yet, but as soon as I got the go-ahead I’d start working on it!
Bloom: Where do you see Pam at the end of the series? Where do you think the end of her journey and growth as a character takes her?
Nash: Gosh, I don’t know. We’ve actually talked about this as a cast, to figure out how all of us will end. I had said before that I think maybe at the end of the series, Pam will walk off into the sunset like Bruce Banner in The Incredible Hulk. That would be so so great.
Bloom: Would you be up for a Pam spinoff where she is essentially The Hulk? This calm and seemingly mild-mannered person who goes from town to town and reveals her inner Pam-ness after a while.
Nash: Yes! I think that the world deserves that series, and I would be happy to make it happen.
The season finale of Archer airs Wednesday, May 24th at 10 P.M. EST on FXX. In the meantime, we’ll be waiting for The Incredible Pam spin-off. Follow Amber Nash on Twitter at @ambercnash.