In Eagleheart, which premieres tonight on Adult Swim, Chris Elliott plays Chris Monsanto, a U.S. Marshal whose combination of ineptitude and confidence leads to more disasters than you thought could fit into a twelve-minute episode. If you're familiar with Elliott's work over the years, then this turn might not seem so surprising. He's known for portraying characters who head blindly into strange situations. Elliott, though, wasn't convinced that he was the right person for the role.
"Right from the start I didn't think I was right for it," he said over the phone from his home in Connecticut, adding that he thought someone who was more of "a Chuck Norris" would be better for the part. But Elliott hit it off with the show's writers/producers, who include former Late Night with Conan O'Brien writers Michael Koman and Andrew Weinberg, and after Adult Swim picked up the series, he noted, the role was tailored to fit Elliott's style.
"It's pretty surreal," said Elliott of the series, describing it as something that begins as "this parody of a cop show," but morphs into "something more oddball."
"I think that people kind of expect that from me, at least my fans do."
From his work on Late Night with David Letterman and Saturday Night Live, to guest appearance on shows like The Adventures of Pete and Pete and Futurama, to his roles in the films Cabin Boy and There's Something About Mary, Elliott has continually gravitated towards unusual characters.
"In general, I've sort of developed this persona that rears its head in anything I do," he said. "Even if I'm doing something in someone else's show that's more mainstream, I try to weave my own take in it."
Though Elliott's IMDB page is packed with credits, it's one TV show that sticks out in the minds of many. Get a Life, a series about a thirty-year-old paperboy who lives with his parents and is frequently trying to get his married best friend to join him on adventures, only ran for two seasons on Fox in the early '90s. However the show, which Elliott created and starred in, remains a cult favorite. (Can someone please re-release the DVDs as a box set?)
Like its contemporaries, Married...with Children and The Simpsons, Get a Life brought a bit of slapstick back to sitcoms and injected the half-hour format with an element of the surreal and whole lot of pop culture references, setting the stage for what U.S. television audiences regularly watch now. It wouldn't be an overstatement to say that the show was more influential than anyone might have suspected at the time.
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"There was a turning point back then," Elliott said. "I don't know that we were ones that did it."
He continued, "With us, on Get a Life, it was kind of making fun of us while we were doing it, which is what I had started doing at Letterman."
For his first starring role since Get a Life, Elliott is entering a new TV game, the Adult Swim world, where people stay up far past prime time to catch shows that are frequently served in fifteen-minute time slots. But, it's a network that seems like it would be an ideal home for Elliott. With the show sandwiched between Family Guy and Rob Corddry's Childrens Hospital, Eagleheart will undoubtedly capture the attention of fans who like their comedy weird and, yes, even surreal.
Said Elliott, "I'm much happier to do something in the surreal world than in reality."