KZ: Hi Ben, Bryce and Arnie! In the first episode, we learn about Brad Gunter, who is a school legend for getting five detentions in a week, and then disappearing. Was there a legend at your school growing up?
BG: The experience of playing Nate is like a sixth grade do-over for me. I kept to myself, I was a little introverted, I had trouble making friends in sixth grade, and I would draw. There’s such a parallel there because Nate draws and doodles and his drawings come to life, and there are these fabulous 2D animations in the midst of our CGI 3D environment in our show. This is a do over of me getting to live out the confident sixth grade that I wanted to have. I think back to high school, which is a little older than Nate, but our high school mascot was a Viking. Everybody was like, be a Viking, have this confidence, right? To me, Nate has that Viking confidence, whether I had it or not growing up. I don't know if we actually had like a Brad Gunter style personality in our school, but I will say that character is obviously played by Jack Black and it was so much fun for me to do a scene with Jack.
BC: Anything that cool – I mean, and cool is relative – but I don't think anything that cool went down at my school… But I was one of those kids where, if something cool did go down, I might not have known about it. I was very studious, and a teacher's pet and focused on trying not to get in trouble. If there was any trouble that happened that was legendary, I don't know that I would have heard about it.
A: I’m trying to think of ‘legendary trouble’. You know, what was weird about my school is… I went to school in Plano, Texas, and it's a very competitive school district. Some parents would hold their kids back two years, so they would be bigger for the football team. I remember my dad dropping us off at school once, and he was like, ‘Oh, is that one of your teachers?’ I was like, ‘No, that's Mike so-and-so!’
KZ: Nate causes a lot of trouble and likes to pull some funny pranks. Do you have a favourite prank from the show?
BG: On a broad level, I really appreciate that with Nate's pranks, just when you think it can't get any worse, it does. When you think it can't get any more over the top, like he's really messed up this time… It gets more messed up. I really appreciate the way that our writers have paced the comedy in the show. I think if you watch a full episode, the comedic beats of the pranks have room to breathe. One of the things I really think allows us to execute those pranks the best, in terms of the performances, is that we record the show as an ensemble. That allows us to riff off of each other and to improvise with one another, to define those little magic moments in a script in a way that we wouldn't be able to do if we were recording the show separately.
KZ: Which character in Big Nate were you most like when you were in school?
BC: I promise it's absolutely Dee Dee, the character I play is very much who I can relate to the most. Dee Dee has this just abundant passion and love for theatre and performing arts and I've always known that I was going to be an artist, gonna be an actor. Also Dee Dee doesn't like to deviate from the rules too much. She doesn't like to break them, if she can help it. She takes school seriously, similar to the Francis character – so if there was someone that I would say that's not my own character, I would say Francis is the closest, but studious, and loves her friends and loves theatre. I'm Dee Dee all the way.
A: I'm 100% Teddy Ortiz. I mean, he's mischievous. He says things before he thinks about it. He's always down to go along with things. He's actually decent at school, but he would rather be hanging out with his friends and having fun. Overall I think he’s a nice down to earth guy. Also, it's amazing on the show getting to play a Hispanic character because usually on camera, my skin is so light, but as a kid, I always told my friends like, ‘Yeah, I'm Hispanic’ and they’d be like, ‘No, you're not.’ I eat menudo like, every Sunday!
KZ: The third episode, Valentine’s Day of Horror, plays on some horror movie tropes. Are you afraid of anything?
BG: I appreciate you taking note of the fun horror tropes in that episode, and the edgy humour in it, because I think that's reflected throughout the series. There’s a bite to the humour, which is what I enjoyed growing up watching OG NickToons, like Doug, Rugrats and The Ren and Stimpy Show. I would say I am fearful of global pandemics. Not a fan, one star, wouldn't recommend. What I really appreciate about Nate is that he doesn't let fear stop him. Even if he is fearful of something, it doesn't stop him moving forward and tackling things with a spirit of adventure – even if it gets him and his friends into some trouble. If he messes up or if he gets his friends in trouble, he'll also be the first to apologize, recognize his wrongs and correct it moving forward. I think Nate is kind of fearless, that's one of his coolest traits.
KZ: Do you have a favourite scene or moment throughout the season?
BG: Absolutely. I love the irreverent, edgy humour, so I think of our ‘Valentine's Day of Horror’ episode. I also love the moments that really show us Nate's heart – that show he's a good kid. I think that you see his insecurity in the scene in the first episode, where he's questioning his awesomeness. He has a mystical conversation through a bathroom stall with the legendary Brad Gunter, who's played by Jack Black. It was a bucket list moment for me to play a scene with Jack – he is so funny in the role of Brad. It’s honestly my favourite scene, I think we've done in the entire series, because it shows Nate's softer side, a more intimate side, you get to see a little bit of the insecurity that he hides with his sort of confident bravado that he puts on. I like those quieter moments, because they allow us to earn the broader bigger gags like vomiting from pizza. Those gags are more enjoyable when you see the more grounded side of Nate as well.
Big Nate is streaming now on Paramount+!
Want to read more of our interviews with Ben, Bryce and Arnie? Grab the April 2022 ‘Good To Be Bad’ issue of K-Zone, on sale now!