Rhea Seehorn, who stars in the new animated comedy “The Harper House,” has much in common with Debbie Harper, her 2-D alter ego — starting with their first names.
Seehorn’s real name is actually Deborah — Rhea (prounced “Ray”) is her middle name — though it’s a coincidence that series creator Brad Neely gave the same name to his lead character.
“I don’t think it was until we were recording the third episode and I said, ‘My mom is really gonna get a kick out of this’ because I was called ‘Debbie’ until I was around 13,” said Seehorn, 49. “Brad and I really hit it off; he based ‘The Harper House’ on a lot of his experiences from growing up in a small town in Arkansas and we talked about Debbie and her family. I had very similar stories and feelings and people I knew that reminded me of Debbie from my background in Virginia.”
“The Harper House,” streaming on Paramount+, revolves around super-confident Arkansas mom Debbie, her stay-at-home husband Freddie (Jason Lee), and their 11-year-old twins Ollie (Tatiana Maslany) and Todd (Ryan Flynn), who are forced to move into the decrepit house of Freddie’s dead Aunt Maggie on “the other side of town” after Debbie loses her job — and her membership in the country club. Co-stars include Gabourey Sidibe, Gary Anthony Williams and Nyima Funk as the Bradleys, their new next-door-neighbors who own a local bookstore.
“I know a lot of these women in real life who are not really concerned with being palatable at all, although [Debbie] likes being hot for her husband and likes wearing a bikini top and driving around on a riding lawnmower,” Seehorn said. “She’s just not interested in what society thinks is acceptable. I love that juxtaposition of her being a fish-out-of-water in a new neighborhood and in a new economic strata that she’s been thrust into. She’s got a learning curve.
“They’re playing it both ways,” she said of the show’s writers. “Debbie is teaching people lessons about empowerment and acceptance and boundaries and likability but she’s also being clearly educated on some of her errors — not only in defining herself but in defining others, and I think that’s awesome.”
Seehorn, best-known to TV viewers for starring opposite Bob Odenkirk on AMC’s “Better Call Saul” — returning for its sixth and final season in 2022 — is no stranger to voiceover work, having appeared in episodes of “American Dad!,” “Family Guy” and “Robot Chicken.” She said she had a glimpse of what Debbie looked like onscreen, even though she recorded her lines before the animation process was completed.
“Brad [Neely] sent me an early drawing of Debbie — I’m looking at it right now — and I taped it to my wall and would look at it when we were recording,” she said. “I knew what she looked like pretty early on, and midway through I got to see some early drawings of some of the other characters as well. I love them — I love the economy of line in the drawings; they’re not overly realistic but also not super-broad.
“I think it’s just the right amount of humanity and having recognizable features so you can have a lot of empathy for the characters when there are more sincere moments … and for the more outlandish stuff that sometimes happens.”