Scripps Howard News Service
Will Arnett, left, and Andrew Daly star as sports announcers in the comedy "Semi-Pro."

Call him an Emmy-nominated actor. Call him a dependable bit player. Call him one of today's busiest behind-the-screen workers, lending his voice to commercials and animated features. You can even call him the husband of "Saturday Night Live's" Amy Poehler.

Just don't call him a "jive turkey."

In one of the funniest moments from the movie "Semi-Pro," actor Will Arnett, who plays sports announcer Lou Redwood, adds a moment of comic suspense, tensely ticking during a poker game in which someone has called him a "jive turkey."

During the 1970s, the era in which "Semi-Pro" is set, such a zinger apparently was enough to ruin an otherwise groovy get-together.

"A good bit of it was improvised," Arnett says. "A movie like this, where you get to work with these guys who are funny improvisers — Andy Richter, Tim Meadows, Will (Ferrell), Matt Walsh. You've got a lot of guys who know what they're doing. These are guys who know their way around.

"A tone is set: Let's go in, we'll shoot the script, we'll get that. And then we'll kind of play and see where it takes us."

Arnett's character spends most of the movie sitting courtside, doing radio commentary during the games played by owner Jackie Moon's (Ferrell) Flint Tropics. His one-liners and cutting asides get more than his share of laughs.

"We were sitting at the scorer's table for weeks while the actors on the court filmed basketball scenes," he says of his work with Andrew Daly, who is play-by-play man Dick Pepperfield. "Just to entertain ourselves we'd start goofing around. And they ended up picking some of it up. It's nice that they do that, but at the same time, there's some great scripted stuff."

Arnett, a Canadian, aspired to be a serious actor. His voice, however, proved to be his most marketable quality, and he used it to get work in numerous commercials.

"It's paid the rent for many years. I've kind of lent my voice to as many household products as you could name," he says. "And then the last couple years the whole animation world has opened up. 'Ice Age: The Meltdown' and 'Ratatouille.' 'Horton Hears a Who.' And I got to do some improvising in that as well."

His popularity as a voiceover artist actually cost him a job. Arnett had been picked to voice the car for the new "Knight Rider" series, but his voice work for General Motors didn't sit well with Ford, which provides a Mustang for the NBC series. Val Kilmer replaced him as the voice of K.I.T.T.

Like his friend Ferrell, whom he has known since Ferrell and Poehler worked together on "Saturday Night Live," Arnett has dabbled in more dramatic fare. But he's perfectly at peace doing comedy.

"You've got to kind of get your chances where you can," says Arnett, who was nominated for an Emmy for his performance as George "Gob" Bluth II in the television show "Arrested Development."

"I've been lucky enough to be a part of some good stuff, and there have been some things that didn't go quite the way I wanted them to go. ... You've got to do things for the right reasons, (and) not worry about the business side of it. If you keep doing the work, eventually stuff will happen.

"It's difficult to get your shots. It's a crowded area, with a lot of guys doing a lot of things. I'm just trying to find my niche. And just show up on time."