THR caught up with the HBO political comedy’s creator Armando Iannucci to discuss the premiere and what viewers can look forward to this season.
[Editor's note: This interview was conducted before news of series creator Armando Iannucci's departure.]
Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is back and better (and more presidential) than ever.
Along with medieval battles and tech geeks, the politicos of HBO’s caustic satire Veep, returned Sunday with the show’s fourth season premiere, which found Selina Meyer occupying a new office — one shaped a bit like an Oval.
The season premiere found the newly minted commander-in-chief prepping for her first State of the Union address. However, in typical Veep fashion, everything hit the fan behind the scenes. Amongst the blunders? A teleprompter that stopped working, wrong drafts of the speech being read and Selina promising to increase military spending on that very initiative she was trying to cut.
It’s a less than fortuitous start for the new POTUS, but is it only a preview of what’s to come? Can Selina rise above and be a good president while still trying to run a campaign? The Hollywood Reporter talked with series creator Armando Iannucci to get all the answers on what to expect in season four.
In the premiere, Selina was again let down by members of her staff at the State of the Union address. Is it possible for her to be a good president if she’s being undermined by the competency of her staff?
She makes an announcement that she doesn’t expect to make that brings her applause and will probably improve her poll ratings by accident. What you find about this is that everything that you think of as being a deciding moment of someone’s presidency, if you really examine what went on behind the scenes, you’ll realize how last-minute it was, how shambolic it was, how panicky it was. It’s based on a story about Bill Clinton’s first State of the Union address when they put the wrong draft of the speech in and it came up on the teleprompter, so he improvised for 10 minutes and it as the best 10 minutes of the whole evening. What might look terrible when you see it close up, can also look fine when it’s watched at home on TV news.
With so many mistakes and mix-ups by the members of the staff, is everyone capable enough to work for a president? Who would you say is the most competent and ready for the job?
Someone like Ben (Kevin Dunn), the chief of staff who gives of an air of being worn down, mentally pummeled by the job, but is someone who knows how to fix things. He knows when to threaten people, how knows how to shut things down, knows how to advise. He’s seen it all and therefore he has a plan for every eventuality, even if he doesn’t give the air of someone who has a plan.
The episode we saw some familiar faces but also saw a few new ones, including Patton Oswalt. How will this transition to the Oval Office expand the world and characters in it?
People come and go much more frequently. We actually see faces and you don’t know how long they are going to last, but it’s come as an opportunity to bring quite a few people in across the whole season. We love opening the world. Part of my plan season to season is to open the horizons further and make the world a bit bigger. What we haven’t seen yet is money and the whole lobbying industry and that comes under the microscope in a big, big way.
Speaking of guests, how did you lure Hugh Laurie (House) back to TV?
We wanted a major new character of his particular type for the show. I heard, through the grapevine, that he was a great fan of the show. We connected in the U.K. — the writers are all based in the U.K. — so we met for lunch, chatted with writers and we worked out the character and the storyline. It worked out really well and he was a delight to work with. He has a significant impact on the show when he arrives.
Any hints at who his character is?
He’s a big hitter, a big figure who vacated the public stage for about three or four years and is now back and when Selina is compared to him, Selina might find him a bit overshadowing because he’s a good operator. He presents Selina — who’s feeling vulnerable as she closes in on the election — with different options, but also difficulties as well.
Your previous series The Thick of It ran for four seasons in the U.K. Now that you’ve reached that same point, how long do you see Veep running?
As long as we can keep reinventing it. Look at season one, she was very much a powerless, marginalized figure and then we gradually brought her closer to the central power, and then we made her campaign, and then we made her president. We’re constantly refreshing her and we can keep refreshing her dynamic within the show — well, obviously, constitutionally there’s a limit unless you slowed down time, she can only be president for so long. Any comedy writer or showrunner will tell you they’ll feel there’s a natural cycle and natural life to their show. Right now we’re very happy. There is certainly more room for this show to explore new areas without putting any definitive limits on it. There’s still loads of work to be done with this presidency.
Veep is one of a handful of political-themed shows on the air right now. Do you watch any of the other ones? Where doe you see Veep’s place in the TV political world?
I dip in and out of [them] but I really never want to be affected by what the other shows are like. We went into [Veep] thinking, up until then, that the portrayal of Washington had either been really melodramatic in the dark arts and corruption or heroic and noble and the president is also a qualified jet pilot who can defend America from an alien invasion. (Laughs). I wanted to do something that was closer to the reality of it, the every day — sometimes exciting and sometimes humdrum and tedious. That was my starting point. I tried to get some sense of the details of the day and the authenticity of it, not to be making a statement in terms of tone, and whether you should be feeling this noble or this is corrupt. [Instead], I just let it feel like the everyday, [and allow you] put yourself in that position and ask yourself whether under the circumstances, would you do the same.
What can you say about the rest of the season?
There’s a trip to Iran! Also, little things that happen in the first three episodes will come back to dominate the second half of the season.
Thoughts on the premiere? Excited for Hugh Laurie to come back to TV? Sound off in the comments below. Veep airs Sundays at 10:30 p.m. on HBO.
Hugh Laurie is White House bound.
The British actor, best known for his two-time, Golden Globe-winning turn as the title character on House, is joining Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Veep, EW has confirmed.
The HBO political comedy left off with vice president Selina Meyer (Louis-Dreyfus) ascending to the oval office when POTUS resigned to take care of his wife. The show is now heading into its fourth season.
Details are unknown about Laurie’s role at this time, but with Meyer in charge, at least for the time being, someone might fill the role of vice president. Something to consider…
Laurie, best known for his turn as the titular cranky M.D. on Fox’s “House,” took to Twitter to verify that he would join Julia Louis-Dreyfus for part of the upcoming fourth season of “Veep,” praising Louis-Dreyfus and co. as “the funniest and best cast on TV.”
Details concerning his role and the duration of his stay have yet to be released.
The appearance will mark Laurie’s return to TV after wrapping the eighth season of “House” in 2012. He picked up two Golden Globe wins and six Emmy noms for the role.
The two-time Golden Globe winner (and six-time Emmy nominee) was spotted filming a scene today by Baltimore Media Blog, and HBO has confirmed to TVLine that he’ll indeed appear in the Julia Louis-Dreyfus comedy when it returns with fresh episodes next year.
The show’s reps declined to offer details on Laurie’s character — but a source indicates the stint will be for multiple episodes.
Louis-Dreyfus’ character, Selina Meyer, became the leader of the free world at the end of Season 3, when the never-seen POTUS suddenly resigned to care for his ailing wife. At the time, the hapless Meyer was in the midst of a quickly sinking bid for her party’s presidential nomination.
While Baltimore Media Blog speculated that Laurie might be playing Meyer’s campaign manager, that role was already occupied in the Season 3 finale by Anna Chlumsky’s ambitious Amy.
One role that wasn’t filled when we last saw Selina (and her very squeaky shoes) addressing the nation: A potential Biden to her Obama. And while Laurie’s British accent would have to be concealed (just like he did during his House days) in order for him to play her running-mate, a Louis-Drefyus/Laurie ticket would be potentially unstoppable — at least from a comedic standpoint.
Last month, AMC signed on as co-producer (along with BBC) of a six-to eight-episode event series adaptation of John le Carre’s The Night Manager, starring Laurie and Tom Hiddleston (Thor).
Veep has added one more accomplished funny person to its cast of accomplished funny people, as TVLine reports that Hugh Laurie has signed on for a recurring role in the show's fourth season. Neither Laurie nor HBO has said anything about his role; though it seems likely he'll play the new veep, we would pay at least three pound sterling to see him play a scheming prime minister. Anyway, look at Tony Hale's tweet below, and try to determine whether Laurie looks more presidential, ministerial, or even senatorial.
TVLine, Variety, EW.Vulture
We talk to the Veep and Arrested Development actor.
–Courtesy of HBO
What can we expect from season four of Veep (premiering April 12)? We know Julia Louis-Dreyfus's Selina Meyer is President now.
Yeah, the nation is in a bad place. The nation is about to experience serious trauma with her at the head. This is a woman who should never, ever be in this position. She should never have been Vice President so the chaos is going to get crazier and she's not going to know how to handle it, and she's got a bunch of Keystone Cops around her who also don't know what they're doing. So it is just a complete and utter madhouse, but that's what makes it fun. It is craaazy. It goes in wacky directions.
What does this mean for your character, Gary?
Gary should be able to step up his game because he is now serving the President. However, he's not a huge fan of change. He's been with her for longer than he should have been, and he was pretty content with her being Vice President, second-in-command, helping her with her lipsticks, and whatever else she needs. The fact that now the stakes have gotten higher, his anxiety has gotten higher, if that's even possible. I think he's probably increased his therapy intake, however, that doesn't seem to be helping. I don't think he's using any of the tools he's learning.
Well, realistically, when would he even have time to go to therapy?
Exactly. His entire identity and time is devoted to Selena. So he probably has shame for having therapy. He not only has shame for everything else in his life, he even has shame for even having therapy because he probably feels like . . . the thought of having to talk ill about her or behind her back is just his nightmare. So I think that therapy hour is probably not a fun time for him. However, he probably does phone therapy on his lunch break, if he ever has a lunch break.
On both Arrested Development and Veep, you play men who are under the thumbs of domineering women. What gives?
Well, unfortunately, there's a codependent theme in my work. I think I do that very well. It is ironic that those are probably the two roles that I'm most known for. There are strong similarities. Buster, however, is a little more . . . I think he's probably a little more in the severely mentally ill category. Gary potentially needs a 24/7 therapist , but he steps up, whereas, Buster, it takes a lot for him to probably get to the pharmacy. He's probably rocking in a corner somewhere. I think if something happened to Selena, Gary would definitely take the bullet.
Tell me a little bit about the filming of Veep. It's a mix of script and improv, right?
The way Armando Iannucci works is he shoots a lot of footage, and it's a really fun process. We never have a clue how it's going to be edited. It's such a treat to see it on screen. It's a process I've never experienced with television. Typically, you get a script, and then you show up that day, and you shoot the script and then you move on. Typically, in theater there's a lot of rehearsal. This is a process where we have two or three weeks of rehearsal before we shoot, and it's a time where we get the material. We see if it gels. We find those moments. We come up with bits. The writers create those moments. There's such a strong, beautiful foundation to begin with, and, what's so great about these writers is they're not so precious with the material. They put it out there and allow it to morph and become whatever it's going to become. It's such a gift. It's an environment, which is so open to ideas, everyone's input. It's a real gift.
How do you keep a straight face?
Let me tell you how: I don't. Also, Julia has taught me the skill of digging your fingernails into your hand. I don't have the nails she has. I'm closest in proximity to Julia, so I hear the little things she does. The fact of the matter, is I just don't keep it together, and she wants to start a drinking game about the many times that I break. Like, I'll turn my back to the camera. I'll look in the bag. And it's all because I'm laughing. It's shameless laughing, and I have no self-control. So she taught me this thing that if you just cannot keep it together and you're tired and it's late, you just dig your nails into your hand. It's just a sad, sad, unprofessional actor trick.
Both on this and Arrested, you're working across from these people who are incredibly gifted, and it's not human to be able to give it a straight face because it's just so frickin' funny. Even if they do just a glance of the eye or something, it's like, 'Whelp, I'm out. I can't.' My favorite things to watch—I'm not a person who has watched the episodes over and over—are the gag reels. That's what I remember. I remember the laughing. I remember not being able to keep it together. I remember messing up. That's the community that I remember, everybody just cracking up, and that's what I love to watch over and over.
Hugh Laurie is guest starring in season four. Who is he playing and how was working with him?
He's got serious comedic chops. He knew all these guys coming into the show, like Armando Iannucci, because he had worked for years before in the comedy realm in the U.K. So it was really fun to see him come and do it. I can't really give too much information as to what he's going to be playing, but not only is he super funny, but he's just a really nice guy. He just has this thing about him that is just—it's hard to describe without giving too much away—but he's really fun to watch. It's just adding to the mix another person who I can't keep it together with. I can't keep a straight face. Great, just bring in the problems.
What's the outlook for more Arrested Development?
Well, it's one of those things. The whole cast, we're all huge fans of the show and any time Mitch Hurwitz, who created the show, calls and tells us about any opportunity, we just jump at the chance. What's so exciting about Arrested is you never know what direction it's go to go. It was just a show that was built on surprises, like, 'My hand's eaten off by a seal!' or 'Liza Minelli is my girlfriend!' So, for an actor, that's an amazing dream because it doesn't fit any formula. So I just want to do it again because I'm like, 'What is this guy going to come up with? What is in his brain?' We all would jump at the chance. Honestly, it's just a matter of scheduling. Everyone is doing their own thing and it gets a little crazy.
And what about season five of Veep?
I don't know. It's funny. I've been doing this for almost 25 years, and I get so used to never knowing. I think I got my first taste of it on Arrested because every year we were like, 'Are we getting cancelled?' So when I'm on a job I'm just like, 'I'm here. I'm so thankful that I'm here.' If it happens again, that's great, but I never have any clue. I would hope and love if there was a season five, but I don't know. I just have no clue what the bigwigs are thinking.
How has it been filming in Baltimore for four seasons?
Oh my god, I love Baltimore. I'm crazy about Baltimore. It's nice to come back. The first year you're adapting, you're trying to learn the area, and now it's so fun to go back to the same places and just have the restaurants that I love. I'm still such a fan of Woodberry Kitchen, and there's even a home store named Trohv in Hampden that I love going to where I get fun gifts. And Golden West, I would go grab lunch. I love Amuse toy store. They did a little book reading when my children's book came out. It is really fun to create these relationships and friendships that I come back to each year. It feels a lot more like home, which is nice. All of us are away from our families. Most of us have kids, so it's really tough to be away from them three months out of the year. The blessing of it is that we all really get along and you live this nomadic gypsy lifestyle. You create a community wherever you go. So it's so nice to have people around like this cast, and, every now and then I'll just walk into Whole Foods because it's familiar. So I'll just kind of walk around because it reminds me of the Whole Foods in LA.
Everyone has their own way of coping with homesickness.
I tend to medicate with grocery shopping.
Categories: Network TV Press Releases
Written By Amanda Kondolojy
March 24th, 2015
via press release:
EMMY®-NOMINATED HBO COMEDY SERIES VEEP,
CREATED BY ARMANDO IANNUCCI AND STARRING EMMY®-WINNER
JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS, RETURNS FOR ITS FOURTH SEASON APRIL 12
Having become president after her predecessor stepped down, Selina Meyer is about to give her first major speech as commander-in-chief, though it remains to be seen whether her term will outlast that of America’s shortest-serving president, William Henry Harrison. With the stakes for Selina and her team higher than ever before, she must still run for election, and in the weeks to come they will grapple with how to make her seem “presidential.”
The Emmy®-nominated comedy series VEEP kicks off its ten-episode fourth season SUNDAY, APRIL 12 (10:30-11:00 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO. Created by Armando Iannucci (Oscar® nominee for co-writing “In the Loop”), the show stars Emmy® and Screen Actors Guild Award winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus as President Selina Meyer, for whom even the most banal action can set off a ripple effect that has unexpected and far-reaching consequences.
The ensemble cast of the show also includes Emmy® winner Tony Hale (“Arrested Development”) as Gary, her devoted bodyman; Emmy® nominee Anna Chlumsky (“In the Loop”) as Amy, her campaign manager; Reid Scott (“The Intern”) as Dan, Selina’s senior advisor; Matt Walsh (“Into the Storm”) as Mike, her weathered press secretary; Timothy C. Simons (“The Interview”) as Jonah, vying to get back onto the White House staff; Sufe Bradshaw (“Overnight”) as Sue, President Meyer’s wry executive assistant; Kevin Dunn (HBO’s “True Detective”) as Ben, president’s chief of staff; Emmy® nominee Gary Cole (“The Good Wife”) as senior strategist Kent; and new series regular Sam Richardson (“The Office”) as Richard, a White House staffer.
Recurring guest stars on the new season include Patton Oswalt (“The Goldbergs”) as Teddy, the new vice president’s hands-on chief of staff; Sarah Sutherland (HBO’s “The Newsroom”) as Catherine, Selina’s daughter; and Hugh Laurie (“House M.D.”) as a powerful political figure.
Episode #29: “Joint Session”
Debut: SUNDAY, APRIL 12 (10:30-11:00 p.m. ET/PT)
Other HBO playdates: April 12 (12:30 a.m., 3:30 a.m.), 13 (1:30 a.m.), 14 (10:30 p.m., 5:00 a.m.), 15 (7:30 p.m.), 16 (9:00 p.m.) and 17 (1:30 a.m.)
HBO2 playdates: April 13 (10:00 p.m.), 17 (5:40 p.m.) and 18 (4:30 p.m., 2:00 a.m.)
Twenty-four hours before Selina’s first major speech as president, her staff frantically tries to work out how she can say two completely opposite things at the same time. Gary questions his worth now that he can no longer be close to Selina; Jonah is put off by the approach of Teddy, the new VP’s chief of staff; Amy learns that Bill Ericsson (Diederich Bader), a rival campaign manager, may make a play for her job.
Teleplay by Simon Blackwell & Georgia Pritchett; story by Armando Iannucci & Simon Blackwell & Georgia Pritchett; directed by Chris Addison.
Episode #30: “East Wing”
Debut: SUNDAY, APRIL 19 (10:30-11:00 p.m.)
Other HBO playdates: April 19 (12:30 a.m., 3:30 a.m.), 20 (11:15 p.m.), 21 (12:30 a.m., 3:30 a.m.), 22 (7:00 p.m.), 23 (9:00 p.m.) and 24 (1:30 a.m.)
HBO2 playdates: April 20 (10:00 p.m.), 24 (5:00 p.m.) and 25 (12:15 p.m., 12:30 a.m.)
The president’s staff prepares for her state visit with the Israeli prime minister. Mike tries out a new look for his more visible role. Teddy does Jonah a favor, while continuing to invade his personal space. Stuck in traffic with Richard, Amy learns via FaceTime that Selina is bringing in a new director of communications. Gary goes overboard while planning the state dinner for the Israeli delegation, and a painting in the White House comes into the spotlight.
Teleplay by Kevin Cecil & Roger Drew & Andy Riley; story by Armando Iannucci & Kevin Cecil & Roger Drew & Andy Riley; directed by Stephanie Laing.
EPISODE INFO: VEEP APRIL, 2015
Episode #31: “Data”
Debut: SUNDAY, APRIL 26 (10:30-11:00 p.m.)
Other HBO playdates: April 26 (12:30 a.m., 3:30 a.m.), 27 (12:15 a.m.), 28 (10:30 p.m., 3:30 a.m.), 29 (7:30 p.m.) and 30 (9:00 p.m.), and May 1 (1:30 a.m.)
HBO2 playdate: April 27 (10:00 p.m.)
When the personal details of a previously anonymous girl mentioned by the president are leaked, Selina’s team tries to find a scapegoat for the data breach. Catherine tells Selina she wants to support an anti-bullying campaign; Dan tasks Jonah and Richard with buying fireworks for a campaign rally. While Mike is about to make a dreadful error at a press conference, the president hosts the annual Easter Egg Roll and reads a story to the assembled kids.
Teleplay by Simon Blackwell & Neil Gibbons & Rob Gibbons; story by Armando Iannucci & Simon Blackwell & Neil Gibbons & Rob Gibbons; directed by Becky Martin.
In Aug. 2014, Julia Louis-Dreyfus received the Emmy® for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series, her third win in a row in the category; she previously received Emmys® for “Seinfeld” and “The New Adventures of Old Christine.” In addition, Tony Hale received the Emmy® for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series in Sept. 2013. VEEP was also nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series Emmys® for each of its first three seasons.
“VEEP: The Complete Third Season” will be available March 31 on Blu-ray with Digital HD and DVD. All ten episodes are also available now on Digital HD.
By SAM ANDERSON
April 9, 2015
The show begins — the very first scene of the very first episode — with a man helping a woman put on her coat. The man is tall. The woman is small. The man is balding. The woman has the shimmering hair of an extremely convincing shampoo ad. The man wears a nondescript dark suit, a striped tie and some kind of ID badge — the uniform of the bureaucratic functionary. He has a five o’clock shadow and the hint of a double chin. The woman wears a snug red dress with a deep neckline, an elegant gold necklace, understated makeup. She is the vice president of the United States. Getting her coat on is therefore an official matter of state, and the man is clearly treating it as such; he concentrates intently on maneuvering her right arm into the coat’s right sleeve. The woman, meanwhile, pays no attention to the man or to the coat, never even glances back; she stares forward, into the eyes of her chief of staff, with whom she is having a conversation.
“Who else is confirmed?” the vice president asks. “Is Senator Dorsey confirmed?”
The vice president will be attending an event and wants to make sure its guest list suits the prodigious requirements of her vanity.
Watch the man’s hands. The vice president reaches back, unconsciously, to put her bare arm through the coat’s open sleeve, but she takes too high an angle — so the man reaches down and, with a pinch of his long delicate fingers, steers the woman’s forearm a few degrees lower. He tucks her arm into the sleeve like a letter into an envelope. It is the gesture — all at once — of a mother, a lover, a caretaker, a servant.
Now that the arm is in the sleeve, the man gently touches the vice president on the shoulder, like a trainer praising a show dog, and then pivots away, immediately, to the next vital matter of state: arranging papers on a desk. The vice president buttons her coat and continues her conversation, and soon she and her entourage are all moving down a hallway, still talking, with the man trotting at her side, hauling an oversize leather bag, being ignored.
This is our introduction to Selina Meyer, the titular vice president of HBO’s political satire “Veep,” and Gary Walsh, her so-called bag man. (A bag man is basically a white-collar political sherpa.) They are the most and least powerful characters in a universe obsessed with power. That first interaction — the putting on of the sleeve — lasts approximately two seconds, but it contains the entire relationship: a profound intimacy that is also, somehow, no intimacy at all.
Gary and Selina are embodied by a pair of unusually subtle comic actors: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, of “Seinfeld” fame, and Tony Hale, of “Arrested Development” semi-cult-notoriety. (He played Buster Bluth, the mother-terrorized man-child.) They complement each other perfectly. Louis-Dreyfus is beautiful and compact, with an angular face, a classic nose, and a strong, pointed chin. Hale is tall and gangly. His nose is large. His chin is soft, and his constant looking down often doubles it. Louis-Dreyfus’s face is always framed, in the show, by her perfect vice-presidential hair: It’s like a small theater for the performance of expressions. Hale, by contrast, is bald and has a big, round, wide-open moon face: It’s as if his whole head is his face, a pale sphere designed to beam emotions out across the room. Both actors are dexterous physical comedians, and their scenes together have the feel of carefully worked-out dance routines — two bodies probing the closed, quiet spaces of official government offices.
Gary and Selina cohabit a dysfunctional not-quite-romance: brutal, abusive, pathetic and unbalanced, but, at the same time, almost in spite of itself, soulful and affectionate. The show’s creator, Armando Iannucci, calls their performance “a strange, demented double act.” As the show begins its fourth season on April 12, the rapport between Hale and Louis-Dreyfus has ripened into one of the greatest shows-within-a-show on television — and one of the most satisfying comic pairings in TV history.
Gary serves his boss as a “human teleprompter for small talk.”
When Iannucci was conceiving “Veep,” he heard that every senior politician in Washington had a body man — someone to carry supplies, provide snacks and act as a social buffer. A sort of interpersonal-logistical Secret Service agent. A human ball bearing. Most of these people are young — for example, Obama’s Reggie Love — because the job is a perfect springboard to a sustainable, grown-up career.
But then somebody told Iannucci that, on rare occasions, a body man will stick around for decades — he’ll still be carrying briefcases and running errands into his 40s and beyond. Who were these people? he wondered. What motivated them to stay? The comic possibilities seemed endless. The middle-aged body man would have to be intensely insecure, Iannucci decided. He would be an object of mockery to his more ambitious colleagues, the butt of a million jokes. The character could easily have turned out to be cynical and pathetic.
What happened, however, was Tony Hale. He managed to transform Gary before he even landed the part, without speaking a word, at his audition.
“I remember that moment distinctly,” Iannucci told me. Hale had been asked to perform one of Gary’s signature moves: pulling items for the veep out of his big leather shoulder bag. “He did it with great care and delicacy,” Iannucci remembered. “There was a kind of sadness to it, but also a pride about every object. What struck me was the humanity of it. He was a funny character, but you weren’t laughing at him for being sad and broken. He’s very warm. You knew Gary had walked into the room.”
Hale had performed a small miracle: He smuggled tenderness into the otherwise harsh world of “Veep.” Iannucci found himself removing scenes of outright cruelty. Gary was too human, too sad, to be annihilated over and over by the show’s fire hose of vitriol. This pathos made Hale an ideal foil for Louis-Dreyfus, who performs a similar miracle with the role of Selina. Played by a lesser actor, “Veep” ’s vice president would be merely loathsome: She is false, cruel, petty, demanding, moody and hypocritical. Her smalltalk is infantilizing. (“Look at you, a grown woman with cotton candy!” she says at a North Carolina pig roast. “Pink like your cheeks.”) Her speeches are inane. (As one of her aides puts it in the new season: “This is just noise-shaped air.”) Louis-Dreyfus, however, imbues this monstrous figure with a strange charisma — a precise combination of authority and vulnerability — that somehow redeems her. We root for Selina, even to the point of wanting her to become president, a position for which she is disastrously unqualified.
Through all of Selina’s misadventures and disgraces, we never learn what political party she belongs to. Policy, in “Veep,” is very much beside the point. Its characters never even really discuss it. What they do, instead, with hyperverbal vigor, is insult one another. “Veep” ’s characters speak fluently in baroque obscenities, with seven-layer metaphors and breathtaking innovations in profanity. No one is better at insults, of course, than the vice president herself. And yet one of the show’s great paradoxes is that Selina’s facility with words exists only in the privacy of offices, hallways and back rooms; as soon as she appears in public, she becomes an inarticulate buffoon.
This is, more or less, the central joke of “Veep.” The show draws most of its comic energy from the disjunction between public and private — the threshold, which a politician must cross hundreds of times every day, from reality to image: from the insecure, petty, foul-mouthed, power-hungry, private person to the bulletproof, platitudinous, smiling public figure. Selina pivots constantly between these two worlds.
Gary is the pivot on which she makes that turn. He performs the most menial chores with loving devotion. He sets up the portable platform on which Selina stands to look taller during speeches; he squirts hand sanitizer into her palm after she shakes somebody’s hand. As she walks through a room, Gary leans down to her ear, over and over, whispering cues about the people who approach — this one plays the trumpet, that one has a glass eye, this one just gave birth to triplets. He looks like one of those toy birds, dipping and dipping and dipping into a glass of water. Gary’s giant leather shoulder bag is practically a character in itself (he calls it the Leviathan); it has 60 inner pockets that contain everything the vice president might ever need — hand sanitizer, eyedrops, wipes (scented and unscented), yogurt, ginseng, boxes of official vice-presidential M&Ms — all of which he has trained himself to retrieve without looking.
Gary is a living encyclopedia of the vice president’s body. He knows that her upper lip sweats when she’s nervous, that her stomach bloats when she drinks beer. When Selina wants to wear her red dress for her daughter’s 21st birthday party, Gary tells her that she won’t be able to wear a bra with it. When someone is about to sneeze on her, Gary leaps to block it like a Secret Service agent taking a bullet. When she has to stand up suddenly, he kneels and puts her shoes on, then straightens her skirt. For the vice president to be touched by any other character is toxic, a violation. But Gary is allowed to be constantly close. In the power-hungry world of “Veep,” this human closeness feels profound.
It’s like a marriage, but a comically, creepily sexless one. Actual encounters between the bodies of Gary and Selina — a celebratory hug, the skin-to-skin exchange of hand sanitizer — are invariably awkward. There is a virtuosic scene near the end of Season 1 in which Selina asks Gary to break up with her boyfriend for her — a completely inappropriate request that she manages to pull off with a master class in voice modulation. Louis-Dreyfus shifts, in the middle of the interaction, from the vulnerability of someone in a failing relationship to the authoritative preening of a politician at a podium. “Uhhh, Gary?” she says, her face creased with worry and pain. Gary comes scuttling over. “I need you to end it with Ted,” she says, and then — as if pulling a tool out of a shed — she tilts her head, narrows her eyes and adopts the stilted cadence of a politician discussing foreign policy: “But you need to do it very sensitively, and just make sure there aren’t any repercussions.” You can see on Gary’s face competing tides of discomfort: his rising terror of the task itself, overwhelmed by the much larger terror of refusing it. In a world of swirling opportunism and false friends, Selina knows that only Gary will never fail her. “He’d be happy if I shot him in the face,” she tells one of her staffers. The love song of Gary and Selina, discordant as it often is, is the only one she can be sure will play on.
“They’re sort of codependent,” Iannucci said. “I think Selina likes to think that Gary’s a nothing. That she doesn’t need Gary. All he does is carry her stuff around. That she’s bigger than that and she can form proper relationships with other people. But there is a part of her that knows that’s not the case. Being the political animal she is has actually destroyed her ability to form proper relationships with other people. So she almost returns to Gary as ‘the one.’ But she could never say it out loud. Because she feels that is demeaning of her. If you officially become the most powerful person in the world, then what does anyone else mean to you?
“You sort of feel, in 20 years’ time, when she’s resident in the Selina Meyer Presidential Library and writing her fifth volume of memoirs, the only one among all those people around her that will still be there will be Gary. Bringing her breakfast, or tea, which she slurps from a straw.”
The infamous nosebleed scene from Season 3.
Lacey Terrell / HBO
In person, out of character, Hale and Louis-Dreyfus have an easy rapport. I spoke with them in Los Angeles, where they both live. The creation of “Veep” is labor-intensive — there are weeks of rehearsals, during which everyone improvises scenes and revises scripts, followed by months of filming outside Baltimore — so they spend a good portion of every year in very close quarters. During filming, Hale and Louis-Dreyfus play cards every night and sit next to one another every morning getting their makeup done. They make each other laugh a lot. (Hale is infamous, on set, for breaking, or ruining scenes by laughing; he keeps a photo, in his office, of himself and Louis-Dreyfus breaking particularly hard.)
I met Hale first. He came around a corner, wearing a suit and tie, and I was momentarily shocked. I was used to seeing him as Buster Bluth (giant glasses, hook hand) or as Gary Walsh (stooped over, whispering), but the actual Hale is tall, handsome, healthy and self-possessed, with conspicuously beautiful teeth. He was striding — very much not slinking around the edges of the room looking worried.
I asked Hale what goes into his transformation. He told me that the key to Gary’s physicality is his posture, which is of course related to lack of power. Hale is 10 inches taller than Louis-Dreyfus, and this imbalance, he said, is constantly horrifying to Gary — exactly the opposite of the way things should be. To make up for it, Gary slumps. “He is desperately trying to be below her,” Hale told me. “If he could shorten his legs for her, he would do it happily.”
Louis-Dreyfus joined us a short time later. She entered the room at a full run, like a hero in an action movie, because she was worried she had kept us waiting. She was dressed casually, in sandals and glasses, with long, wavy hair in place of her helmet-like “Veep” wig.
Hale and Louis-Dreyfus agreed that it was impossible to articulate what went into their comic chemistry. It struck them as beyond language. The best word they could think of was “trust.”
“When you put something out there, you want to know that it’s going to be backed up,” Hale said. “When you throw the ball, it’s going to be thrown back to you.”
This reminded me of one of my favorite small “Veep” moments, which involves the literal catching of an object. Selina steps into her office, holds out her purse, and — assuming, without looking, that Gary is there to take it — starts to drop it on the floor. Gary, who is actually still out in the hallway (Selina has abandoned him, midsentence), comes sprinting through the door, as if he’s been fired out of a cannon, grabbing the purse just before it falls. This wasn’t scripted — it was something that occurred to the actors in the moment, as a nonverbal exchange that would express the characters’ relationship perfectly: her assumption of his presence, his desperation to be present.
Louis-Dreyfus once referred to the comedy of “Veep” as “grout” humor. It occurs in the moments between moments: gestures, expressions, rhythms, looks. Much of it could never be written into a script. Louis-Dreyfus, in particular, is a master of these subtle, subverbal touches. She can encode an “uh” or an “uh-oh,” or the smallest clearing of the throat, with all the meaning of a page of dialogue. When you add Hale’s own physical talents — his eyes, in particular, are large and expressive (one of Selina’s staffers calls them “cow eyes”) — you get a little nonverbal symphony playing out under the surface of every conversation.
Gary is the only character on “Veep” who possesses zero linguistic skill, which means that much of Hale’s job is to make silence interesting. When Selina yells at her director of communications and storms out of the room, for instance, Gary stands there for a few seconds, eyes wide, holding a disapproving stare, making sure that even in Selina’s absence the man feels her displeasure. When Selina makes one of her outlandish off-color proclamations, Gary nods supportively, but you can see the shock in his face as he staggers backward and flees the room. “We always find lots of shots in the edit, afterward,” Iannucci told me, “where something has gone a bit wrong, deliberately, in the script, and you can see Gary in the background, having a mental breakdown behind his eyes.”
Gary’s constant sexual discomfort points to one of the show’s special pleasures: the delight it takes in reversing the usual polarities of gender and power. This is a large part of Selina and Gary’s dynamic: the small woman, foul-mouthed and swaggering, shadowed everywhere by a meek, doting, very tall man.
The relationship between Gary and Selina, and the series as a whole, reached a hysterical climax at the end of Season 3, inside a shabby bathroom. Just when Selina seems to have hit her political nadir — her nastiness has been made scandalously public, and her presidential campaign has cratered — she learns of an impossible reversal of fortune: The president, for personal reasons, has decided to step down, which means that she is about to become the most powerful person in the world. She excuses herself, in shock, and disappears into the bathroom of a community center, where she happens to be on a campaign stop. (She is meeting, opportunistically, with a pair of Syrian refugees.)
The person who comes to check on her is, of course, Gary.
“Ma’am?” he says, knocking. “Ma’am?”
Gary enters to see Selina, at the moment of her apotheosis, standing between a toilet and a bright yellow mop bucket.
“Hi, ma’am,” Gary says. “Are you all right?” His affection is fully in bloom; he could be a father checking on his sick child.
Selina is clutching her hands together, smiling crazily.
“Gary,” she whispers. “I’m gonna be president.”
Gary is the first person she has told. He has no reason to believe her and takes on the air of a kindergarten teacher encouraging the impossible dreams of a 5-year-old.
“Of course you are,” he says. “I mean there’s always hope, ma’am. We’ve got plenty of hope in this world.”
“No, no, no!” Selina says. “POTUS is gonna resign and I’m about to become president” — and then, in uproarious disbelief — “of America!” Louis-Dreyfus’s delivery of this line is one of my favorite things in the show: It’s as if the word “America” is a small but wonderful bird that has come nonsensically flapping out of her mouth.
Gary’s giant cow eyes narrow, and his forehead wrinkles slightly. He looks as if his spinal cord has just been severed, as if all understanding has fled his body forever. And then he starts to cry, in gentle clucking whimpers. As Selina attempts to comfort him, Gary’s nose starts to bleed. “When I get excited, my nose bleeds!” he shriek-weeps, tilting his head back, and as Selina ushers him over toward the toilet, Gary, for the first time ever, surrenders his magic bag. Selina takes it from him, and he reclines, vulnerable, like an overturned tortoise, waiting for the newly crowned leader of the free world to help him stop the flow of his bodily fluids. It is a beautiful inversion: at precisely the moment of her political triumph, the selfish one becomes selfless, and the servant finds himself being served. Gary and Selina begin to cackle with uncontrollable joy.
There is no toilet paper, so Selina ends up sitting on the bathroom floor, rooting through Gary’s bag in search of tissues. Instead, she finds several other unlikely items — a giant magnifying glass, a handful of tampons, and, finally, a book called “Bicycles.” On the cover is a picture of a woman with a big red bike.
“Why is there a bicycle book?” Selina asks, and she and Gary collapse further into laughter. “Gary! Seriously!”
The blood is still pouring from Gary’s nose, it has covered the bottom half of his face, he is rocking back and forth on the toilet, but somehow he manages to find just enough breath to yelp out an answer: “I love bicycles!”
Selina takes this at face value and continues her search for tissues, which Gary eventually shoves up his nose. The book is not spoken of again.
But let’s actually consider “Bicycles”: It is a real book, but it is not really about bicycles. It is a 2009 collection of poems by Nikki Giovanni dealing almost entirely with love, with special emphasis on the complexities thereof, including the paradoxical distance — physical and emotional — inherent in romantic intimacy. It is raw and hopeful and amused and sad. Why would Gary have such a book in his bag? It is a rare peek into his private world.
“Bicycles” takes on a whole new resonance if you read it in reference to Gary and Selina — if you imagine Gary reading the poems in bed at night, after a long day of political misadventures, committing certain lines to memory, nodding sadly to himself. Surely, for instance, he would recognize himself in the poem “I Would Not Be Different”:
Every now and then
We all fall in love
With a totally inappropriate
And I would not be different
And in the poem “Deal or No Deal,” portions of which may as well be tattooed on Gary’s very large forehead:
I know you cannot go
Unless you are willing
For love or money
To make a fool
Where else does the ecstasy
Gary would move on from these poems to others called “I Provide” and “Why Don’t You Love Me” and “Friends and Lovers,” and perhaps he would even whisper into Selina’s ear, while she dozed next to him on Air Force II, these lines from “A Song For You”: “I perch/On your heart/I whisper in your ear.” It seems possible that “Bicycles” was ghostwritten, as a kind of very deep fan fiction, by Armando Iannucci himself. Because this is what “Bicycles,” and perhaps ultimately “Veep,” really is: a study in intimacy — the odd shapes it can assume, the comforts it offers, its risks, costs, rewards and limits. And this is the lesson of Gary and Selina, if we can presume to learn anything from such a ridiculous pair. The failures of intimacy are obvious and nearly constant, but they are small, local and perishable. The success of intimacy is harder to see — it is like an atmosphere — but it is global and enduring. It happens on its own time scale, independent of the failures. True intimacy, to borrow a metaphor from a debased realm, has no term limits.
“We have had conversations with Armando for some time about the challenges of maintaining his family life in London and producing a show in the states,” HBO said in a statement.
Of Iannucci’s replacement, the pay cabler commented, “Armando is not replaceable, but we are confident that ‘Veep’ will continue to be produced at the highest levels with new showrunner David Mandel. David has worked with HBO for many years as executive producer, writer and director for ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm.'”
“Veep” has not yet been renewed for a fifth season, but the pickup seems inevitable given the critical praise and accolades the Julia Louis-Dreyfus starrer has garnered.
Season 4 premieres this Sunday, April 12.
Honored to be included in the Private Veep chat with cast. Received this very kewl swag from them for participating. Thanks VeepHBO!
TOM JAMES AD
Simply Spectacular Veep Artwork from http://mashable.com/2017/04/20/veep-art-exhibition-season-6-gallery-1988/#rMFVv79cCmqb
ARTWORK FIT FOR A POTUS
Selina Meyer's stint as POTUS may be over, but whenever Veep's hapless heroine wants an ego boost, she need look no further than the spectacular collection of artwork that Los Angeles' Gallery1988 is currently exhibiting in honor of the Emmy-winning comedy's sixth season.
“Veep fans love the show’s iconic and hilarious characters, and we thought that an art show would be a really fun way to allow some of our artistic fans to reinterpret their favorite characters and scenes through their own works," says Yauny Wheaton, director of program advertising for HBO. "Gallery1988 had so many great ideas about which artists to approach for the show, and we couldn’t be more thrilled with the collection of art that’s going to be on display this month.”
The exhibit runs through April 22 at the West Coast gallery, but if fans can't get to LA to admire the collection in person, prints are currently available for purchase online through Gallery1988's webs