HBO’s sensational, politically inspired comedy returns for an anticipated 2nd season
Tony Hale talks about his role as trusted aide to the country’s most powerful woman
Not often enough a sitcom comes along that thrills, delights, excites and flat out entertains. If you haven’t figured out by now, I’m in love with VEEP: HBO’s intelligent and satirical send up of the fictional character, US Vice President Selina Meyer, starring Emmy winner Julia Louis Dreyfus (Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm).
VEEP’s season two returns April 14 to HBO check local listings for times.
Last summer just before the inaugural season wrapped, I spoke with Tony Hale (Arrested Development, Chuck) aka Gary, the unwavering personal aide and confidant to Vice President Meyer. Always in lock step with the “Veep” if not two steps ahead, in this fictional White House, a misstep is more likely than not, usually resulting in panic-stricken dilemmas with hilarious consequences.
VEEP’s creators are Armando Iannucci and Simon Blackwell with Christopher Godsick and Frank Rich, producers.
Sandra Varner/Talk2SV: I’ll admit, I’m such a fan of the show it will be hard to be objective, however, let’s see where our conversation takes us. What can you say about your character, Gary?
Tony Hale: Oh, poor Gary, he’s kind of a mess.
Talk2SV: He’s a good, awkward and infectious mess. Your character, Gary Walsh appears to be very informed by the physical nuance you bring. A guy in this position has to be quite intuitive. He’s comical yet self-deprecating. How do you define this character?
Hale: He is…I think you’re right; he pretty much doesn’t have his own identity. Gary’s identity is immersed into Selina’s. One eye is one thing but there’s always an eye on whatever she does. I (Gary) know every facial expression of hers, every body movement because I know that I need to be on it if she needs something. So I (Gary) anticipate everything she needs: Gary’s focus is 100% Selina and I don’t think she’s probably taken a vacation in 20 years.
Talk2SV: We, the viewing public, have the occasion to observe the “devotee” whose life is the life of the subject they are in service to, with complete surrender to the job and the call of duty. Given Gary’s unswerving loyalty, are the responsibilities blurred? Does the line get cloudy between duty, devotion and perhaps desire? Is something brewing between the two of them in season two?
Hale: Well, Gary’s been with Selina since he was in his 20’s. He’s been with her for a long time and he should have left his job when he was in his 20’s. But he worshipped her so much that he could never leave. His co-dependency with Selina is obviously showing many signs of dysfunction because he just doesn’t know how to think about himself much. And the fact that he would break up with Selina’s boyfriend (Ted) for her is so messed up (a very funny scene with Andy Buckley aka The Office’s David Wallace). I think we’re probably going to see more and more of how the dysfunction just bites him in the butt. I think he’s completely unaware that when it comes to Gary, when Selina says something, he does it. Hopefully that’s where the comedy comes in, to see more and more of him lose his own identity and fall apart because Selina doesn’t care.
Hale: Oh, maybe, I think if Gary had his way they would be married. But I don’t think Selina sees him that way. Gary is definitely not in the ballpark for Selina. But she’s pretty much a fixture in his world.
Talk2SV: Speaking of marriage, I read that you met your wife at a bible study. Is that correct?
Hale: Yes, I did.
Talk2SV: Tell me more…
Hale: During my 20’s I moved to New York and met a lot of artists whose faith was important to them but they weren’t getting a lot of support from their families and such so we started this group called The Haven. It was a a fellowship of people whose faith was important to them and we supported each other: went to each other’s shows, saw each other’s work. I met her there.
TalkSV: Did the romance ensue from that point?
Hale: My wife is probably ten times funnier than I am so we really hit it off and laughed a lot. She’s the coolest lady I’ve ever met and she’s just great. We just hit it off right there in New York; she was working on Saturday Night Live at that time as a make up artist in addition to doing movies. We both had things in common; we both knew the business and that connected us. Now we have a six year old daughter.
Talk2SV: Does she show signs of following in either of your footsteps?
Hale: I don’t know, she’s pretty hilarious and makes us laugh all the time. I don’t know where that’s going to go but she’s definitely funny.
Talk2SV: What were your early comedy influences?
Hale: I definitely love physical comedy. When I grew up Tim Conway was a big comic icon for me and Bob Newhart. I just loved the fact that they were in such control of their bodies as their comedic instrument; they didn’t have to push ‘the comedy.’ I’ve always loved physical comedy even the small things that you can do to make people laugh.
Talk2SV: VEEP has great comedic balance and timing as well as being wonderfully unique and ethnically appealing. The fact Selina has a Jewish surname, an African American scheduler and a range of age groups represented in the cast. Too, the parallel to our government, the back stage machinations, the interoffice high jinks, pseudo camaraderie among staffers rings authentic in the portrayals. Before doing this show did any of your personal political views infuse or inform your character.
Hale: Not really. I don’t think Gary knows much about politics. I think he’s mainly all about helping Selina. He does know crazy factoids about people because he has to whisper stuff in her ears but when it comes to policy he doesn’t really know that much. All of it probably confuses him. As for me, I think the aspect of the show that most excites me is the normality. I love that they normalize the political scene a little bit.
As a society, I think we tend to put all these people on very high pedestals and it forces them to always have to be perfect in front of us. Forces them to live a healthy life but you have to go behind the scenes and have freak outs. You have to be honest, you have to talk it out, and you’ve got to let it out somewhere because you can’t sustain that kind of perfection in front of people. I love that the show puts forth a more realistic picture of what happens in Washington.
Talk2SV: I’ve never worked in the White House or anywhere near it but I agree with you, it sure seems real. VEEP strikes a chord of realism about the characters and their flaws which makes the show so enjoyable. What has been most illuminating about this reflection and how it mirrors our government?
Hale: Probably the most illuminating is the gorgeous architecture and beautiful landscape but you go behind the scenes and the furniture is kind of crap. Everybody is trying to find a desk, everything is mismatched, the décor of the offices is really kind of ugly. The colors are weird but on the outside it’s just stunning. So it’s a really interesting parallel. I would never want to be in that scene because I think whoever can make the decision to place his or her self in a position where they get that much criticism, that much pressure, I think is a very difficult position to be in; you’ve got to have the guts and that’s not something I have any desire to do.
I have huge admiration for people who want to step up to it, government work and public service. But I think many times what we see is a lot of posturing. I love the fact that our show is satire; it takes government to the extreme. It’s obviously not this extreme in D.C. Sometimes it might be but I do love that it shows the humanity of these people. And, it moves away from that polished viewpoint on the outside.
Talk2SV: Has VEEP made you more sympathetic towards how our government operates?
Hale: It does. I have a lot more admiration for what these people go through. I think there is a lot of pressure, it’s a tough environment and you’ve really got to stay focused. There’s so much going on; it has definitely bumped up my admiration for anybody who makes the choice to be in politics.
Talk2SV: Frank Rich, former New York Times op-ed columnist is one of the show’s producers. What is the interaction with him and does he come on set?
Hale: Well, as I understand it, for some years now he has been working with HBO as a consultant and when VEEP came out, he really started to get into the process. It’s just been fantastic to have him onsite because he has so much knowledge about the political scene in Washington. Along with Armando and Simon Blackwell, they’ve done a tremendous amount of research for the show but the creators are all from England. Frank Rich has been a great resource.
Talk2SV: HBO has been a bastion for inventive, artistic freedom. The creative liberty that HBO has is a luxury. How does that flexibility compare to other environments you’ve worked in?
Hale: All I can say is I have worked on a lot of network things but it is a different process. One huge component is HBO has really given Armando creative freedom and I think that makes a huge difference. It is different than network but you’re also dealing with a different audience. So yeah, HBO has been fantastic. They’ve trusted Armando and trusted what he’s done; they’ve seen the scripts as they’ve come up and have a foundation of trust in him.
Talk2SV: Speak to your sensibilities as it relates to working closely with women particularly Julia Louis-Dreyfus. How long did it take to get comfortable with each other and achieve the dynamic onscreen chemistry that you share?
Hale: Not long at all. What’s so great about Julia is her having done Seinfeld– she’s a huge comedic star– yet she’s a normal person which too is just great. She’s very kind. She’s a huge team player. You want the star of the show to be ego-free because that sets the tone for the whole environment. Armando has no ego; the producers have no egos, so it really allows creative freedom for everybody. No one is walking on egg shells. Julia established that up front with who she is as a person and affords us the freedom to be ourselves, to have ideas and play. I have huge admiration for Julia…she’s just a cool person.
Talk2SV: In an ideal world what would Gary’s career trajectory be from your perspective?
Hale: Let me think…well, I don’t see it turning out very well. If Gary ever leaves Selina I don’t know what he would do; I don’t know if he knows what he would do with himself. He would probably just end up stalking her.
Talk2SV: In a very harmless and benign way I’m sure…
Hale: Exactly. He would probably send her a lot of gifts daily just to keep her spirits high. Gary has a good heart and he wants so badly for people not to treat Selina badly. I think Selina does see that he cares about her. But I also think Gary needs a big lesson in boundaries. He has absolutely no personal boundaries. If Tony Hale had his way with Gary, I would finance about a good six months of therapy for Gary.
Talk2SV: As we come to a close, what do you like about being an actor?
Hale: It’s a double edged sword because I love the fact that you never know what you’re going to get. You never know where you’re going to go. The other side is you’re entering a career with a lot of uncertainty and its difficult to budget. There’s adventure and I love it. I really love performing good writing. I mean, it’s a gift to be able to get writing that is fun and allows you to play with it. Working with a team like Veep is a gift and I love that.