Matt Walsh on Leaving the Podium Behind on 'Veep' (and Why Spicer Should Quit)

The writers of the HBO political satire didn't want McLintock to be a "total buffoon" as press secretary — something the actor hasn't seen in real life.
Courtesy of Justin M. Lubin/HBO
Matt Walsh, Julia Louis-Dreyfus on 'Veep'

"It's just hard to come up with so many different ways to curse," Mike McLintock lamented on Sunday's episode of Veep.

The character, played by Matt Walsh, delivered the meta line amid a season that is topping last year's most foul-mouthed yet. The majority of the cast has delivered a blitz of F-bombs and other creative insults, thanks to Veep's writers, but the new dad-of-three continues to tow a PG line. It's his lack of self-awareness in that moment that so artfully sums up Mike McLintock.

"He’s got this dark cloud that follows him around and is a grumpy character," Walsh told The Hollywood Reporter of the downtrodden guy he's been playing for six seasons. "I like those moments where he gets to play happy."

The former White House press secretary has smiled this season, thanks to Selina Meyer's (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) reliance on Mike to pen her still in-the-works memoir. Speaking to THR about the currently airing season, Walsh delves deep into the mind of his character, shakes his head at Sean Spicer and shares what he's most hungry to skewer on the HBO series.

The end of last season revealed that Selina had planned to fire Mike all along. How did that set up Mike's journey this season and his struggle to get back to her inner circle?

Everybody is terrible at their job. Mike, probably exceptionally so, but nobody is really great. Including Selina. He’s in good company because we all are out of a job this season. It’s particularly stressful with Mike having three kids. He’s jonesing for some professional stimulation and in addition to making money, he wants to get in a room full of adults. I think also he fancies himself a writer and an author and has an inflated sense of himself in that world. He’s super excited to be creative writing. 

Showrunner David Mandel has spoken about how the intent this season was always to parallel Obama’s post-presidential journey, like the massive advance he’d be getting for his memoir while Selina struggles for hers. Are you enjoying the Obama contrast?

I’m glad you appreciate that joke because it’s really funny and it is accurate: Selina is not a big-deal ex-president. I’m always happy when jokes that are in contrast of what’s coming out of D.C. today still get a laugh. It’s not a scandal or a huge daily gaffe, awful tweet, insult or racist thing that we’re commenting on. It’s just the fact that she is not a big deal like Obama. She is not a rock star. So I do enjoy that. Anything that jabs at Selina and disrespects her is funny. 

There have been hurdles with the book every episode, the latest being Tom James (Hugh Laurie) stealing Selina's juiciest reveal. At this point, does Mike think the book will ever be completed?

Yes he does. It’s encouraging that he and Selina are meeting and that he has her ear. He’s traveling with her now because the book is a priority, he’s not handing over the diary and letting her write it herself. It is a priority on her agenda so I do think Mike feels like they’re going to finish this thing.

"Chicklet" was a big episode for Mike because he was with Selina when she discovered the truth about her father. How do you view Mike and Selina's relationship?

That's a good question. Mike is loyal. He’s been with Selina for 20 years, through the good and the bad. It’s akin to addiction in that you just need a little bit of goodness and you’re still hooked on her. So whenever she’s giving you positive feedback or praising you, it makes you light and airy. Everyone in her circle secretly craves that. Obviously, Gary. But I think Amy does and people in her circle want that, including Mike.

So one nice moment can make up for 20 not-so-nice moments?

Yes. Because he’s still looking around the corner or thinking, “No, she likes me, she’s just in a bad mood.”

That episode delivered Veep’s biggest stunt yet with the barn-smashing car crash. What did you improvise in that scene?

In the smashing portion, the writers are very good at giving us alt-lines to try. They had given me eight or nine things to say. It was choreographed but it was an open scene that would take as long as it would take so I was trying to get in as many lines as I could and put them in whatever order I could. I loved: "Why does soup cost so much?" And, “I’m a grown man, why don’t I stop eating when I’m full?” Those are great lines to deliver. That’s what he’s channeling when he’s venting. That's the guilt he's carrying. 

How happy are you to not be doing the Spicer experience and to now be the second-most incompetent press secretary on TV?

It’s sort of a misfortune that I’ve been a terrible press secretary for six years and then lo and behold the embodiment of that takes the office in real life. I honestly feel like at the podium Mike is better than our current press secretary. We do have conversations in the writers room about plausibility and how Mike can’t be a total buffoon, otherwise our audience won’t buy it. So we have reined him in in certain arenas, like at the podium. But I’m shocked certainly by the entire administration. Just the fact on day one Spicer came out hostile and five minutes in was yelling at the press, and then people on my Twitter feed were saying five minutes in that he’s worse than McLintock.

The reports of Spicer hiding from press in the bushes — was that the moment when Veep blurred closest with reality for you? 

That does feel kind of Veep. It’s so comical. It’s so dumb because people know you’re there. You’re not really hiding. If you want to hide, go inside the building. It’s like standing behind a semi-clear plastic wall, and they can see you’re still moving. Mike is dumb enough to do something like that, I guess. But it just pushes reality, except that now it doesn’t. When you think of that joke, it pushes reality because you think, “Oh, that feels a little too broad.”

Trump is shaking up his staff and reports said Spicer had a target on his back. Given what happened to Mike, what's your advice for how Spicer should save his job?

I have been asked a lot about Spicer in the last month and I always just say he should quit. He should quit his job for his own dignity and his own sanity. It’s not going to get better and you’re not doing your life any favors working for that administration. Get out of politics until this administration leaves.

Have you been appreciating Melissa McCarthy’s Spicer on Saturday Night Live?

Melissa doing physical comedy is always a homerun. Just the physical stuff she’s been doing with him is so funny. She’s great being angry as him, but I particularly love the physicality in her impressions.  

"Qatar" took Selina to the Middle East, airing on the same weekend as Trump's first trip abroad. Both Selina and Trump delivered speeches about human rights. How do you react when you see Veep beating Trump to the punch?

It is weird. They write the tropes or traditions of being an ex-president, like the foundation, the library and foreign trips abroad. So it is true and they do research and meet people who have lost elections. This year they talked to Mitt Romney about what it’s like to come out of an election and how you build your life up. They do a lot of that fact-finding. But inevitably there’s a very specific news item that comes up from these general truths that they try to create. Even worldwide. Like when the Australian prime minister had a slogan similar to Selina’s. it was so terrible and yet somebody chose that: “Continuity and change.” 

Is there something happening in real life that you wish you could satire on Veep, if you were still in the faux White House? 

There’s something outrageously funny about the bold-faced lying that’s going on, in a general way. Just the blatant denial of facts. Whether it’s climate change or crowd sizes. Every day there’s another blatant lie. I think there’s comedy in there somewhere. It’s like hiding in the bushes. Everybody knows that it’s not true but you’re clinging to this lie and think you are fooling people. Somewhere in there, I think that would be fun to explore.

Given your comedic background and the success of political comedy right now, like Veep, why do you think comedy shines in times of crisis? 

I do think our season has provided a much-needed escape from the reality of our political scene this year. I’ve had many people say that and when I went on Stephen Colbert's Late Show, he said, “Please tell the cast I watched every season when I was sick last weekend and I said aloud, ‘Thank God this show exists.’” He felt better finding some way to laugh at it and the process of politics through our show. It is escape. It’s not about this administration. It is escapism. But it is true about politics. 

What else do you hope to explore about Mike this season? 

It’s really funny to see Mike have some joy. He’s very childlike and easily distracted, he has a boy’s mind. So seeing him around the kids is fun. I would love to see him elevated to pundit celebrity. Where he gets to sit on CNN or MSNBC post-debate and just meander on and probably screw that up. If he got on that gravy train where they just pay you to watch something and then talk about it. Or even in a university setting where he gets to teach, I’d love to see him stumble through those two scenarios.

How is Mike surviving financially right now?

Wendy (Kathy Najimy) is the breadwinner and the book has to come through, otherwise he’s been working for nothing. It’s financially oppressive at the McLintock household right now! And with the private school, there’s a lot of new expenditures coming up. I think they’re worried. They’re probably going to have to refinance the house.

Do you think he will eventually get a win this season, or is it too much fun to laugh at him while he’s down?

It is sad sometimes, because you do root for Mike or other characters on the show. I think there will be a few victories but probably more disappointments for Mike, would be my description of the season. I’m really happy that six seasons in, the show is still exciting and people are really into it. It’s been a real pleasure to have another well-received season.

Now that Veep has gotten renewed for a seventh season, are you hoping you continue to stay out of the White House?

I don’t know what's going to happen next season. We can pitch a little storyline for our characters, but they have the master plan. They sit in the room for two months and just throw ideas and see what sticks. They don’t really start writing for a while and then it starts to shape above the room, magically.

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