'Veep' Boss Calls Surprise Romantic Twist the "Ultimate Hate-F—"

Showrunner David Mandel takes THR inside the White House sex scene that few saw coming.
Lacey Terrell/HBO
'Veep'

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Sunday's episode of Veep, "Congressional Ball."]

There has been no shortage of surprises this season on HBO's Veep, and the latest came in the form of a White House sex scene Sunday night. The Green Room romp occurred between Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Tom James (Hugh Laurie) after the President uncovered the true, snake-like intentions of her running mate-turned-financial czar.

"In terms of the discovery, the argument and yes, the sex, it was aggressive in all different ways," showrunner David Mandel tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Tom James is trying to torpedo Selina's chances in the House of Representatives by getting people to abstain in the vote so that it goes to the Senate and he is elected vice president. Then, because there is no president, he would become the president. It's an absolute betrayal."

Only in the world of Veep would such deception crank up the heat between Meyer and James: "It is perhaps the ultimate hate-f—," Mandel says.

But for fans blindsided by the two getting together, Mandel says the writing has been on the wall.

When Meyer initially approaches James to read him the riot act, she mentions a story Veep-watchers heard her tell last season: that night in the cab with the green shoes when, according to her, they almost slept together. "Just admit it, you wanted to f— me that night!" Meyer yells at a defensive James, who finally agrees before the two wildly embrace (fittingly, in the Green Room).

"Even though it's a slight mention, that always stuck with me as a fan of the show," says Mandel, who took over the showrunner reins from creator Armando Iannucci this season. "This is something that, to me, has been building for two years. Obviously, how it happens is a little crazy, but I think it’s all there if you want to track the pieces."

The signs that Mandel recalls are James' too-strong dislike for Meyer's new boyfriend Charlie Baird (John Slattery) and a brief but touching scene from MeeMaw's funeral: "When he says to Selina, 'I hated my father, too' — that’s an incredibly intimate moment,"  says Mandel.

Still, no one is quite as shocked as Meyer's handler, Gary Walsh (Tony Hale), who, much to his dismay, walked in on the pair mid-scene.

"His reaction just stuns him," says Mandel of Hale's full-bodied response. "It’s like the upright version of a faint, he loses muscle control. For Gary, I think it’s like walking in on his mother, in a weird way, or his wife — some weird combination for Gary of mother, wife and sister."

Mandel says they toyed with the idea of Gary vomiting into the awful purse he was carrying for Meyer, but decided it was "a little too much." Ultimately, he says filming the moment was a fun one. 

"You have Julia, who’s willing to do anything, and Hugh, who was very just polite and uncomfortable in a great way," Mandel says. "Only Julia Louis-Dreyfus can grab his hands and put them where she thinks they should go, which I think was really funny for the Selina of it all as well."

As for what this means for the future, Mandel says this wasn't "sex for sex sake" and anyone who thinks Meyer and James will be living happily ever after are missing the bigger picture. 

"At the end of the day, I don’t think there can be a relationship," he says. "He wants her presidency and she wants to destroy him at this point and I’m not sure anything has changed. They have different energies in the aftermath of it, in a way that maybe says some things about them as characters and also a little bit about men and women."

Sunday night already saw Meyer playing hardball with the different congressmen and women, offering a rare peek into the politician who's actually worthy of her job (she did fight her way to both the vice presidency and the presidency). "We are heading to Congress one way or another," Mandel says about the journey ahead. "Whether [political aide Jonah Ryan, played by Timothy Simmons] wins [his Congressional bid] or not will be very important, obviously, as we go."

Another key moment of the episode followed up last week's big announcement from Catherine (Sarah Sutherland) that she has fallen in love with her mother's Secret Service detail Marjorie (Clea DuVall). After struggling over how to handle the first daughter's "lesbianism," Meyer was prepared to obey her daughter's wishes and keep their relationship a secret, until the moment she could use it to her advantage during the Congressional Ball.

"That’s just Selina being Selina — certain things never change," Mandel says. "We had a line and we never quite figured out how to use it, but it was the notion that, maybe if Catherine had come out a couple months sooner that would have helped with the election. I think that’s where somebody like Selina’s head goes. Yes, she’s a mother and yes, it’s her daughter, but it’s like: 'How does it affect me? And how does it affect my presidency?'"

Veep airs Sundays at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.

Photo: HBO/Lacey Terrell

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