'Veep' Stars Debunk the HBO Comedy's Magic: "It's the Exact Opposite of a Sitcom!"
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Anna Chlumsky, Timothy Simons, Gary Cole, Matt Walsh and Kevin Dunn dish on the writers' strategies and which other characters' zingers they wish they had.
When HBO screened two episodes of Veep's fourth season in New York City on Monday night, the packed SVA Theatre audience's laughter grew louder and louder after nearly every consecutive one-liner from the Capitol Hill cast.
What's the key to so many well-landed zingers, back to back? Julia Louis-Dreyfus, in Dolce & Gabbana and Fred Leighton jewelry, performed her now-presidential character Selina Meyer's signature mannerisms with a laugh when revealing to The Hollywood Reporter, "Well, it's thanks to a perfectly effective writing staff, frankly!"
Naturally, her onscreen colleagues further supported her stance with more details. "I think it comes down to that style of English comedy, where it's always better if it's a little bit quieter and more direct," Timothy Simons supposed on the comedy's zinger appeal at the Chelsea event." Just let the line do the work; cut the emotion in half and don't try to hit it too hard. It's the exact opposite of a sitcom! It's something I'm still working on." Kevin Dunn agreed: "It's in the brevity, and how glibly you can do it. The more you can underplay, the better."
And to play their respective characters, Gary Cole added of the cold Kent, "If I can be deader than deadpan — if I can be zombie deadpan — that's what I'm always looking for," and Matt Walsh of media manager Mike, "If you can refer to some base element that all human beings laugh at, like a dick joke, that helps your chances."
Executive producer Chris Addison explained of the critically-acclaimed comedy's quick but downplayed rhythm, "You can do comedy shows about American politics — being the president, even — and make them big, huge, with a laugh track, and that's fine because that's a great style of comedy. Actually, a lot of the messing around on set that makes the gag reel is what it would be if it were the 'big' version! ... But we wanted to do something that felt realistic. One of the great responses to our show is when people go, 'That's what it feels like it's probably like.' You can't feel that about other shows set in Washington, D.C., because they're heightened."
Cole attributes the sometimes-absurd realism to Dreyfus. "She makes this character, who you should probably despise, somebody you root for. It's a tricky thing she's doing, and it's very subtle. There's never a false moment coming from her," and Walsh teased of Selina, "At her core, she's an emotional, thick-headed and unreasonable, but yet she has that veneer that none of that exists. [Dreyfus'] range is incredible — it's remarkable, and this season draws on that more than ever."
When THR asked which other character often has the best zingers, Anna Chlumsky (in Giulietta) admitted of Simons' character, "I don't ever wish that I could say a Jonah line because they're horrible, but they also amaze me — his are pretty damn great," while Simons warned that Cole's Kent has the best lines this season: "For some reason, they cracked his jokes in a way that every table read, we'd have a long pause for something Gary would just step up to the plate and knock down." Cole nominated Dunn's Ben because "they're foul and have no regard for anybody else," while Dunn preferred Reid Scott's "Dan, just because of his hatred for Jonah — he's so calculating. He has this dastardly opinion of everything."
As for Walsh, he looked up to his onscreen boss, Selina. "She gets the most hostile, ultimate cut-downs. And then she'll just forget about it! She's probably got early onset Alzheimer's."
At the screening, HBO president Michael Lombardo, creatives Addison, Simon Blackwell, Tony Roche, Stephanie Laing, Chris Godsick, Frank Rich, and the cast were joined by the self-proclaimed biggest fan of Veep, Edie Falco, as well as Danny Strong, Katie Couric, Andrew Rannells, Jon Glaser, Fran Lebowitz, Frankie Alvarez, Greta Lee, Pablo Schreiber and Jessie Ennis.
The evening continued at the inherently oval-shaped Gotham Hall for a presidential after party, complete with Secret Service-like servers, Bright Box phone-chargers (for the Amy Bruckheimer-like attendees), Laura Gellar makeup stations, a flag-filled photobooth, and bars decorated with family photos of Dreyfus and onscreen daughter Sarah Sutherland. As guests feasted on steak Diane tournedos, cavatelli, cider-flavored doughnuts and banana cream pudding, Dreyfus slipped out to end her night hours before her cast mates.
The star had told reporters earlier that the show will probably lose their makeup artist, who is originally Hillary Clinton's. "Can you believe that? Apparently she's announcing [her run for presidency] tomorrow!"
Veep returns April 12 at 10:30 p.m. on HBO.