[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Sunday's episode of Veep, "Judge."]
Veep took a roadtrip on a Sunday — delivering on a promise Selina (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) made to Gary (Tony Hale) that she actually didn't worm her way out of. Why? Because she made the vow to Gary while he was in the hospital for his heart attack.
Thanks to the circumstances — and Selina no longer being able to use the presidential excuse to skip out on unappealing events — Selina and her crew traveled to Alabama for Gary's 40th birthday bash. The episode provided showrunner David Mandel the opportunity to dig deeper into what makes Gary Gary by taking viewers to his childhood home — "A vortex of sexual confusion," as Selina says — and introducing his parents, played by Jean Smart and Stephen Root. When Selina usurps Gary's party and attempt to impress his difficult father, she ends up getting what she wants while he has a near meltdown. "It’s her casual prejudice of the South that kind of creates that world and makes everybody somewhat uncomfortable," Mandel tells The Hollywood Reporter. "You see that Selina is a weird combo of Gary’s mother and father for Gary."
In a chat below, Mandel explains why it was time for Gary to head home, discusses Veep's recent season-seven pickup and promises a little bit of happiness for Selina in her near future.
Now that another season is official, did you write this season knowing you would have more to tell when it was over?
HBO is still very excited about the show, as is all of the cast and Julia. A lot of it is trying to figure out, on our end, what the plan is. But going into this one, we figured there was more to be had and we just always want to feel good about doing it. If you look at both this season and the way last season ended, in some ways, they could all be the final episode. They shut chapters and open chapters. Everything could be, and that’s a really good way to think about the show sometimes. I hope and believe both in terms of Julia, HBO and the cast, that we’ll all end it when we want to end it. It works both ways.
Will this finale be another game-changer?
You could rewatch all nine episodes of this season to pick up on the things we're getting to. I think we do a really good job of resolving the storylines that have been set up this year, going back to the first episode.
The episode descriptions tell us that next episode is when her book finally arrives, and the finale is the long-awaited and groundbreaking library unveiling.
Those are the biggies. The book and the library. A lot of these things that have been percolating for nine episodes definitely come about.
If the next one is the book, are we to assume that Leon will be publishing it, since the diary is now sitting on his desk thanks to Mike?
Leon is not necessarily publishing a book, but he has certainly got some good articles to write. Mike (Matt Walsh) was perhaps in shock at the end of the episode when he realized where it was. It’s one thing to lose your diary and it’s another to realize that you handed it over to The Washington Post. There was a sense of being stunned at the end there for Mike and there will be major ramifications on everything.
Is this Mike’s biggest screw-up?
It certainly has to be top five. It’s funny though how incompetent Mike is that we’re not quite sure if this is his biggest one and that there are so many others that could be bigger, if you think about it.
How does it put the book in jeopardy?
It’s not what Selina wanted, is the easiest way of saying it. And Mike is perpetually blamed.
Selina followed through on her promise to attend Gary’s 40th birthday — which was surprising.
It was a very reluctant promise she made to him when he had his heart attack that I’d like to think she probably would not have made had that other nurse not been standing there. She kind of got caught. As a former president now, it is harder for her to get out of things in general. When she had the presidency, she could always say there’s an important meeting or that something was needed of her that was top-secret. It’s harder for her to lie and she can’t get out of things as much as she wanted to. So here she is. It’s also a reflection of her current status in life.
You first explored Selina’s family in last season’s “Mother” episode, at what point did you decide that you wanted to explore Gary’s family?
It was a natural extension of what we’ve been trying to do with the show, which is to open it up in general now that we’re in season six. We can add a little color to these characters’ backstories. As we were looking at Gary this season, we were thinking of things that would be sort of fun and different for his character. We had this idea of Selina having to “take care” of him and that’s what led to the heart attack episode. The reason she goes is because she swore she would over the heart attack, but the notion of her having to go to events she didn’t want to go to was a little bit of why we had her attend Gary’s 40th birthday party. Where was the last place in the world she’d want to go? The south, and Gary’s childhood home. Then the challenge was figuring out who are his parents.
How did you land on Jean Smart and Stephen Root to play them?
They were pretty much dream choices. With Jean Smart, what’s amazing with her is not just her comedy chops but really her drama chops, her little swing on 24 and Fargo. We’re just talking about an incredible actress and when it comes to the idea of a grand dame, Southern actress, she was a Designing Woman and it doesn’t get much better than that. She was very dialed to Tony and the character and their relationship. She spent a lot of time on the little details, working with our folks on things like the clothing, wigs and the details of how this long-suffering woman would be. I’ve certainly been an admirer of Stephen Root and Lew Morton, my other executive producer on the show, had the pleasure of working with Stephen before and he was sort of a no-brainer. It’s a hard part where, you can see watching it, that in the wrong hands would have been bad. It’s such a fine line trying to suggest certain things about Gary’s dad without hitting you over the head. Stephen was just brilliant. Once you create this strange sexual vortex, as Selina says, and you pop a president in the middle of it.
How does finally meeting Gary's dad help shed light on his relationships, personal as well as work?
He’s a weird combo of both of his mom and dad. I’m not quite sure what his dad is, but I’m not sure his dad is quite sure. And I don’t think anyone should jump to any conclusions about Gary. He has dated women. But the way that his father treats him is something where I don’t want to take credit. A lot of the mentions of his father being a tough guy and tough on him was a lot of the stuff [creator] Armando Iannucci had set up in the earlier years. This sense that his father was a hard man and would be disappointed in many of the things Gary did, that was always there, we just tried to put our spin on it.
Selina has done a lot of things to Gary. Why did her stealing his story elicit such an emotional response?
She treated him one step beyond. We’ve seen her do a lot of things, we’ve seen her be mean to him, but I think he was looking for some sort of moment with his father. He ended up having a different kind of moment with his father, but that’s what he was thinking of and she stole the moment. As horrible as she can be, Gary can often justify that she’s doing it to other people or why she’s doing it. In this case, he didn’t quite understand it until she sort of hypnotizes him and convinces him it’s ok. The library is what she’s staked her reputation and her legacy on and it’s not going well and this was an opportunity to land the major donor and Selina, as we often see, does as she has to do.
What was it like for Tony Hale and Julia Louis-Dreyfus to film these episodes, which were an emotional departure from their usual scenes?
Because she’s not noticing it at the party, it’s not that hard a scene. In some ways the harder, more interesting scene was the diner where Selina perhaps realizes she’s done something, probably knows she should apologize but certainly never want to apologize. So you kind of get the non-apology apology. That was the trickier scene of finding that tone because he is hurt by it and doesn’t want to go back to normal but she does get him there. Once he’s back to wiping her mouth, you see he’s allowed her to make amends.
We also find out that Gary had another relapse after his heart attack.
That was more of a joke. We’re jumping forward a little bit more in time as we keep going. We’re in August now. It’s been almost eight months since the season began. It’s a stray reference to the idea that somewhere in the middle of his recovery that there as perhaps a mini setback. Nothing anyone missed, just more of an off-camera comment. Trying to suggest that time is moving as we go forward.
When Gary’s mom was talking about Southern chefs, Gary made a timely reference about people who don’t say the N-word on TV.
It has nothing to do with Bill Maher, it’s just more of our sort of odd Veep timing where it seems like a reference to something that isn’t. It is a slight reference to certain Southern chefs that have been caught being a little more off color than others in the past. Welcome to Veep.
How did you create the Gary family home set — Confederate flags and all — and where did you shoot it?
We shot it at a house out in Pasadena where were able to find a house that didn’t look like Pasadena. It had this great big backyard that seemed very Southern. It had this great appeal. We didn’t want to necessarily just make Southern people stupid or say all Southern people are racist, which is a very simple and easy go-to comedy thing. As Gary explains, he’s throwing a very classy party and it’s really Selina that has her antiquated, prejudicial views of the South. Gary planned a crystal kind of party and it’s Selina who is not Southern at all, despite her protestations, who turns it into a jug band, barbeque, Confederate flag fest. It’s the person from the South who has a very misguided view of the South turning it into this thing to try and attract a Southern benefactor. It was a more interesting road to take than showing up and having Gary’s family flying the Confederate flag.
Why did you bring Jaffar [Usman Ally] back — will he and Selina continue to orbit each other?
She’s been on a little bit of a journey. One of the things about this season is very much her figuring out who she is without the presidency. She’s done a lot of thinking Andrew and her family and specifically her relationship with her dad that influences her taste in men. She had this brief fling with Jaffar where, if you go back and look, she was hurt when he dumped her and hurt by the end of this world of international politics that he put her into. Then we had the big Tom James episode that allowed her to confront certain feelings there, and Tom James is not currently available. The idea of Jaffar coming back and trying again, you’ll see more next week. It speaks to her trying to find some happiness. Even the confrontation with Tom allowed her to look around and think about what she wants. The fact that Jaffar fought his way back to see her and be with her, you’ll see, dare I say, a little happiness for her. We like to beat her down a lot but we like to give her a little happiness here and there.
Jane McCabe [Margaret Colin] also returns – how will she continue to stick it to Dan?
Margaret Colin is just amazing but it’s this idea that I hope people were enjoyed and will be surprised by — the idea of Jonah’s revenge on Dan (Reid Scott). He’s been sort of holding it against him from the beginning of the season. Now Jane screws him back over. She’s a wonderful monster and not easily beaten. If you’re going to kill Jane McCabe you better make sure you cut her head off and set her body on fire. In this case, she’s back and she means business.
And the rise of Jonah [Timothy Simons] continues.
The Jonah story continues with the government shutdown. The scene between him and President Montez (Andrea Savage) — the “I’m not going to rape you” — was very enjoyable to film with those two. The story continuing on is that it’s Jonah’s rise and he’s becoming far more dangerous than we ever thought. As we saw at the end of the episode, things didn’t quite go the way he’s expecting. A little bit of a twist there. But at least the wedding is still on.
What did you think of Veep? Tell THR in the comments below and check in with Live Feed weekly for Sunday chats with Mandel.