[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Sunday's episode of Veep, "Blurb."]
The one that got away made his return on Sunday's Veep.
Amid a season that has sent ex-president Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) on a journey in search of a companion just as much as of her legacy, the former POTUS decided to pay a visit to her old flame Tom James (Hugh Laurie) and give him an in-person heads-up that she was going to reveal their dalliance in the White House Green Room in her in-the-works memoir. Tom ends up usurping her juicy chapter by telling the world about it while promoting his own book on CBS This Morning, leading to a fiery exchange between the two during Selina's portrait unveiling back at the White House.
"This is now basically the second version of the Selina and Tom scene — we did it in the Green Room last year and now we’re in the Red Room," showrunner David Mandel told The Hollywood Reporter of the reunion. Last season when Selina discovered that Tom was secretly trying to torpedo her chances at winning the presidential election, she confronted him about the betrayal and the argument resulted in the "ultimate hate-f—" on the Green Room couch, something Gary (Tony Hale) walked in on, unbeknownst to Selina (first daughter Catherine was also trapped in the closet during the romp). This time, the pair were interrupted by Tom's new trophy wife, but not before the raw scene revealed much about how the two still feel toward each other: "The attraction is undeniable."
Fresh off a season-seven renewal, Mandel spoke to THR about why it was time to bring Laurie back, if Selina and Tom will continue to remain unfinished and how this episode revealed what this entire season has really been about.
How were you able to you keep Hugh Laurie’s return a secret?
I’m very, very pleased this did not get out. I’m so excited that for 99 percent of the people it was a surprise. We didn’t have a closed set or do anything special beyond not posting as many behind-the-scenes photos for this week as we usually do on social media. We reminded the cast and crew not to, but nothing beyond that. I actually assumed it would get out regardless.
What was the genesis of bringing Hugh back and did you know you wanted to have his character, Tom James, return after wrapping last season?
You want to bring Hugh back if you have a great idea. With our amazing guest cast, like Sally Phillips as Minna, you want to bring them back for something great. To bring him back and not have it be special is just terrible — even though someone like Hugh Laurie would probably make something not so great special. We had such a good time with him last year. We knew he was doing his [Hulu] show, Chance, but we had this idea and reached out and asked if he would want to do it, and he understood it and dug it and wanted to do it.
As we make the turn into the back-half of the season, I’m hoping people are starting to notice that beyond the “she’s not president anymore” storyline that what this season has really been about is Selina the person. I’m hoping that’s something people are starting to see and realize. It wasn’t something we wanted to say at the get-go. People kept asking, “Well, what is this season going to be about if she’s not president?” Well, the answer is: What are you left with when you’re not president? And the answer is, you’re left with yourself. That’s really what it’s been about and it’s been a journey. Her dealing with the loss and, along with the plot mechanics of the season — like trying to do the library and all those things, as she’s working the book, as she’s thought about her relationship with her ex-husband, as she’s thought about her relationship with her parents, as she had the failed relationship in Qatar, and now revisiting Tom James. In Tom James, there was no denying that magical attraction and yet was all F—ed up, and it was a chance to dig into all of that.
Why did you feel that Selina’s relationship with Tom wasn’t finished?
Sometimes you have these people in your own lives or you know of these people: They are unfortunately just forever to be an unfinished story. Somewhere along the way something didn’t happen. And because it didn’t happen, these are the roads that were taken. In some ways, they can’t get out of each other’s way. It’s very clear he still thinks about her and as she says in the episode, she thinks a lot about him. That comes from both the stuff creator Armando Iannucci laid down before I ever got to the show and also what we started playing with last year. In some ways, they’re so the same that you can understand the attraction, but it’s also like two of the same kind of magnets, they push each other away at the same time.
Selina actually did do the right thing by giving him a heads-up. What was her true motive there?
Even when she was giving him the heads up, there was that little moment where she’s thinking about it and if you watch the scene, Julia did this amazing thing where she sits up straight and fixes her posture and kind of shoves her boobs out a little bit. Even though she’s saying she wants to give him a heads-up, which is a courtesy and a nicety, it’s as much about how she wanted to see him. I don’t think it’s the failed relationships that pushed her to do it, but as she’s taking catalog in her head of the relationships in her life, there’s a sense of why those two, as he says, were such an unbeatable combination. The attraction is undeniable and only more so since the Green Room last year.
You were back in the White House — what was it like to shoot there and with Julia and Hugh again?
We knew that we would be in a room that was similar to the room the two of them had sex in, but it wasn’t going to be the same room. We were very conscious that this was paired with the unveiling and, obviously, the portrait is something we set up earlier in the season. This is a day where she’s dealing with the portrait, she’s still thinking a little bit about Andrew, the book turning into a bit of a disaster, her dad, and now Tom James and being back in the White House. It’s like a giant bonfire of all this stuff.
The episode was directed by Morgan Sackett who is one of our executive producers and he and I go way back to Seinfeld. It was really fun to work with Julia and Hugh in the scene. It’s like two championship prized fighters, it’s like we do the scene, they take a little break and head to the corners where we towel them down, give them some water and send them back in. When you watch that scene, every little move is just perfection. So much of it is you watching their whole bodies in a side view, you don’t even need to see their full faces because you get the whole thing out of every little bit of physicality. The way they move closer to each other and then jerk back, and get closer.
Did you do many alternate lines or takes?
Little bits and pieces. There were a lot more additions as opposed to different versions. I also enjoy the office scene of the two of them together, the way they sit at a distance from each other on the couch. I could watch the two of them all day. I think Hugh really enjoyed being back. He always brings so much both in character and just the way he makes a speech his own and he’ll change stuff as need be. He owns that character, lock, stock and barrel.
Why was it important to have the Gary callbacks in the episode and remind viewers how Gary was there?
We have this amazing group of viewers where we can do a joke without explaining the joke. You had to watch episode seven last season otherwise you don’t get what Gary’s talking about and that’s one of the great things about our audience, which is they’re really smart and they’re good with it. It’s a callback to episode seven from season five and we’re not explaining it. You either get it or you don’t.
What does this mean from here, is it still somewhat unfinished between Selina and Tom?
I don’t believe it’s finished. Despite the fact that Tom has a wife and baby on the way. In some ways, they’re never going to be finished. There’s no satisfactory answer. It’s not like the end of the third Batman movie where you’re going to see Batman and Catwoman having dinner in France — that’s not this.
Would you go so far as to say Tom is Selina's soulmate?
If you think about these different guys that Selina's been around, in his desires for the presidency and their similar background of rising up in the Senate, he certainly gets her. In some different way with Ambassador Jaffar (Usman Ally), the way the two of them were taking on geopolitical issues was fun to her because she had in a way an equal partner. That’s something very specific with Selina. With Andrew and some of these other guys, like Ray the trainer if you go that far back, a lot of them are lesser guys. I’m not the spokesperson for strong, powerful women, but I think it’s an issue of strong, powerful women wanting and being able to find an equal. Especially when so many guys like Tom James are dating young trophy wives.
What does it say that both Hugh and Andrew moved on from Selina with these younger blondes?
With Andrew, I think of him as moving onto anything and everything. Andrew basically gets any woman he wants, there’s something very charismatic about him. Tom is following a little bit of a stereotypical path of a big hedge fund, older-guy type who finds this blonde trophy wife. That’s not unknown in the greater New York City area.
You’ve talked about Selina's inability and desire to break the Andrew cycle with the men in her life. Is Tom breaking the cycle and is there some alternate world where they could actually work?
I think once upon a time maybe, now I think they wish they could. But it’s hard to say if it ever really could.
All season long Selina has been saying she spent time away at the “spa,” and now she finally comes clean to Tom and spits out that she thought about him while in the “loony bin.” Why is she honest now?
She tells a lot of truths in that scene to him in particular that she doesn’t to a lot of other people. She calls it a loony bin and doesn’t say "spa." In that scene, Julia has this amazing ability to play so many emotions at one time. When she has this revelatory moment at the end where she talks about having a crush on him and about Tom holding her hand, I get little chills from that every time I watch that. Both the rawness of emotion and the believability and the realization of perhaps what could have been. It’s Selina unrecognizable for a minute, in a great way.
Did you toy with a version where they weren’t interrupted and went at it again?
No, it’s always interrupted. These things never quite finish themselves the way you want to.
What did you think of Laurie's return? Tell THR in the comments below and check in every Sunday for Live Feed chats with Mandel.