[This story contains spoilers from the series finale of HBO's Veep, titled "Veep."]
When watching Veep, Tony Hale can perennially be spotted over the shoulder of Julia Louis-Dreyfus' starring character Selina Meyer. As the bagman to the politician, Hale's Gary Walsh is in her ear, primping her body and miming her every move — always one heartbeat away from the woman he has long served. The pair even suffered twin heart attacks last season.
But the series finale of the HBO political comedy put Gary front and center in a devastating way.
After all the sacrifices Gary has made for Selina — the Labor Day and trash-bag mysteries are so dark, viewers never even got the details — the presidential candidate picks her trusted body man as the fall guy in the Meyer Fund investigation and Gary is arrested by the FBI as Selina is accepting the nomination at her party's convention. The gut-punch of a betrayal played out in the present-day ending of Sunday's series finale, which then jumped ahead 24 years to former President Meyer's funeral. Among the who's-who Washington guest list was an older and broken Gary, on parole after serving time for Selina (who never even visited him), and who had a message for his former queen.
"You'd hate the flowers," he said, in an unusually seething manner, before adding, "but I brought the Dubonnet." Gary then placed the lipstick he had saved for Selina's nomination night on top of her casket.
The betrayal and flash-forward outcome solidified Selina's monstrous transformation and yet, if you ask Hale, he has a surprising take on how it all played out. "What Selina did was the biggest gift to Gary, because that’s the only thing that would have broken the cycle for him," Hale now tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I was weirdly very satisfied by it because nothing was going to wake Gary out of this abusive cycle but this."
Below, in a chat with THR, Hale digs into the shocking events of the series finale, reveals how he and Louis-Dreyfus went about filming the scene, and offers up a take that might just help Veep viewers sleep at night when they think about Gary's fate.
Selina Meyer and Gary Walsh, as dysfunctional as their relationship may be, are a beloved duo on Veep. The series finale betrayal was heartbreaking to watch. How did you react when you read the script?
Gary has been abused, codependent and is just stuck in this obsessive cycle with Selina. He’s done outrageous things for her and nothing has yet snapped him out of it. I looked at this as, “Well, maybe this will snap him out of it.” Maybe he’ll wake up to the abuse. As a whole, I was really satisfied by where they were taking the end because Selina was so awful, so bitter, so narcissistic and so selfish without any empathy. And when you sow that your entire life, you reap sadness and isolation. That’s the byproduct. That’s throughout your life, if that’s what you’re going to invest in the world, and that's the end of your life. And I love how Veep showed that full-circle moment with her. In the end, she’s sitting at the Oval desk and she’s totally alone, miserable and isolated. That’s the outcome of living a life like she did. It’s completely void of any joy.
When approaching the end, showrunner David Mandel said he thought about the most horrible thing Selina could do that would have a deep emotional impact, and that's how he landed on the Gary betrayal. How does it feel to have Gary and Selina's relationship be the most powerful punch of Veep?
That’s what was so beautiful about the way Dave [Mandel] wrote and directed the episode. Selina wasn't a robot. She wasn’t completely disconnected. She was aware of what she was doing. She just got to a place in her life where she couldn’t help herself. She had given into that much of her selfishness and narcissism. There was a moment when she was looking at Gary and you could see the sadness in her eyes for him, but she couldn’t stop herself. The train was moving way to fast — I’m getting deep now — but the train was going so fast of every action and behavior that she’s ever done that it was inevitable. But you saw that tinge of humanity in her that made her sad.
With your scenes on Veep, not everything is written on the page and you all try alternate versions. How did you and Louis-Dreyfus approach how to play the scene?
I think we cried the entire way shooting through the last episode. (Laughs.) We were crying during the table read. Even her saying the line, “I couldn’t have done it without you.” Or me saying to her, “You’re not going to have to.” We all care about each other so much and there was a lot of emotion wrapped up in shooting that episode. So it’s like there was an undercurrent of knowing that it was the end and us doing a scene that was the end between us that compounded the emotion.
And on top of that, Gary is supposed to be very happy in the scene. He has no clue what is about to happen as they celebrate her nomination. How did you keep those emotions in check?
I think you try to stay in Gary’s world. She’s about to become president again and that is the biggest joy of Gary’s life. He has no identity outside of Selina Meyer. He has no personal identity, so Selina becoming president is like getting the key and him becoming president. He is so invested in her, so I knew that going that high in joy would hopefully help that devastation of him being taken away by the FBI.
Why was it so important that Gary would be doing something so Gary-like — he picks a seed out of her teeth — as they are having this final conversation?
I don’t remember whose idea that was, but It was a really nice distraction from the weight of what was going on. And so Gary wouldn't really listen to what she’s actually saying. Because Gary is so in tune with her emotions, he might have picked up on something in her tone or behind or eyes, and this distracted him so he didn't. When she says to him, “I need you to do a favor for me.” Going to jail was never in the cards of that favor in Gary's mind. "Why would she want to be separated from me?” So obviously the favor was, “Do you want a coffee?” Because that’s always been the favor. She wants him to pick up coffee or go get those shoes that she bought. Those are the favors. So I like that that’s the way he heard it.
The production of the convention was large in scale: it was filmed at a real arena in Los Angeles and they dropped a conventions-worth of balloons from the ceiling. How many takes did you get to nail Gary and Selina's final scenes, first their goodbye and then their final glance once the FBI comes? And what were the alts that didn't make it?
From what I remember, I think we did the scene several times before the balloons. It was right after she finished her speech that the balloons came down, so I think we did that scene over and over just to make sure we got everything we needed before they did. I always catered it to Gary just treating what she was saying as an everyday request and never considering what she was really asking. There’s that part where she asks for the favor and then she stops herself and says, “Oh never mind.” I asked this question, because it sounded like she was going to say it and then stopped herself. And what that says to me is, again, another picture of her weakness and her cowardice. She can’t even say it to him. She has to just let it happen and then turn a blind eye. Not only is what she’s doing completely unethical, it’s the way she’s doing it. I remember when she asked me early on in the series to break up with her boyfriend for her, because she didn’t want to face it. She was such a coward that she didn’t want to go to someone and say, “I don’t want to date you anymore.” And she had me do it. And in this case, she didn’t even say it, she had the FBI guys come and grab me. She couldn’t even face Gary to do it, that’s how much of a coward she was.
Given Gary's history with Selina — that breakup, the Labor Day event, the mysterious garbage bags and so much more — was this new level of depravity totally unexpected? Were you surprised?
I’m always surprised with Gary. I’ve said this before, but it’s like a dog returning to his vomit. He just keeps bouncing back to this dysfunction. It’s like, what the hell are you doing, dude? So I think the level of depravity that happened here, I wasn’t necessarily surprised. The way that I was surprised, actually, is that even though Selina would never admit it, I do feel like she subconsciously thought she needed Gary around her at all times. She didn’t really care about Gary but selfishly, I think she thinks that she can’t survive without him around. So I’m surprised in terms of her own survival that she did that.
When Gary is being taken away by the FBI, he fights it until he sees that she's aware of what's happening. Then he resigns. Can you talk about that choice? Did he give up because he was defeated and heartbroken, or because he wanted to make this sacrifice for her?
The fact that I saw Selina do nothing was immediate evidence that she was a part of this. Because if it wasn’t supposed to be happening, she would have run out and been like, “What are you doing? Get your hands off of him. That’s the wrong guy.” Him seeing her just standing there, looking at what’s happening, I knew, she’s in on this.
If she had asked the question, do you think would Gary have sacrificed himself?
Yes, I do. Because it’s almost like the same thing with Selina, where the train was moving so fast with every bad choice and horrible action that she couldn’t stop herself. With Gary, the codependency and dysfunction and obsession with her is going so fast that he couldn’t stop himself. And of course he would be like, “Yes.”
Louis-Dreyfus said she believed "something crosses Selina’s eyes of perhaps remorse and love for Gary" in their goodbye. Do you believe Selina felt remorse?
A tinge. I compare it to the tinge of remorse she felt while sitting at the desk in the end, when she called Gary's name and I wasn’t there. I think she did feel a tinge of remorse and then she immediately picks up the phone and gets into her facade and hides it away, stuffs all those feelings down and then turns it on again. Just like she did with the speech on nomination night. It was not lasting remorse. She’ll never allow herself to sit in those feelings, but she does feel them and then stuffs them down and turns it back on.
Mandel imagines that Selina is haunted when she’s alone and that in those moments of silence, she cries herself to sleep over Gary the most. Do you agree?
Oh, yes. Maybe that will be the next Veep spin — we’ll do a Christmas Carol thing with Selina and she’ll be visited by all the ghosts and the ghost of Christmas past will show her what she’s done to Gary. She’ll be horrified and then turn into this wonderful person and bring Gary a big fat turkey!
I like to think she’s haunted because you two are a favorite TV couple — in a twisted way.
I will say, our character relationship and our friendship has genuinely been one of the biggest gifts of my career. So I’m really deeply going to miss it, really bad.
Then we see Gary at the funeral 24 years later. Can you fill in the gaps. What do you imagine happened to him in prison?
He’s definitely not meant for prison. My guess is that I think he was probably in prison for about 20 years. That’s a long time. And then the past four years before she died, he was out. I’m just now thinking about this, but I think during those 20 years, there was probably a good five years in the beginning that he thought she was going to change her mind and wake up and realize how special he was to her. He was expecting a phone call to be released and bailed out and apologies and all that kind of stuff. We spend so much time trying to make the irrational rational and he’s thinking, “They’re gonna wake up, they’re gonna wake up.” She never did. So I think probably the last 15 years of that prison sentence was spent dealing with that and all those feelings. Hopefully there was a support group within that prison that helped him process. (Laughs.) But then when he gets out and she dies, his entire identity was based in her, so her dying meant that a portion of him was also dying. He really did deeply, deeply care for her. It was just covered with a lot of dysfunction. But I think that care and that base level love is what brought him to the funeral.
There was anger in his farewell words, but also a sense of love. Has he forgiven her?
I think he has forgiven her. The most joy Gary ever had was when he would get the right lipstick; when he would get the right coat. When he would give her what she needed. When he was right there catching her purse. So for him to lay the lipstick on the casket? She wanted the Dubonnet. It was very satisfying for him.
When we see him, he’s not looking so great. Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky) tells viewers that Selina never visited him. How hard was that pill to swallow?
I don’t think Selina saw it as a gift, but in terms of his life, it was probably the biggest gift. And you’re right, he did look rough. And that might be his own wake-up because Gary was always, always buttoned up. He had all the designer clothes and was always clean-shaven, because God forbid he look like crap compared to her. He always wanted to match her. So I think later in life he might have seen how ridiculous that was and let himself go a little bit and freed up.
So, you think he is happier now?
Yes. I do think Gary is a much better version of himself during that funeral, definitely.
In the beginning of the season, you told me that Gary viewed her as a "forever queen." And always the president in his eyes. How does he view her now? What is her legacy?
That’s a hard one. I think he might view Selina with a little more empathy and compassion. I think he definitely saw her in a different light and I think Selina’s legacy is a trail of sadness. Look at how Catherine [Meyer, played by Sarah Sutherland] responded to her mother's death — she brought in margaritas! Your legacy lives on in your children and that is a prime example, where her daughter is celebrating her demise and her death. That, to me, is the absolute saddest picture of her legacy.
How are you doing with your feelings of Veep being over?
What we just spoke about is obviously all of Gary’s story. My story is that I’m super bummed it’s over! I pair that with how excited I am to be able to have had a full-circle moment in Veep, to show the beginning and an end and to walk through the whole journey and to have the whole arc of the series completed. It’s so incredibly gratifying. I’m sad because I love my friends and when you spend eight years with people, you really become a family. I’m mourning that. That’s hard to say goodbye to.
Is there any world where you do a spinoff or movie or continue this character in some way?
Well, a Christmas Carol! (Laughs.) It would be a blast. I mean, any opportunity I can get to work with any of these folks would be awesome. Even when we got together and watched the last episode [on Sunday night], just swapping stories and talking about our time in Baltimore. It’s just so much joy to be able to talk about all that stuff any time we get together. It’s fun to go over memories.
I think we all hope you’ll miss each other enough that you'll come up with something down the line.
We’ll do a big vaudeville act! She’ll be the ventriloquist and I’ll be the dummy. That’s actually kind of the perfect paring, if she’s the ventriloquist and I’m the dummy.
Check out all of THR's series finale coverage of Veep here.