8:00am PT by Bryn Elise Sandberg
Bros, Bongs and Bay Area Satire: On Set With HBO's 'Silicon Valley'
It’s a Tuesday in mid-February on the Sony lot and it’s hard to tell if it’s the set of HBO comedy Silicon Valley or a frat house.
The smell of pot — courtesy of the show's blowhard entrepreneur Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller) and his bong — fills the living-room set, and scattered around are crumpled bags of potato chips, empty beer bottles, half-drunk Red Bulls and more than a few copies of High Times magazine.
The slovenly tech incubator is home to fictitious data-compression startup Pied Piper, led by the socially awkward Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) and his four equally nerdy companions, played by Zach Woods, Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani and Miller. On this day, all five of the actors are present to film the final scene of the show’s second season.
After only a few takes, it becomes evident that the moments when the camera’s rolling aren’t so different from when it’s not. Either way, it's just a bunch of bros hanging out. Although the Mike Judge-created tech parody added two female roles this season — a VC managing partner (Suzanne Cryer) and a coder (Alice Wetterlund) — nether of them, nor Valley’s sole series-regular actress, Amanda Crew, are around for the scene at hand. So it’s not uncommon to overhear phrases like, "Dude, I sucked your dad’s dick," or, "Guess what? I f—ed my wife last night."
The laid-back vibe on set is largely due to the fact that the most of the actors knew each other beforehand. (Miller and Middleditch were part of the same two-man improv troop in Chicago over a decade ago, and both knew Nanjiani, too.) And despite the long hours they pour into the project, the guys find themselves spending a lot of their free time with each other.
"We really like each other. We’ll often shoot for long days and a week at a time and then we’ll hang out a lot on the weekends," Woods told The Hollywood Reporter. They’ve even booked a hotel room for tonight, where they plan to have a "slumber party" to celebrate the end of the season. Miller, whose real life demeanor bears a striking resemblance to his onscreen persona, makes sure to note: "There will be a lot of nudity."
The cast keeps their boyish energy up while filming, mostly by finding ways to entertain each other. To hear Middleditch tell it: "We’re all goofy gals that just like to joke around, come up with bits and make each other laugh." The lead actor himself has developed a reputation on set for his distinct character voices. During some of the longer breaks between scenes, the guys will play FIFA on the Xbox One they have in their trailer. (Middleditch, Starr and Nanjiani are all big gamers.) None of them claim to actually know much about the tech industry, but they do consider themselves nerds.
It’s getting late in the evening now and the cast is growing sillier by the minute. Between takes around the central computer workspace in the living room, Nanjiani gets a text message from his wife alerting him to some Silicon Valley fan fiction on Tumblr. "Gilfoyle was running his hands over Dinesh and looking over his body," Nanjiani begins reading aloud from an entry titled "Access Point," quickly realizing that in it his onscreen character and Starr’s are lovers. "This part is always so weird, when we're done having sex and you're just admiring me," he jokes to Starr.
The cast and crew, including episode director Alec Berg, begin huddling around, laughing. Starr seems oddly impressed with the piece, admitting that though it's no 50 Shades of Grey, "It’s kind of well-written." Nanjiani continues on with the PG-13 dialogue, which details the sexual encounters between the typically antagonistic characters, before ending with the line: "I like admiring my things, especially right after I’ve defiled them."
Quipped Berg: "Season three, guys."