8:15am PT by Jackie Strause
How 'Veep' Wrangled Bryan Cranston, Mark Hamill and More Starry Cameos for Georgia Event (Exclusive)
"Ma'am, this would look like a size-14 flip flop. We really can't," says Matt Walsh, reading one of his lines from the Veep episode, "Mother," during a Zoom rehearsal on Saturday.
The moment serves as a perfect lay-up for his scene partner, Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
"I don't give a fuck! You're gonna cancel this recount like Anne Frank's bat mitzvah," the star and executive producer says in response, delivering her comeback with uncanny precision.
If the scene feels familiar, that's because that Emmy-winning 2016 episode of Veep went viral after Election Day. And because of that, it's being revisited on Sunday night in a bid to turn out the vote in Georgia.
"Mother," written by Alex Gregory and Pete Huyck, centers on President Selina Meyer (Louis-Dreyfus) flip-flopping on her demands for a recount while seeking reelection. On Nov. 4, when the country's presidential election between incumbent Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden was still in limbo, Veep fans noted the eerie similarity between that plot from the HBO political comedy — which, at the time, was vetted by political consultants and deemed unlikely to happen — and the real-time chaos amid "count every vote" and "stop the vote" pro-Trump protests.
After that, as showrunner David Mandel says, the episode was "screaming to be table read virtually" for a real-life election-related cause.
Saturday's rehearsal, which The Hollywood Reporter attended, virtually gathered the entire 11-person ensemble with 10 recurring players and seven surprise guest stars in preparation for Sunday's live event. The uncut "Mother" virtual table read benefits America Votes, a grassroots group focusing get-out-the-vote efforts in Georgia ahead of the Jan. 5 runoff elections that will determine control of the Senate. Any donation grants access to the table read, which will be live-streamed at 8 p.m. ET; RSVP at showupforgeorgia.com.
"Nobody should feel disenfranchised," Louis-Dreyfus tells THR of the impetus for the Veep reunion. "Everybody who wants to vote should be able to vote and should not be kept from voting, and that includes getting your mail-in ballots. It’s urgent that this information is disseminated accurately and in a very broad way, so that’s what we’re hoping to do with this event."
The "Mother" table read is the fourth fundraising event to be put on by the duo of Louis-Dreyfus and Mandel, who organized two Veep reunions and one for Seinfeld to bring voter awareness to key battleground states ahead of the election. With Georgia remaining as an outstanding cause, Louis-Dreyfus says the momentum hasn't wavered going into Sunday night. As of Saturday, the Veep event had already raised $275,000.
"The election is behind us, but this particular race in Georgia is critical and, in my view, it’s critical towards restoring democracy," says Louis-Dreyfus. "I’m delighted that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are in the White House; that goes without saying. But if we could pull this off [in Georgia], it would be dynamite."
As it turns out, Louis-Dreyfus' Veep co-stars and friends of the show feel the same way, as was made apparent when she and Mandel began their reach out for Sunday's event.
Stepping back into their roles are Anna Chlumsky, Reid Scott, Sam Richardson, Tony Hale, Timothy Simons, Clea DuVall, Matt Walsh, Gary Cole, Kevin Dunn and Sarah Sutherland. The recurring faces include Kathy Najimy, Sufe Bradshaw, Dan Bakkedahl, Nelson Franklin, Lennon Parham, Lauren Bowles, David Pasquesi, Usman Ally, Sarayu Blue and Matt Oberg.
From there, a casting exercise began to fill the remaining roles, resulting in an uncut script that is filled with updated lines (Don Cheadle hits his Supreme Court gavel on the legality of mail-in ballots) and expanded scenes from cameo players like Beanie Feldstein and Patton Oswalt.
Oswalt was the first call, says Mandel. "He has been so active politically during this last year and he was part of the Veep family already," the showrunner tells THR of the recurring star, who wasn't originally in the episode. "When I read the script, I realized it would be easy to change the [character of the] O'Brien operative into his character, Teddy Sykes. I wrote him and it was the quickest 'yes' ever."
Mark Hamill was next, another actor and activist friend who counts himself as "a real comedy nerd" and Veep fan. "I offered him the part of Uncle George," says Mandel. "It’s not a huge part, but Mark loved that he got to do two scenes with Julia. And I was able to add some dialogue to one of the scenes that had been cut."
With Hugh Laurie currently in production on HBO's Avenue 5, Louis-Dreyfus had one person in mind to step in as her running mate, Tom James. "Bryan and I have really loved each other forever," she says of Cranston, who played the Tim Whatley to her Elaine Benes on Seinfeld. "Bryan was the perfect replacement," Mandel adds.
Rounding out the cameos are Paul Scheer, another Veep alum who Mandel praises as a utility player in the episode, and Kumail Nanjiani, who appears as Selina's boyfriend Charlie Baird (originally played by John Slattery).
And finally, there is Late Show's Stephen Colbert to host and steer the episode with stage direction.
"Most of these people are really good friends of mine and this is an all-hands-on-deck situation, so I really wasn’t shy about asking this favor of my buddies," says Louis-Dreyfus.
On Saturday, with 30-plus actors and writers calling in for the rehearsal, the motivation was apparent but the joy was also palpable.
There were compliments galore about jokes that aged well (hint: Charlie Rose) and performances from star Louis-Dreyfus that were lauded for being the perfect combination of cringe-y and heartbreaking. Amid the election recount drama, President Meyer is tasked with pulling the proverbial plug on her dying mother – which makes for unforgettable supporting performances from Sutherland and Hale, the latter who worked magic with his computer screen to recreate his beloved bagman's persona.
As Louis-Dreyfus made edits in real-time — "I think we could say something hyper-vulgar right here," she noted about a jab aimed at her character's ex-husband, played by Pasquesi — the show that Mandel has described as taking a Shakespearean approach to cursing was on full display via Amy Brookheimer (played by Anna Chlumsky), who delivers Veep's first other F-word in the episode (the joke involves Eleanor Roosevelt).
By the time Sunday night rolls around, the Zoom production is sure to be as air tight as possible for a virtual show. But on Saturday, as the sprawling Hollywood cast practiced self-muting and video sharing, a gallery view of laughs filled the rehearsal room from scripted and unscripted bits alike.
"Use the Force," Bakkedahl side-chatted at one point, in hopes of inspiring Hamill to emerge victorious over the dreaded Zoom glitch. "Maybe you’re not a Jedi,” joked Cheadle of the Star Wars icon, to which Oswalt replied, "Exactly what a Sith would say, Don."
Ultimately, Mandel felt the force. "This exceeded all of my expectations," he said when signing off.
As for Louis-Dreyfus, the Veep reunions and response to them has the star and executive producer looking forward to a day when a revisiting White House comedy will be possible.
"I’d like things to settle down politically, but getting together for these events has been an absolute ball and a great reminder of the fun that we have together as a group," Louis-Dreyfus tells THR. "The fact that Trump is no longer in the White House makes the possibility of doing something Veep more palatable, because we wouldn’t have to compete with his ridiculous assholery."
She adds, "We’re definitely thinking about it."
RSVP for "Veep Uncut" at showupforgeorgia.com.
Update: After Sunday night, a donation will grant access to a replay of the table read (which ended up hitting its fundraising goal and raising more than $600,000 during the live event) at showupforgeorgia.com/veepreplay.