'Veep' Boss on Selina's Health Setback and Special Relationship With Gary

"You see [this happen] with old married couples," showrunner David Mandel tells THR of the Selina-Gary double whammy. Plus, all those CNN jabs.
Justin M. Lubin/HBO
Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tony Hale on 'Veep'

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Sunday's episode of Veep, "Justice."]

Veep delivered some good news and then some very bad news to ex-President Selina Meyer on Sunday's episode: She isn't going through menopause — yet — but she did have a heart attack.

"In this post-presidency world, Selina's (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) age has certainly become an issue with her, both in terms of her own feelings of vanity and also wanting to seem young, fresh and still viable," David Mandel, the showrunner of HBO's political comedy, told The Hollywood Reporter. "She had this feeling that menopause was coming on and is then relieved it isn’t that, even though it is a small heart attack — a heart incident."

Thanks to last week's visit from former Finnish leader Minna (Sally Phillips), Veep viewers now know Selina's true age to be 55. After weeks of Selina complaining about sweats and back pain, a doctor informs her she recently had a minor heart attack. The news has Selina, who is in age denial, jumping for joy, while her body man Gary (Tony Hale) suffers a heart attack of his own upon hearing the news.

Here, Mandel talks to THR about the moments of sweet comedy between Selina and Gary provided by the double heart attack, what the setback means for Selina moving forward and why her former staffers are still damaged goods.

We learn that, at some point in the recent past, Selina had a heart attack. Then Gary has a heart attack after hearing she had one. How will this health setback impact the quest for her legacy?

It’s a true thing that women’s heart attacks present very differently and that a lot of women have smaller incidents and don’t realize. It’s not the classic shooting pain in the arm. Her age has definitely been on her mind, especially with Catherine and Marjorie talking about having a baby and her being a grandma, and her reaction speaks to her vanity. The fact that she had a heart attack and is happy about it because it’s not menopause is very Selina. Gary having the heart attack because of her heart attack is something you see with old married couples. It creates this situation where she would have to take care of him a little bit. Gary staying in the basement of the brownstone with her nursing him is a fun side of their relationship that we hadn’t explored in a long time.

In the hospital, Amy banging on the window and knocking the cellphone out of the guy's hand, that all came from talking to people connected to Bill Clinton about when he had his heart attack and surgery and how they were worried about pictures and that people might take souvenirs — that people might actually take scalpels and things from the hospital room. So that's what her concern was there. And Catherine's reaction to the heart attack, laughing, actually wasn’t in the first draft. But then I started thinking about how people would react and I knew it was right when I wrote it.

We finally find out where Gary lives — in a studio with three roommates in Hoboken, N.J. 

Selina moved to New York to live in this gorgeous brownstone but as anyone who is young and struggling in New York knows, where you can live now is getting worse and worse. It used to be Brooklyn, but now Brooklyn’s as expensive as Manhattan. You see the sacrifices Gary’s willing to make in his own life to continue to be there in time to make the tea in the morning.

Was that sexual tension between Gary and Selina after their sleepover?

It’s not sexual-sexual. It’s idealized sexuality. He’s had sex, but it’s maybe what he thinks sex is. It’s much more about having his arm on her than trying to do anything. She didn’t flick it off, but she definitely got out of there and, like all things, the niceness of the moment they had is undercut by some extreme weirdness. But she was willing to try and take care of him. She wasn’t loving the idea of him being there, but she was attempting something and that speaks to their relationship. She did more for him than she probably would do for literally any other human being, including her daughter. 

How is the heart attack going to impact her moving forward? Will it slow her down?

It was a minor, minor heart attack. A minor blockage. At the end of last episode, when she was on the plane she was complaining about her back and sweating. Menopause it something we've playing with all along, it was also something we talked about last season with Minna in the "Camp David" episode. But the truth about the heart incident is that there are side effects. A big one being that depression often comes with surviving a heart attack and I’ll leave that at that.

Will the Supreme Court seat also slipping through her fingers contribute to this depression?

We’ve all watched enough Veep at this point to know she wasn’t going to end up as a Supreme Court justice. Even she, for the most part, thinks it’s not going to happen. The rumors spread because of the heart attack and because of her being incommunicado. It was a new version of ineptitude for her staff: It almost got her somewhere accidentally. But she wins some, she loses some. It is something she would have liked and, as we talked in the episode, there is a history of former presidents becoming Supreme Court judges. In her search for relevancy, there’s something there for her that would have worked, and then the fact that it’s Hughes maybe makes it a little worse. It is a defeat, but I don’t know that it’s any worse a defeat than any other.

You took jabs at the media this episode, specifically at CNN's crowded split screens and Selina trusting BuzzFeed over the New York Times. Since you wrote the season well ahead of Election Day, were those based on watching election coverage?

Having watched all of that election coverage and watching CNN just fill the screen with human beings, I was dying to put up CNN and have as many people as possible being interviewed onscreen. The couple of running jokes about BuzzFeed and CNN online [when Amy says the rumor has hit CNN.com, Selina says, "Well nobody looks at that"] — we’re not in the White House but it doesn’t mean we’re not talking about politics and how politics is reported. We were definitely motivated by watching election coverage and paying attention to how people are getting their news and how much it’s changed. The BuzzFeed-New York Times joke was written long before [Trump’s first press conference]. The joke is more about her not caring about the New York Times but caring that BuzzFeed had the story. We’re definitely having fun with the media and how it covers things and those jokes were a reflection of that.

Another member of the scattered staff returns when Amy (Anna Chlumsky) steps back into her role after Buddy dropped his campaign last week. Why did you not explain why she's back? 

We had the idea of her getting into a cab at the end of last episode and saying, “Take me to the airport” or “Take me to Washington, D.C.,” and we didn’t need it. Somewhere in this episode there was a, “Glad to be back, ma’am.” But it just was. Where else is Amy going to go? Not commenting on it is the biggest comment of all. This is where she goes, at least for the time being, when her life falls apart. She doesn’t want to go home and see her parents. This is her home. It’s the safest place to go.

Will Amy now be competing with Richard (Sam Richardson) for Selina’s affections?

Because Richard is such a nice soul but also a political person, Richard gets under the skin of both Amy and Gary and affects both of their lives. Amy is bothered that Selina thinks Richard is the be-all, end-all as chief of staff and, at the same time, she’s very taken by Richard as a human being and that really bothers Gary.  

Is Amy's return your way of slowly getting the gang back together?

This is always what the show is going to be. We set up their new worlds, but they’re still going to be connected. Part of why we put Dan (Reid Scott) in the news world at CBS This Morning is so he would be able to interview Buddy, announce what happened in the Georgian election and in this episode, the rumor of the Supreme Court thing is spreading and he's part of the news media covering the story. It’s setting up these worlds and then bouncing them off each other.

Viewers heard the name "Sherman Tanz" several times in the first few episodes and now he finally appears. Why the buildup and how will he continue to play a role this season?

He’s a new character in our exciting mix and he certainly has his own, clear agenda. At this point, his business is private prisons and he’s very interested in making sure there are lots of them. We thought there was value in not seeing him for a bit — like in Jaws, not seeing the shark for a while. You’ve heard a lot about Sherman Tanz [the billionaire and private prison magnate Selina pardoned] and now you finally get to see him. He has a lot of personal axes to grind. There are certain billionaires out there in the world that he will remind people of. He’s modeled after a lot of these billionaires who decide to put themselves in the political process to affect changes that affect their businesses. Sherman Tanz is a modern fact of politics these days. A lot of our candidates are very rich and a lot of people backing them are the super rich and they have agendas. 

Ben and Kent are still working with Jonah (Timothy Simons). Is this a long-term move for them and is Jonah going to keep up the daylight saving fight?

Jonah’s inability to react to daylight saving time causes his personal vendetta and, oddly enough, when it happened last month, it was so funny seeing all the articles asking, “Why do we have daylight saving?” Sometimes it’s these small little issues that start bigger things. Ben and Kent don’t particularly like the job with Jonah, but it's the same reason why Amy is back with Selina: Where else are they going to go? Other than Jonah as a Congressman and Dan having this news anchor career, they’re all damaged goods. They are the people who were working for Selina Meyer and who were unable to secure the office for her in the re-election. No one’s banging down their doors for jobs. Amy had another job because she went to a local level, but also because it was her boyfriend and then fiance. People aren’t calling up Amy Brookheimer to have her be a chief of staff and run their campaign, and same for these guys. That’s a real fact of Washington defeat.

CBS This Morning is clearly enjoying their portrayal on the show, as they invited Reid Scott to come on the show Monday. Did you have to get their approval for your show?

I was very happy we got to use the name. The only thing they cared about was not using their bug in the corner, so it won’t look like official CBS footage. I’m glad they have a sense of humor. I think they very quickly realized it’s not about them and that it’s about morning television in general — it’s not like there’s a Charlie Rose character. But I have said there’s a lot of George Stephanopoulos in the inspiration for Dan, because he was a handsome campaign worker who went to television. One of the things we definitely did think about was that Margaret Colin, as [his co-anchor] Jane McCabe, would want a set where people can see her legs, like the old thing with [former Entertainment Tonight anchor] Mary Hart. Jane is a very unique lady.

Veep also made headlines this week after an Australian lawmaker, Graham Perrett, revealed he laughed so hard at Jonah Ryan in the premiere episode that he choked and knocked himself unconscious. How did you react when you read that story?

Julia’s first instinct was, “Is this even real?” I knew it was real because of where it was being reported and I just thought, “Oh my god.” My initial instinct was, “Well, wait a minute, was it an old episode I had nothing to do with?” I was very proud it was a new episode. There’s definitely a lot of fans in Australia, that’s what we’ve learned. 

What did you think of Veep? Tell THR in the comments below and check in every Sunday for Live Feed chats with Mandel.