The Washington staffers in "Veep," the first American TV series from "In the Loop"'s Armando Iannucci, are a caustic, backstabbing lot, forever scheming to advance themselves or at least hold off the underlings gunning for their jobs. All of them, that is, except for Gary, the starstruck aide played by "Arrested Development" star Tony Hale. As the “body man” to Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s second in command, he’s responsible for meeting her needs even when she can’t identify them. During one moment of crisis, she calls him into her office, and yells, “Get me... something!” In a world where everyone’s out for themselves, he’s the closest thing to an altruist.
Hale has amassed a long string of credits over the years, including recurring roles on "Chuck" and "Ctrl" and one that found him wooing a hairless Malin Akerman in 2010’s "happythankyoumoreplease." But his signature role is as the hapless — and, eventually, handless — Buster Bluth on "Arrested Development," which he’ll reprise for a much-anticipated 10-episode run on Netflix next year.
"Veep" was created by Armando Iannucci, whose British show "The Thick of It" was developed for an American remake by Mitchell Hurwitz of "Arrested Development." Was that a coincidence?
I hadn’t made the connection when I was going in for meetings, but it came up in conversation with both Mitch and Armando. What I discovered is that they’re massive fans of one other. I remember hearing about ["The Thick of It" pilot] because John Michael Higgins was in it, but that was a long time ago and I’d kind of forgotten it.
They took us on this behind-the-scenes of the White House tour and the Eisenhower Building, and I met guys who had worked as body men. I realized that these guys were 24/7 with their people, and did it for two or three years in their twenties. It’s exhausting. Now they look back and it was a great time, but while you’re doing it, your life is their life.
What I love about Gary is that he should have left this position a long time ago, back in his twenties. He’s been with her a long time. But he’s still there because he worships this woman, and his life has literally become her life. His identity is so enmeshed in hers that if he were to lose his job, he would completely have a mental break, because other than that all he’s got is a lot of cats at home.
In Sunday’s episode, he brags about being the person closest to the Vice President, “her moon.”
When it comes to life in general, I think he’s probably not the most socially functional person, but when it comes to her, you do not mess with him. He will come at you. And he will do whatever it takes to protect her, and her name. If anybody comes out saying that I’m anything other than her moon, or her everything, that’s a massive insult.
What’s interesting is that Gary’s not interested in power. It’s not about having the Vice President’s ear. It’s about having her lip balm.
I’ve got her lady unmentionables, if she needs them. I’ve got an extra pair of shoes. I’ve got vice presidential M&Ms. I might even have a letter of resignation. I’ve got everything she needs in that bag. He doesn’t know a lot about policy, the ins and outs of passing a bill. That kind of stuff is like Chinese to him.
What he does know is these random factoids about people he whispers in her ear. He knows if someone she’s talking to has a brother in Rage Against the Machine. He knows that somebody has just had triplets. I love that he’s like a walking Wikipedia. You tell him something and he will never forget it -- which is very unlike Tony Hale, because I will forget what you told me an hour ago.
The third episode closes with a very funny sequence of Selina working the receiving line at a party celebrating her 20 years in Washington. You keep slipping her these increasingly outlandish details of the people whose hands she’s about to shake, like “Pro-gambling, loves to kill,” and she has a fraction of a second to come up with an appropriate greeting. It seems like an ideal situation for improvisation. How much of it was improved?
It’s very rare to have rehearsal time on a television show: You get scripts, you show up, and you do it. We probably had five to six weeks of rehearsal for this show. We were given a script, and the words just started to move. Everything was mobile. The best thing about the environment is that there are no egos clinging to the words that have been written. They know that organically it can go somewhere completely different, and we were given the freedom to do that.
When were doing that [sequence], I remember just sitting down with Julia and throwing out ideas. There was one where I whisper in her ear, “He’s a triathlete,” and I remember seeing the person they chose, who was probably in his late seventies. And she whispers back to me, “No, he’s not.” The thought of Gary getting something wrong is like, “Kill me now.”
How did the rehearsal process work. Did you rehearse the whole season in advance, or rehearse, shoot, rehearse, shoot?
I think there were five scripts written beforehand, and we had done the pilot. We rehearsed in London for two weeks, because that’s where Armando lives, and then we rehearsed in L.A. a bit, and then we rehearsed in Baltimore before we shot. It was just taking each script and putting it on its feet, letting go of the words, seeing where it happens.
To be honest, I love improv and I love to play, but having a theatre background, you’re used to having that script in your hand. You want to respect the writer. So it took some time to put that down, and trust that we were allowed to do that. The great thing about Armando, he’d always say, “Don’t try to find the funny bit. Let’s just see where the chaos of the situation plays out, and that’s where the humor lies.”