When asked about the cynical characterization of politicians in “Veep,” cast member Gary Cole responded, “The problem is that they’re human.”
That basic foundation has served “Veep” enormously well through three seasons, mining satire that’s second-to-none among current television programs. Armando Ianucci’s HBO comedy, which celebrated its Season 4 premiere in New York Monday night, derives laughs from an uncompromising depiction of human error and imperfection, tracking with a master’s eye how the most basic mistakes can severely affect issues of paramount importance.
Since premiering in 2012, “Veep” has emerged as HBO’s most successful comedy series, bridging the divide between critics and audiences and slowly building in stature as a pop culture phenomenon. The series has been nominated three times for Outstanding Comedy Series at the Emmys, while its star, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, has won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for three years running.
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All of that adoration could intimidate a new cast member, and it certainly did for Sam Richardson, who plays the utterly-sincere and equally incompetent Richard Splett. Richardson joined “Veep” in a recurring role last year, and he’s been promoted to series regular for Season 4.
When asked if he felt intimidated, his immediate response was a resounding, “Yes! […] These guys are juggernauts of comedy — you’ve got Tony Hale, you’ve got Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Matt Walsh. I’m a fan! It’s hard to not be a fan in scenes, but you want to play the scenes in the right way and be good.”
After assisting with Selina’s campaign last season, Richard is working in a new capacity in Season 4. “Pretty early into [this season], I start working with Jonah,” Richardson explained, but don’t expect Richard to follow in the foul-mouthed footsteps of his colleagues when it comes to insulting the “unstable piece of human scaffolding.” “Richard is the one guy who doesn’t play that game,” Richardson said. “He’s too sincere.”
Speaking of Jonah, Timothy Simons teased his oft-mocked character’s new role. “He’s still the liaison [to the Vice President], and now that he’s the liaison and they’re in the West Wing, they want me out,” he said. “So they like the fact that I’m the liaison, because they can get rid of me.”
Four seasons in, “Veep” has covered a lot of culturally-relevant American politics — even though its writing staff is predominantly British. But Simons, whose character last season built in prominence as an anonymous political blogger, finds the perspective refreshing.
“As an American growing up, in your brain [comes] a little bit of reverence for the American political process. Brits don’t have that,” he said. “They don’t give a shit about it, so all of it is fair game.”
That distance allows “Veep” more comedic freedom, but it’s also established an unmatched accuracy in the realization of D.C. politics. Insiders from the nation’s capital have recently taken to dubbing “Veep” the most accurate depiction of their city, despite the fact it’s a sitcom written by British comedians.
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“They have a great perspective on government,” Kevin Dunn, who plays Ben Cafferty, said. “They see a lot of things that we miss.” In terms of how working on the show has effected his own view of politics, Dunn hasn’t exactly come away with a smile. “I’ve always been fairly cynical, but I understand it more now. The whole political world, with all the money and stuff, has become majorly disappointing.”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, on the other hand, expressed a great deal of sympathy for the figures she so effortlessly pokes fun at. “It’s made me more understanding of politicians,” Louis-Dreyfus said. “I understand what a difficult challenge it is — particularly now more-so than ever — to remain true to your moral center and your ideology and serving the people. It’s tricky.”
“Veep” also gives its actors a chance to channel their own perspectives into the material. Selina’s hilariously-misguided haircut from last season, for instance, stemmed from an idea of Louis-Dreyfus’ that she felt was worth exploring. As she put it, “Female politicians get a lot of crap for their look — if they make a change, or if they don’t make a change and stick to something they know.” Anna Chlumsky, meanwhile, has picked up on a more general — but no less accurate — image in her performance as Amy. She laughed, “You always see some kind of stressed-out, blonde person on their phone… That’s Amy.”
Chlumsky acknowledged the challenges of the show’s major paradigm shift, while also gushing that they’ve managed something really special this year. “It’s totally fun. This season is really different, though, because we’re all kind of spread out, doing different jobs,” she said. “We actually don’t even get to see each other as much as previously.” She also hinted that Episode 9 of Season 4 is among her all-time “Veep” favorites.
The premiere event certainly reflected the influence and profile that “Veep” has attained over the years. Attendees included Arianna Huffington and Katie Couric, and Louis-Dreyfus gleefully shared something President Bill Clinton once said to her. “‘You know what the best thing is about your job? No term limits!'” Nasty as its jokes may be, “Veep” has reached far and wide.
READ MORE: ‘Veep’ Gets Nasty: The 6 Best Insults from Season 3 (NSFW)
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