Before cameras start rolling, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is in tears. It’s around 8:30 a.m. on December 18, 2018 — the final day of shooting for HBO’s Emmy-winning political satire, “Veep” — and the team led by showrunner David Mandel has already run through rehearsals and made some last-minute tweaks to the script. The early morning run-through was what sent Louis-Dreyfus, the series’ star and executive producer, back to hair and makeup for touch-ups, but now it’s time: the beginning of the end.
“A lot of emotions today,” producer and writer Frank Rich says, standing in the writers’ offices at Paramount Studios. Morgan Sackett, a fellow producer, writer, and episode director, walks up and the pair briefly reminiscence over what brought them here, to this day and this ending: Finding a fitting end to “Veep” was hard enough, but after breaking the final season during summer 2017, the writers were informed of Louis-Dreyfus’ cancer diagnosis. Everyone rallied around their friend and leader’s battle cry — “Hey cancer, ‘fuck you!'” — she beat the disease into remission, and the team got back to work on Season 7.
The producers had to “re-break” those last seven episodes, leading to a “new ending” and a faster paced final season. Today, they’ll shoot their last scenes of the timely, even omniscient, comedy, and IndieWire was privileged enough to see the day through from its tearful start to exuberant finish (with an unscheduled, mid-scene nap in between). Below is our production diary from the day — consider the timeline a matter of record for a show that’s already earned its place in the history books.
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- The writers assistants, decked out in “New Selina Now” T-shirts, show off props scattered around the office, including the newspaper showing Richard Splett’s inauguration as Iowa’s new governor — a near-identical recreation of Lyndon B. Johnson’s swearing in, with Dan Stevens (Reid Scott) standing in for Jacqueline Kennedy.
- The crew coordinated on Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ wrap gift: a copy of the finale script signed by every living former vice-president. George H.W. Bush died shortly before he was able to sign. Joe Biden wrote, “You’re my favorite V.P.”
- A camera crew follows David Mandel from the second-story writers’ room to the Stage 6 set. “A video crew, a staff photographer, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer [are all] on set for the last day,” he says.
- The first scene being shot finds Ben Cafferty (Kevin Dunn) in the hospital being visited by Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), Tom James (Hugh Laurie), and his chief of staff, Michelle York (Rhea Seehorn). Roughly 35 people are on hand for the first take.
- During shooting, all the writers are on set — which Louis-Dreyfus calls a “luxury,” supported by HBO, to help maintain “Veep’s” high-quality. They gather in directors’ chairs within video village and chat over dialogue, suggest edits, work on upcoming scenes — or are simply make themselves available to hear actors pitch ideas.
- Laurie pitches the writers a joke: “What if Ben had a chart?” he asks, before pretending to read from a patient’s chart. “Did you know Ben is a 126-year-old?” The writers laugh and make a few notes — a version of this line makes its way into the final cut.
- There are now more than 60 people on set, including Tony Hale and Sarah Sutherland. The onlooking crowd continues to grow throughout the day, as wrapped cast and former crew members show up to see (and celebrate) the end. Louis-Dreyfus’ husband and episode director Brad Hall is taking photos of everyone on his phone.
- Louis-Dreyfus runs off-stage and asks the writers to come up with another way for her to say, “fuck each other.” They start tossing out ideas to each other as she goes back to set:
– “Rip each other’s dicks off?”
– “Slit each other’s throats?”
– “Fuck each other off and on?”
- Laurie gets distracted during the next take. Dunn, who’s laying in a hospital bed pretending to be asleep, waits an extra beat before saying his line. Laurie thinks he actually fell asleep, but Louis-Dreyfus disagrees. “He’s just a great actor,” Louis-Dreyfus says. “And it’s Hugh’s first day on a set.”
“You’re doing great, Hugh,” Dunn jokes.
- Dunn is asleep. During the very next take, Louis-Dreyfus delivers her lines and Dunn misses his cue. The Emmy-winning actor waits a second, peaks over at her co-star, and then silently starts laughing. Watching from video village, Laurie spins around and whispers, “I told you!” to all the writers. They let Dunn sleep for a minute before Louis-Dreyfus creeps over, he wakes up, and she says with a grin, “You fell asleep!”
- Later, Louis-Dreyfus remembers the moment and cracks up again — “Wasn’t that great?!”
- After wrapping the first set-up, the writers gather to go over the next scene. They all sit around a long oval table, as the showrunner reads alternate jokes aloud, and the writers vote on their favorites. The script is updated as they go by Mandel’s assistant, with any agreed upon alterations. One of the men shouts, “To all the media in the room, the women are the ones pitching the dirtiest lines.”
- Also in the writers’ room: an “enemy list,” with a bunch of names written under it, including:
– James Marsden
– Kevin Kline
– Sydney (it’s unclear if this is a person or the Australian city)
– Frasier (perhaps a reference to the Emmy-winning comedy)
Only two entries have check marks next to them: “chives” and, about halfway down the list, a green arrow moves “breast cancer” to the top of the enemy list, and an emphatic red check has been etched right next to it.
- One of the scenes being rewritten is Selina Meyer’s final on-camera takedown: a long monologue packed with insults, which has become the character’s trademark over seven vicious seasons. The writers break it down it piece-by-piece, kicking around different names for “Governor Jewface” — including Governor Shylock, Mario Schnozlestein, The Schnozzle, and the eventual winner, Governor Bagel Boy — before building out her speech’s savage punctuation point involving an embarrassing back tattoo. After they’re done, Mandel takes the edits to Louis-Dreyfus for final approval, where she’ll ask for other options or pick a winner. This time, she says, “I kind of like Governor Bagel Breath because Bagelberg could be a name. […] ‘While he cums all over her ‘Little Mermaid’ back tat’ — I like that.” On set, the writers congratulate whoever came up with Louis-Dreyfus’ favorites. (Though, as seen in the finale, post-production changes happen often — “Governor Schnozzlestein” made the final cut.)
- Mandel ends up very happy with Selina’s monologue: “We got full-on Selina,” he says. “That was the monster unleashed.”
- Laurie is the day’s first actor to wrap. Mandel announces a “series wrap” on the recurring guest star, who’s played Senator and one-time presidential hopeful Tom James in 20 episodes over four seasons. After the applause cease, Laurie gives an eloquent speech thanking the cast and crew for welcoming his brief stays in their tight-knit family. Describing himself as “just the Norwegian cousin who arrives twice a year,” Laurie says he quickly came to recognize the talent around him. “As time went by, I just would wound up saying the best; the best writers, best crew, best cast, and the best I ever saw, Ms. Julia Louis-Dreyfus.” Louis-Dreyfus starts crying and hugs Laurie, right before…
- …Mandel calls a series wrap on Tony Hale. The applause start up again, but Hale is too overwhelmed to say much. “I can’t talk as fancy as Hugh, so just thank you so much.” Everyone claps as he cries and hugs Louis-Dreyfus. Mandel calls lunch.
- Louis-Dreyfus punches her showrunner in the shoulder as they watch Dunn deliver the first line in his last scene — even after seven seasons, she’s still thrilled to see this cast perform. Mandel lets the scene run long, and everyone watching — now 80 people or so — gathers in the hallway to hear the showrunner call series wrap on Dunn. As everyone lines up to congratulate the beloved character actor, he says, “It’s so fun to give a speech from bed — I’m serious.”
- Tony Hale leans over and apologizes for bringing outsiders into their “emotional insanity.” “We’re all just basket cases,” he says. “This isn’t how we always are.”
- Andy Daly, who plays Keith Quinn, a Chinese spy within the American government, wanders through a side door onto set in the middle of shooting. Everyone is supposed to be still, but he creeps slowly into view of the 100 or so people in video village, looks up sheepishly, and keeps moving — like a thief caught in the night.
- David Mandel calls series wrap on Dutch Johnson, who plays Jonah’s secret service agent, Rick Youngblood, as well as returning guest star Sufe Bradshaw, who plays former executive assistant Sue Wilson. Sam Richardson arrives just in time to hear Mandel call series wrap on Timothy Simons, and Anna Chlumsky starts crying before he can get the words out for her adieu.
- Mandel is struggling to announce the end for each wrapped cast member. “Each one got worse, and worse, and worse,” Mandel told IndieWire a few weeks later. “It was not that any one person was more important than the one previous, but it was like this weird countdown [to] — at some point, there’s gonna be one person left, and then the show is over. […] The way it laid itself out was just oddly devastating.”
- The last person to wrap, of course, is Louis-Dreyfus — a choice purposefully orchestrated by assistant director Jeff Rosenberg. Mandel says, “Things moved around a little bit, and at some point, or another, he was just like, ‘The Julia scene has to be the final scene. We can pretend for now that this is just some other schedule — a [normal] day — but it needs to be that.'” Now, that scene is all that’s left.
- HBO President of Programming, Casey Bloys, who showed up with his children a few hours earlier, brings in two food trucks as a parting gift to the cast and crew. Richardson and Scott snack from “Shake Ramen” and “Crepes Bonaparte,” as others prep for the final scene.
- Gary Cole says he’s happy everyone’s wrap times were staggered, some over a few days. Matt Walsh, Sarah Sutherland, and Clea DuVall all wrapped the week before (though they’re back on set to watch the ending), and other actors finished the day prior. Cole, who plays the robotic stats guru Kevin Davison, is aptly keeping his emotions in check. “I’m good,” he says. “It’s intense, but it’s a good kind of intense.”
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- The last scene reveals Selina Meyer in the Oval Office. She’s reclaimed the presidency at great cost, and her new Chief of Staff — Seehorn’s Michelle York — is bringing her a document to sign while Daly’s Keith Davison briefs the POTUS. It’s not a funny scene — not really — and there’s a somber, serious tone on set. Well over 100 people silently watch and wait to witness the end. Cameras roll, Mandel calls “action,” and…
- ….Louis-Dreyfus biffs it. Everyone laughs. The star chuckles and announces her mistakes to the room. “First of all, I signed this ‘Julia Louis-Dreyfus,’ so that doesn’t work! […] “I’m having an out-of-body experience.”
- Between takes, Rhea Seehorn asks for a photo with Louis-Dreyfus, Mandel, and Sackett. “I feel like I won a contest or something — getting cast just before they wrap. Getting insulted by Julia — who doesn’t want that?” she says. “I’m in the last scene. I’m telling you: I won the lottery.”
- Take four: Mandel comes in with an added line. In a callback to Selina’s days in the V.P. office, she says, “The level of incompetence in this office is just…” — she trails off before completing the thought.
- Morgan Sackett makes an announcement asking everyone to refrain from posting photos of Selina in the Oval Office to social media. Obviously, it’s a spoiler, and they can’t let it out early. This is not directed at Rhea Seehorn (whose picture was in a neutral space), or Matt Walsh, but that doesn’t stop Sam Richardson from shouting, “Nice going, Matt!”
- Take six: Mandel consults with Louis-Dreyfus before shooting starts, trying to get her into the headspace for the scene. This is the moment when Selina takes into account everything that led her to this point: sitting in the White House as President of the United States. “She has lost a lot,” he says. “Maybe the price was too high?”
- “I just remember really worrying about keeping Julia on the set,” Mandel said later. “That, honestly, was what was going through my head. I didn’t want her coming out of the set and her seeing the sheer number of people so that it started to go through her head like, ‘I’m performing for a crowd of 200.” […] My main goal was to keep her focused. […] Instead of bringing her to the monitor to look at something, I was bringing in the portable iPad.”
- Take 10: Mandel and Louis-Dreyfus debate from the set whether or not Selina would say Gary’s name again — she’s already said it once, on accident, and given her painful history with the former bagman, Louis-Dreyfus doesn’t think Selina would let herself think about Gary again so soon.
– “Whatever she wants,” Mandel says.
– “Whatever he wants,” she says. “No, not really. I’m not going to say it.”
- Before shooting, Mandel tells Louis-Dreyfus she looked too far down on the last take, but “we got it. That’s my feeling. So [on this one], take it right to the edge — where you might let the tears come, but you don’t.”
– “Oh, that’ll be fun,” Louis-Dreyfus says.
- Take 11: Mandel nods. Sackett, sitting next to him, pats him on the shoulder. They know they’ve got it now.
- Louis-Dreyfus is alone on set. They still need to reset and shoot wide shots of the scene for coverage. As everyone in video village chats excitedly, Louis-Dreyfus is still in her character’s headspace — or maybe it’s her own. She’s quiet, melancholy, sitting behind Selina’s desk.
- Tony Hale stands up, walks straight onto set, and hugs her without saying a word. He whispers to her and she nods. They’re ready to start shooting, and Hale returns to his seat, wiping his eyes.
- With cameras still rolling, Mandel motions to the crowd to follow him onto set. Well over 100 onlookers crowd the Oval Office and its hallways to hear the showrunner call series wrap on Rhea Seehorn, Andy Daly, and, choking up, he officially wraps “the one and only Julia Louis-Dreyfus.”
- The room quiets as Louis-Dreyfus fights back tears to speak. She calls the series her “exquisite joy for so many years. […] This was, in fact, a lifesaver for me. The idea of coming back to this glorious thing was a tonic, to say the least. […] Thanks for sticking it out.”
- In turn, Louis-Dreyfus says, “That’s a series wrap on ‘Veep’ for the marvelous David Mandel, our leader.” Overwhelmed, Mandel apologizes for not being able to properly thank everyone in the room, before going quiet. Timothy Simons fills the silence with a cheer, hands above his head, kicking off the real wrap party. (HBO held a giant, official party the weekend prior.) As Louis-Dreyfus cries and hugs everyone, Simons keeps saying, “Julia, you look great! Perfect!”
- Looking back, Simons said, “Those last couple scenes with [that] giant ass video village — everybody made it [to set]. It was just so much fucking fun. It was just fucking fantastic.”
- Caterers wheel in a cake and buckets of champagne. Once everyone has a glass, Louis-Dreyfus raises hers and leads the perfect goodbye toast: “Daniwah!” she shouts, and everyone responds in kind.
- The party goes late into the night, well past 2:30 a.m. by Mandel’s later estimates. He said everyone was “emotionally exhausted,” but they knew as soon as they left, it would all really be over. “Then it got to those of us that did not want the show to end ever,” he said. “It was me, Lew Morton, my No. 2, Tim, Matt, Sam, and Pete [Huyck]. […] Eventually, we decided, “OK, we gotta go now. Yeah, we gotta go.”
“Veep” is available in its entirety via HBO.