[Note: The following interview contains spoilers for the “Silicon Valley” series finale, “Exit Event.”]
Throughout “Silicon Valley,” Jared Dunn felt like the ultimate companion. The trusty employee eager to please founder Richard Hendricks and the other various employees, Jared was the loyal, dependable piece of the Pied Piper puzzle amidst a frequent torrent of chaos.
Airing its finale Sunday night after a six-season run on HBO, “Silicon Valley” has now come to its close. So it’s both fitting and somewhat poetic that the man behind Jared, Zach Woods, has an analogy for his experience over those half-dozen years, one rooted in one of the most famous companion stories of all time.
“There’s this book, ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ that I really love a lot. It’s a kid’s book, but I think it’s actually kind of profound,” Woods told IndieWire. “In the book, the toy rabbit asks another toy what it means to be real. The horse who he’s asking says that real happens when somebody loves you for a really, really long time. I think in a strange way, when you’re acting on a television show, it’s sort of your job to love a character until they become real. Real to the other actors, real to the audience. You love these characters into reality and then you have to say goodbye. And it’s not that easy.”
Even though it was a difficult task to bid farewell to Jared and the rest of the series as a whole, he and the rest of the cast got to do it in stages. The bookending framework of the final episode, “Exit Event,” finds a documentarian (played by showrunner/writer/director Alec Berg) interviewing the various core Pied Piper staff a decade after the company mysteriously lost all its value overnight.
That structure and format gave all of the central cast members one last chance to help find an ending that felt true to their characters. With Berg sitting behind the camera, Woods and other Pied Piper mainstays —including Thomas Middleditch, Kumail Nanjiani, Martin Starr, and Amanda Crew — got to improvise answers to help shade in those final details.
“It was so nice to be able to look Alec in the eye and basically say goodbye as Jared. At one point I got up, because the interview was over. And then I was like, ‘Wait, I want to say one more thing!’ And I don’t even remember what I said. I just remember feeling like I had more like I just wanted to say goodbye one more time to Alec and to the show as Jared,” Woods said. “To just have this reflective moment built into the production schedule where everyone’s going to sit and basically look at their authorial dad and connect was really nice.”
Over the seasons, Woods has lauded the access he’s had to the “Silicon Valley” writers, so that Jared didn’t merely advance in a bubble. Woods said he knew that the final episode would feature a time jump, but there was some room after that to give some thought about where exactly that would find him. The idea of Jared working at a retirement home was pretty close to what Woods had in mind.
“One of the things that’s so wonderful about the show is that they’re so collaborative,” Woods said. “They asked me, ‘Where do you think Jared might end up?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, I think maybe he’d have adopted a bunch of kids. And they said, ‘That’s so funny. Cause we were thinking that he basically adopted a bunch of old people.’ So we were basically on the same page.”
Due to the production schedule, those 10-years-ahead sequences didn’t come on the final day. Woods’ actual last moment of filming came when capturing the Pied Piper team’s reaction to their self-sabotaged network launch. Imagining that they were seeing a torrent of rats coming toward them, to fulfill the unintentional promise of their company’s name, their time on camera ended once that sequence did.
“We’re out on stage and there’s all the balloons and we’re just standing there kind of bewildered,” Woods said. “It was sort of perfect that we ended on a moment of disorientation and bewilderment and alarm because that’s where Pied Piper has usually lived. It felt somehow appropriate. And then we all started popping those balloons. I stomped on probably 150 of them, which was surprisingly cathartic.”
“Silicon Valley” has a few memorable props, one of which features in one of the finale’s best moment as the gang relives their “always blue!” Switch Pitch ball game. For the notably unshowy Jared, that didn’t leave a lot of options for character-specific items that Woods could take with him. But one particularly finale gift was both an unexpected one for him and a testament to a subtle, lasting behind-the-scenes collaboration with series costume designer Christina Mongini.
“She gave me one of his green Patagonia vests, unasked. I came into my trailer and there it was, and she had left a sweet note,” Woods said. “Even though Jared’s costume is so basic in every sense, we had so many long conversations. ‘I don’t think he’d wear anything that has a logo. I think he’s wearing warm colors.’ Things we just talked about forever. I think less experienced costumers will sometimes play for the comedy and she was so good at just playing the reality of the character.”
Jared has had plenty of opportunities this season to branch out from his typical, steady demeanor. His frantic airsoft gun hunting of Richard during a dispute in Episode 2 and a scene when he meets his birth parents in Episode 4 were both examples of Woods being flexible in working through some of Jared’s farewell insecurities.
But he points to one element as not only a grounding force for him throughout the series, but something that be the biggest source of reflection the further he gets away from its ending.
“The thing that I think I’ll carry with me is just all the heart-to-hearts with Richard. That final one on the roof in the finale felt like a good way to say goodbye,” Woods said. “I have deep adoration for all the people involved, but also the fictional people involved. I feel so much affection and familiarity with these people who only exist for half hours Sunday night and after this Sunday won’t exist in that way anymore. It’s a strange thing because I can go visit Thomas Middleditch, but I can’t go visit Richard Hendricks. Unless I ask Thomas to play Richard Hendricks, which I think would end my relationship with Thomas Middleditch.”
As Woods is readying the next chapters in his career, he says that admiration and appreciation he has for his time on the series has helped situate him in a more positive outlook on what’s to come. To help explain, he turned to another beloved animal: his new dog.
“We just got this puppy. My friend told me, ‘Just make sure that the puppy is around people who love him for the first six months. Only people who love him. Once you’ve made it through six months of being around people you love as a puppy, then basically your conception of the world is that people are sweet and you’re loved,'” Woods said. “To make a slightly odd metaphor, if I’m the puppy, ‘Silicon Valley’ was the six months of being around people who loved me and who I loved back. Now I feel like I go into projects with the expectation that it’s going to be good news. And I don’t think all actors have that.”