HBO's new political comedy "Veep" (premieres Sun., Apr. 22, 10 p.m. on HBO) gives viewers a peek behind the curtain of running the office of the vice president of the United States. It also manages to make it feel like it's really no big deal at all. Sure, the person in this position is literally a heartbeat away (or a chest pain or two) from running the free world, but apparently that's where the glamour begins and ends.
Through the daily doldrums and mindless monotonies in the life of Vice President Selina Meyer (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her cabinet -- including child star Anna Chlumsky as Chief of Staff Amy, and "Arrest Development's" Tony Hale as Selina's personal aide Gary -- viewers quickly realize that this high-powered position actually holds no real power at all.
But the biggest testament to the show's success at satirizing real life politics is that this honest portrayal makes you instantly forget that the aforementioned stars have had memorable, career-defining roles prior to "Veep." In this, they really are the vice president and her cohorts.
I caught up with Anna Chlumsky (If the name doesn't ring a bell, the face will -- she played Vada Sultenfuss in "My Girl," a movie that's reached cult status in certain generations) to talk about just that. She also dished about her co-stars, working with Armando Iannucci again (she starred in his movie "In the Loop") and why her character Amy, a real go-getter, would never in a million years aspire to be veep herself.
I feel like this is one of those shows that you get the call and hear who's involved and immediately say yes -- but even more so for you, since you'd worked with Armando Iannucci before.
That's pretty much exactly it. I worked with Armand before, and Simon [Blackwell, co-creator] and all the writers, on "In the Loop," and so I'd heard that they were working on this pilot, and I was just keeping my attention on it from afar. And lo and behold, they had been thinking about me for it as well. That's kind of one of those beautiful things that doesn't happen very often, where you get to work with somebody who you adored working with before, but also that they were thinking of you as much as you were thinking of them, which is kind of a neat reciprocity.
Well and the cast is amazing, from Julia to Tony Hale and Matt Walsh ...
Oh, totally! We have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to who we get to work with. In the beginning, Julia was really the only one who was connected to it, cast-wise, and then I came on and they found everybody else in one fell swoop. We're terribly lucky to have Tony and Matt, and Tim [C. Simons] is just so fantastic, and Reid [Scott] and Sufe [Bradshaw] ... we're so lucky.
Amy's a nice balance -- someone who has to deal with a lot of shit, but doesn't really take a lot of shit. How do you describe her?
Well, she's obviously a very young chief of staff -- just by anybody's standards, mid-30s is pretty young to take on that role. So immediately I thought, "Oh, so this girl must be some kind of a wunderkind." Every once in a while, you get people in any industry, but just as much on the Hill, who maybe have been involved in politics from an early age, or maybe they've really outshone all of their peers, and people start to talk about them. I definitely feel like she's one of those people. Before we even meet anybody on the show, I think that was her life. She worked with Selina for a long time -- like nine years -- and I think Selina just definitely wanted to keep her around. The most enticing position to give Amy would be chief of staff. She loves being the boss, she loves running things ... I think she'd be just as happy, if not more happy, running a big Fortune 500 company as she would running a crazy office in the executive branch. She wants to be one of the most powerful women, and she's really, really into being the puppeteer.
Well, she has a pretty good puppet ... Selina needs a lot of guidance and reassurance.
Right? Yeah, she's not bored at all ... but she kind of is in the sense that they went from a really high-powered senatorial office to the vice presidential, so I think she probably feels like she was more of a mover and shaker before the vice president's office. Now, it's like they have to claw at finding something relevant. [Laughs.] And they're clawing away! Selina and Amy both have the exact same wishes for Selina's tenure as vice president. Amy can be as much of a barker and a ball-buster with her staff and with other people that she deals with, but with Selina, she really needs to maintain the brave face. It's her job, and almost her job alone, to make sure that Selina is always on her A-game.
But for Amy, being this go-getter with all these big aspirations, no one wants to knock the vice president, but this is not a job that people aspire to! I don't feel like Amy would even want to be vice president.
Right! [Laughs.] Totally! In my head, it's like she had a bunch of other jobs lined up once Selina didn't continue in the primaries, but then once Selina took the vice presidential bid, she was probably like, "O,h please come -- I need you." This is all what I've made up, but I think Amy was like, "Well ... I'll take the title of chief of staff." [Laughs.]
Did you have a favorite episode?
They're all amazing, and what's neat is the politicking only gets better as we keep going. The first three episodes, it's really getting to know the dynamics of the office, and it's really getting to know what the office's goals are, and kind of learning that language. Once that's established, then you kind of get to see them play the game a little bit more. So that has a lot of opportunities for Amy. The seventh episode is kind of Amy-heavy. She has at least one or two irons in the fire in each episode, so that's pretty great.
I think the genius of the show is not just the glimpse into this world -- it's what we don't know or see. I love that we don't know what party they're in, and that we'll never actually see the president on screen.
That's right. I think it's one of the lynchpins of what we're doing here. This isn't an agenda show, by any means -- this is a look into an industry that I think gets mythologized a lot, especially in our country. In order to satirize adequately, I think you need to bring people down to Earth and be like, "Yeah, these people drink coffee and have tummy troubles and they go to the bathroom like anybody else, and they all have relationship problems, if they even have relationships." We don't need to see the president, and we don't need to know the party ... those things are not going to inform at all what these people go through every day.
There's an entire scene debating yogurt flavors, trying to decide what flavor Selina should order at a press opp to accurately reflect her personality and positions -- it's like dessert by committee. What yogurt do you think Amy would be?
[Laughs.] Oh my God, that's great -- I wish I had Jonah [played by Timothy C. Simons] with me because he's an expert evidently. Let's see ... it wouldn't just be plain vanilla, and it wouldn't be chocolate and it wouldn't be swirl. What would she be? I think peanut butter, because peanut butter is like the closest we can get to a meat flavored yogurt. [Laughs.] With all the protein involved.
We're only a couple of months apart in age, so forgive this, but I can't talk to you and not talk about "My Girl." You chose to take time away from Hollywood to go to college before continuing your career, but I imagine you couldn't really escape it then, or even now as a grown woman. Do people still come up to you to talk about Veda and "My Girl"?
Oh, all the time. All the time. All the time ... for sure. It didn't really hit me until I was in my early 20s just how much it resonated with people. When you're kids and all the people who are watching the movie are kids, no one can really express why it meant a lot. It was more like having unwanted attention as a child -- if you'd walk around, people would recognize you, and it would be in a weird, almost making-fun-type manner. Those same people who liked the movie, once they're 20, they can come up to me and say, "Oh, that mattered so much to me because of A, B and C." So I think the journey was realizing just how important of a movie it was for a lot of people. And, also as an adult, it's a good one. It's a good movie! I would recommend it. [Laughs.]
[Laughs.] It's one of those movies that if it's on cable, you can't change the channel.
Yeah, I always say that about "Big." It comes on, and no matter what you're doing, you'll stay at the edge of your couch and finish it. You just will.
Yep, that's another one! Have you stopped and watched "My Girl" like that?
I haven't watched it in a long, long time. I don't even know what the circumstance was the last time I watched it, but I was in my mid-20s and it came on and I think I watched until it reached commercial. I've seen it in chunks, but yeah -- I probably don't need to see it until I have my own kids and they're 10. [Laughs.]
And then you probably won't even tell them it's you.
Well, according to a lot of people, they won't be able to mistake me. [Laughs.] Supposedly I haven't changed.
I'd disagree. I think the biggest compliment I can give you about watching "Veep" is you instantly forget all of that.
Oh, that is the best compliment ... I can't even tell you. Thank you so much!
But it's the same with Tony -- he stops being Buster Bluth from "Arrested Development." And with Julia -- you watch her in this, and you're not watching Elaine Benes from "Seinfeld." She is Selina Meyer.
Oh totally! She has embraced Selina completely. It's kind of funny now that we're doing all this press. I'll see Julia onscreen and, in person, it's different -- I expect to see Julia and talk to Julia -- but in an interview, it's kind of funny, because it's like I've almost grown used to the wig. [Laughs.] She really embodies her ... it's a testament to how good she is.
She told a story on "The Daily Show" [video above] about being on the Senate floor and leaving a funny note in Al Franken's desk ...
Yes, I watched that, too! I didn't know what she wrote in that note until then! We all watched her write the note and she went over to the desk and tossed it in, and I was just like, "Oh, that's so cool." What a small world, when you think about it. Who would ever expect to go on the Senate floor and know somebody, but she does. I never knew what was in the note, so that kind of cracked me up.
"Veep" premieres Sun., Apr. 22, 10 p.m. on HBO.