'Fresh Air' Celebrates 'Veep,' A Comedy Series Skewering Presidential Politics As the HBO series Veep concludes its seventh and final season, we listen back to archival interviews with showrunner David Mandel and shows stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tony Hale.
NPR logo

'Fresh Air' Celebrates 'Veep,' A Comedy Series Skewering Presidential Politics

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/722094523/722149896" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
'Fresh Air' Celebrates 'Veep,' A Comedy Series Skewering Presidential Politics

'Fresh Air' Celebrates 'Veep,' A Comedy Series Skewering Presidential Politics

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/722094523/722149896" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm TV critic David Bianculli, editor of the website TV Worth Watching, sitting in for Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "VEEP")

JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) OK. Leon?

BRIAN HUSKEY: (As Leon West) Yeah.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) I'm still - I'm not sure about this part where I say I want to be president for all Americans. I mean, do I? You know? All of them?

HUSKEY: (As Leon West) How about real Americans?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Oh, yeah, that's good. And then we can figure out what I mean later.

BIANCULLI: This weekend, after seven seasons and 17 Emmys so far, we say goodbye to HBO's "Veep" - the hilarious Beltway comedy starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Selina Meyer - an aggressively ambitious politician surrounded by sycophants, rivals and power players. Today, we'll hear from Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the star of "Veep," Tony Hale, who plays Gary, her overly obsequious assistant, and David Mandel, the "Veep" showrunner who has the task of shaping and landing these final episodes.

"Veep" was created by Armando Iannucci and has Frank Rich as one of its executive producers. So it's no surprise that "Veep," from the start, has been astoundingly smart about its political satire and characters. But what's been amazingly and increasingly satisfying about this show is just how fast and furiously its humor is delivered. The laughs-per-minute quota on "Veep" is off the charts. And the most truly democratic thing about "Veep" is that every character is capable of saying something hilarious at any time and usually at warp speed. So you have to listen closely to catch it all.

And the cast, a deep bench group that includes Gary Cole, Anna Chlumsky, Kevin Dunn, Timothy Simons and Matt Walsh, is a delight no matter who's on screen or who's making fun of whom. When Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tony Hale share the screen as Selina and her do-anything, adoring assistant Gary, there's a special type of comedy magic as in this scene from the current final season.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "VEEP")

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) God, I know what I want to say, but I can't find the words.

TONY HALE: (As Gary Walsh) What if you talk and I type? How about that?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (Selina Meyer) Yes.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) You just say it out loud and then I'll just type it?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) OK, yeah. Let's try that.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) Great, great, great. Oh, this is fun.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Well, from the time I was a girl.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) From the time I was a pretty girl.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) No, not pretty girl.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) No?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) From the time I was a girl.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) Aw, but you're so pretty.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) I know. But anyway, I have fought...

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) Oh, good. Good.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) ...Every day...

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) So good.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) ...To make America...

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) A very good place.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) No. Don't finish my sentences.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) I thought that's where you were going.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) You don't know where I'm going.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) To the White House.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina) You know what I would like to tell people, but, obviously, I can't?

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) Announce that here.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) I should be president...

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) Yep.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) ...Because it is my god**** turn.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh, laughter)

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) I was a game changer.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) Yup.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) I took a dump on the glass ceiling, and I shaved my muff in the sink of the old boys' club.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) Muff.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) But for three years, Hughes kept me chained to a radiator in some basement in Cleveland. So as far as I'm concerned, America owes me an eight-year stay in the...

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) Yes.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) ...White House, and this time I want a war.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) Yes. All right. Do you want me to read that back?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Oh, we can't use any of that.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) Oh.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) I mean, it sounds like I'm shouting from a balcony in Munich.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) Like Evita.

BIANCULLI: That's a scene from the current and final season of "Veep," the HBO comedy series satirizing presidential politics.

Our first guest today, "Veep" showrunner David Mandel, is a writer, director and executive producer of the show. Season 5 was his first running "Veep." He took over from British writer-director Armando Iannucci. Mandel formerly wrote for "Saturday Night Live," "Seinfeld" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Onscreen, there have been some transfers of power, as well. Selina Meyer began the series as vice president - hence the title - but in season four, the president resigned, and Meyer took over. Hoping to stay in the role she inherited, she ran for president in the next election. Season four ended in an Electoral College tie.

Terry Gross spoke to David Mandel in 2016 - that was during Season 5, which focused on the behind the scenes calculations and backstabbing as Meyer and her staff tried to win a recount in Nevada and a congressional vote to break the Electoral College tie. There's a moment where it seems that, as a result of arcane rules, her vice-presidential running mate, Tom James, may be named president. And although he's become Meyer's rival, she would want a job in his administration.

Tom James is played by Hugh Laurie.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "VEEP")

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) So, Tom, let's be real. You're going be an accidental president.

HUGH LAURIE: (As Tom James) Pot. Kettle.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) I'm here to offer my help in making this transition of power as smooth as possible by joining your administration.

LAURIE: (As Tom James) Well, strangely enough, I was thinking along the same lines.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) OK. Fantastic. I'll tell you what I want. I want secretary of state because I think that's the least you can do.

LAURIE: (As Tom James) I was thinking vice president.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) That's literally the least you can do. And I really want secretary of state.

LAURIE: (As Tom James) Vice president.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Come on. Secretary of state.

LAURIE: (As Tom James) Vice President Meyer's got a nice, familiar ring to it.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) No, it doesn't.

LAURIE: (As Tom James) Vice President. Take it or leave it.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina) I wouldn't be your veep if there were a grassy knoll full of Jodie Foster fans in the front row at your inauguration.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

TERRY GROSS, BYLINE: (Laughter) That's a clip from "Veep." David Mandel, welcome to FRESH AIR.

DAVID MANDEL: Thank you very much, and congratulations on finding a clip from "Veep" that you can actually play on the air legally...

GROSS: (Laughter) Oh, I know.

MANDEL: ...Without getting fined by the FCC.

GROSS: There is so much cursing.

MANDEL: (Laughter).

GROSS: There is so much incredibly creative cursing and insulting on your show (laughter).

MANDEL: We try. We try.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: So, you know, do you think vice presidential candidates and vice presidents consider that to be a really bad job?

MANDEL: I don't think anybody loves the job. I really think there's a long history of people really, really not liking the job. And I think even when they think they like the job - like, I bet there were a couple of years in there where Al Gore was sort of thinking to himself, this is a pretty good job. You know, we're getting along great. This guy lets me do a lot of stuff. And then one day it was like, oh, God. Monica Lewinsky. Oh God, no.

GROSS: (Laughter)

MANDEL: I'm running. Oh God, now - and starts to re-evaluate what he thought he liked about it. It's a thankless, thankless task.

GROSS: Dick Cheney seemed to have a lot of power in the job.

MANDEL: Yeah, but he didn't seem happy. Maybe that's just him. I don't know.

GROSS: Maybe he never seems happy (laughter).

MANDEL: Or I don't know - maybe that was smiling for him and it was just really creepy. I don't know.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: So when you took over as the showrunner of Season 5, there was a crazy cliffhanger from Season 4, which I can't even begin to explain. So I'm going to ask you. I'm going to throw the ball to you (laughter) and...

MANDEL: Basically, yeah.

GROSS: ...Ask you about the political cliffhanger.

MANDEL: Season 4, which was kind of part of the reason I took the job, by the way - and I'll loop back to that in a second - but basically, Armando and his team ended the season with Selina running for president against the opposite party - by a candidate, a senator by the name of Bill O'Brien. And so it was her and her vice-presidential nominee, Tom James, versus O'Brien and his vice-presidential nominee, Montez. And basically, it ended in a, I guess - what's the word? - statistically possible but never happened since the 1800s - an Electoral College tie, which basically meant that the election would be decided by the House of Representatives.

The sort of wonderful corner that Armando kind of wrote the show into - for me, creatively, it was sort of - you know, it's pretty good to be asked to come in and take over "Veep." That's pretty good on any day. But then sort of this puzzle was sort of the added lore, at least to me. So I was very excited about it.

GROSS: So let's hear how the scene actually sounded when it played out on TV. And this is Selina Meyer's staff trying to figure out what happens if the election ends in a tie in the electoral vote - as it looks like it's about to do. So they all go on to Google (laughter), basically...

MANDEL: (Laughter).

GROSS: ...To see what they're supposed to do - like, what happens next? - what the protocol is. So here's the scene from "Veep."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "VEEP")

KEVIN DUNN: (As Ben Cafferty) It's the 12th Amendment.

ANNA CHLUMSKY: (As Amy Brookheimer) I have 20th Amendment.

DUNN: (As Ben Cafferty) What?

CHLUMSKY: (As Amy Brookheimer) Yeah.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) Why are there so many amendments? Get it right the first time, people.

MATT WALSH: (As Mike McLintock) It's actually both. Twelfth is superseded by the 20th. They give the House until January 20 to elect the president.

SUFE BRADSHAW: (As Sue Wilson) Each state gets one vote. First candidate to 26 is the new president, and the Senate chooses the VP.

GARY COLE: (As Kent Davison) Well, it's a close election with a ton of House races too close to call. What happens if it's a tie in the House?

CHLUMSKY: (As Amy Brookheimer) Right.

COLE: (As Kent Davison) Is it a dance-off?

BRADSHAW: (As Sue Wilson) Well, vice president-elect becomes president. Whoever the Senate has picked for VP will be president.

DUNN: (As Ben Cafferty) Wait. That means...

CHLUMSKY: (As Amy Brookheimer) That Tom...

LAURIE: (As Tom James) What?

CHLUMSKY: (As Amy Brookheimer) ...Could be the president.

LAURIE: (As Tom James) I had literally no idea. It's good to be prepared.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Wait. So you mean that I might lose this election to my [expletive] vice president?

MANDEL: Season was - and then once I know where I'm going, then I can kind of, you know, get there in an interesting way. And, definitely, some of the path of how we got there changed, especially when I, you know, was able to put together a writing team and we were able to add even more stuff.

But very initially, I'll guess the easiest way of putting it is, I had decided for myself that she needed to lose the election. I felt that the thing that Selina Meyer wants most on all the world is to be elected president of the United States. She was president for a year, but she was not elected. She - that - so that was the thing that meant the most to her, and I sort of felt like the character would be ruined if the character got what she wanted.

And then I started to figure out, well, who should she lose to? And the obvious answer initially was, you know, to Tom James. She should be her vice president's vice president. That's the most insulting thing - and this man who, you know, she sort of had this sort of interesting past with. And I think Julia, as an actress, responds to the more we can kind of dump on her. And then I started to think to myself that even worse than losing to your own vice president would be losing to another woman so that another woman would become the first elected president of the United States, even though elected in this crazy situation.

And once I kind of locked in on the idea that that was the worst thing that could happen to Selina, I kind of knew where I was going. And then the rest of it was just sort of filling in the journey.

BIANCULLI: David Mandel speaking to Terry Gross in 2016. He is the showrunner and executive producer of "Veep," the HBO comedy that concludes its seventh and final season this Sunday. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOLDENBOY SONG, "KITTENS OF LUST")

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to Terry's interview with David Mandel, the executive producer of "Veep." Terry spoke with him in 2016. One of the topics they discussed had less to do with politics than with Selina Meyer's personal relationships - specifically, how she relates, or doesn't, to both her daughter and her mother.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

GROSS: So the vice president turned president, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, not only doesn't get along with her daughter, she never got along with her mother. And in this past season, her mother was gravely ill on life support. And Julia Louis-Dreyfus was called to the bedside to decide whether they should take her off life support or what they should do.

And she's kind of torn up about it - you know, tormented about what the right choice is. But really, she's thinking about the recount that's going on and what's going to happen with the presidential election 'cause her ability to stay as president hangs in the balance. And so as she is worried about her mother being gravely ill and what's happening with the recount, her aide, played by Gary Cole - his name in the series is Kent Davison - takes her aside for a private talk. Let's play that scene.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "VEEP")

COLE: (As Kent Davison) I don't know if this provides any solace, but ever since your mother's health setback was announced, there has been a - an outpouring of support that has driven up your favorables.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) I'm talking about pulling the plug on my mother here. How's a half a percentage point in the polls supposed to sweeten that [expletive] biscuit?

COLE: (As Kent Davison) More like double digits.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Really? But just out of curiosity, if I were to, you know - would that end?

COLE: (As Kent Davison) There is a possibility of a shorter-lived, but numerically greater outpouring - if you will, a death bump.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Really?

COLE: (As Kent Davison) Really.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Was it your idea to come up with the expression, a death bump?

MANDEL: I believe that was the writers. Death bump was their terminology. But I'll take a little credit in the sense of, this was something I definitely wanted to do this season, which was dig into who these people were a little bit - that this very personal thing with this mother who she's not sort of close to would come up and that she would be very much not caring and yet caring.

GROSS: So in "Veep," there's a character named Jonah who's not very bright, who's been an aide. But this season - this past season - he runs for Congress and makes one gaffe after another. And he's using, without permission, the Tom Petty song "I Won't Back Down" as his...

MANDEL: Correct.

GROSS: ...Campaign theme. And then Tom Petty gets in touch, saying, I didn't author this - authorize this. I do not want to be associated with your campaign. You cannot use my song.

MANDEL: I had actually...

GROSS: Yeah.

MANDEL: I was just going to say they had a number of cease and desists, including a couple of pre-emptive notes from other artists, saying, in case...

GROSS: Right.

MANDEL: ...You're thinking of...

GROSS: Right (laughter).

MANDEL: ...Using our music, don't use our music. Yes.

GROSS: I love that because that happens so much now that a candidate will, you know, appropriate a piece of music, and then the artist who made it will go, like, no, you don't. I hate your campaign and everything you stand for.

MANDEL: You know, we did a line with Selina where - when she was in her mother's hospital room, and she's hearing this Tim McGraw song that is Meemaw - that's her mother's - favorite song. And she's hearing it, and she sort of says something along the lines of, the election's over. I don't have to pretend to like country music anymore. You know, sometimes with these campaign songs, I just wish they would play a song they actually listen to and like.

GROSS: And I - yeah.

MANDEL: And by the way, I will also point out we actually had to ask Tom Petty if it was OK that we used the song for Jonah - you know, a version of the, you know - the world sort of meeting - reality meeting fiction.

GROSS: So you started your TV writing career on "Seinfeld."

MANDEL: No.

GROSS: Oh.

MANDEL: Actually, my first job, oddly enough, out of college was at Comedy Central when Al Franken, in 1992, hosted comedy coverage of the Democratic and Republican Convention. It was called "Indecision '92." So that was my actually first, like, gig - like, real job job.

And then from there, at the end of that summer, after we'd covered the two conventions, which was really fun, we - Al put in a word for me at "Saturday Night Live." So really, I guess my first, like, yearlong job was - I was at "Saturday Night Live" for three years and then moved to "Seinfeld."

GROSS: So doing a comic take on the Republican and Democratic Convention sounds like great training for doing "Veep."

MANDEL: Yes. No, it was amazing training. And by the way, you know, also, "Saturday Night Live" - you know, one of the things and - you know, I was a lifelong fan of the show. But then working at "Saturday Night Live" and working with Al Franken - you know, some of my favorite stuff that we ever got to do was the political stuff.

You know, back in - I guess it would've been '93, right after - right before the inauguration - Al and I wrote a sketch that still puts a smile on my face, which was Phil Hartman as Bill Clinton. Remember when Clinton was jogging everywhere in D.C. before the inauguration? And he kind of ran into - it was him - Clinton into McDonald's and then explaining the Somalia situation by eating food off people's plates and explaining the warlords and stuff. So doing the political stuff was just a blast and a half on "Saturday Night Live."

And, you know, it's different because it was a little bit more timely, a little bit more parody. Obviously, you're doing the real-life characters - but yeah, all amazing training for this "Veep" thing that I didn't know was coming, in some ways.

GROSS: So having worked with Julia Louis-Dreyfus on "Seinfeld" and now working with her on "Veep," do you see...

MANDEL: And "Curb," by the way. She...

GROSS: Oh, and "Curb." Right. Yeah.

MANDEL: Remember - that's right. We did the season of the "Seinfeld" reunion on "Curb." So that was fun, too.

GROSS: Right. But watching her play a really different character than Elaine on "Seinfeld"...

MANDEL: Yep.

GROSS: ...Do you see things that she's capable of that you wouldn't even necessarily have known about from "Seinfeld"?

MANDEL: She was brilliant as Elaine on "Seinfeld." I mean, there's just no question about it. And I always sort of say she just sort of ruined actresses for me. My partners - Jeff, Alec and I, even when we were sort of making our little "EuroTrip" teen comedy, there were moments when we would talk to, you know, one of our actresses on there. And we would basically steal, like, one of Julia's moves and sort of teach it to them. Like, do it like this. That's - 'cause that's how Julia Louis-Dreyfus would do it.

I think the Elaine character was obviously brilliant. I think the fun of - with Selina, perhaps a little more, is that, you know, just, like - we can stretch her into these sort of new depths of behavior. How horrible can she be? Where is that line? What would she do? How embarrassed can we get her? - that we kind of - we relish in. I mean, it's sort of - you know, half the - you know, it's like, what's the reason to kill, you know, Selina's mother? Well, it's to see how Julia will react to that, you know what I mean?

So the scene, for example, in that episode where she actually does ultimately pull the plug and her mother has - dies in front of her, and then she gets the news that she - they won a hearing in Nevada, so the vote count's going to go ahead. And she has a chance now to win Nevada, where she gets really excited by the news. And then her daughter comes in, and she has to tell her daughter, your grandmother's dead, but also, good news from Nevada.

The - I could watch Julia do that on a loop, 24 hours a day for the rest of my life. It was so uncomfortable and oddly sad and yet hilarious all at the same time. And there's just nobody on earth that can do all of that at once. And she just wows me regularly and, by the way, just inspires me as a writer because then I start to think, like, well, what next? And that - you know, what can I do to her next, in a good way?

GROSS: David Mandel, thank you so much.

MANDEL: Oh, thank you so much - really fun.

BIANCULLI: David Mandel speaking to Terry Gross in 2016. He is the showrunner and executive producer of HBO's "Veep," which concludes its run on HBO this Sunday.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "VEEP")

SARAYU BLUE: (As Dr. Mirpuri) She's gone, Madam President. My condolences.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Can I just have a moment?

BLUE: (As Dr. Mirpuri) Yes, of course. Absolutely.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Well, why don't you check your phones? Sounds like you shoplifted a bunch of vibrators.

COLE: (As Kent Davison) The Nevada state Supreme Court issued a temporary stay of certification. The count will continue.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) (Laughter) My plan worked, right?

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) Maybe. Maybe.

COLE: (As Kent Davison) You wanted help from above. Here it is.

DUNN: (As Ben Cafferty) What a relief.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Yeah. That's fantastic (laughter).

SARAH SUTHERLAND: (As Catherine Meyer) Mom, what's going on? What's everyone cheering about? Is Meemaw better?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Catherine, I thought you were here.

SUTHERLAND: (As Catherine Meyer) No, I went to get coffee. I asked you if you wanted anything.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) No, I didn't hear you say that.

SUTHERLAND: (As Catherine Meyer) Wait. She's gone? You pulled the plug without me?

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) It wasn't a plug. It was a ventilator tube that they just - oh.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Oh, darling. Oh, honey. No, no, no, no. Meemaw didn't know you weren't here, honey. She's brain-dead. Baby doll, she was brain-dead. We got good news about Nevada (laughter).

SUTHERLAND: (As Catherine Meyer) Wait. What?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) We've got good news from Nevada (laughter).

SUTHERLAND: (As Catherine Meyer) Mom?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) (Laughter).

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) I'm going to step outside.

BIANCULLI: After a break, we'll hear from two of the stars of "Veep," Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tony Hale. And jazz critic Kevin Whitehead will review the new movie "Bolden." I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF WYNTON MARSALIS'S "SHAKE IT HIGH, SHAKE IT LOW")

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, in for Terry Gross. We continue our salute to "Veep," the HBO comedy series that presents its final episode this Sunday, by revisiting a FRESH AIR interview with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who stars as ambitious politician Selina Meyer. "Veep" has won 17 Emmys to date, and six of those were earned by Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies spoke to the actress in 2012, when "Veep" began. Here's a scene from that first season. The vice president, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, has discovered an opening in her schedule she wants to fill. Her staff members are played by Anna Chlumsky, Matt Walsh and Reid Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "VEEP")

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Come on. Let's go somewhere. Let's meet the public.

WALSH: (As Mike McLintock) You want to normalize it?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Yes, exactly. I want to meet some regular normals. Where are we going to find them?

WALSH: (As Mike McLintock) Photo op with the normals and the normalistas.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Yes.

CHLUMSKY: (As Amy Brookheimer) There's a book fair in...

WALSH: (As Mike McLintock) That's too dull.

CHLUMSKY: (As Amy Brookheimer) ...Adams Morgan.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) No.

WALSH: (As Mike McLintock) What kind of - you're not going to get a good photo holding a book. You need something active.

CHLUMSKY: (As Amy Brookheimer) No, but it's, like, kids read or something. Like, read...

WALSH: (As Mike McLintock) Kids are unpredictable. They wet their pants.

REID SCOTT: (As Dan Egan) Keep it simple. Keep it simple.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Yeah, not good.

SCOTT: (As Dan Egan) Ma'am, frozen yogurt - all right? - is huge in this town right now, all right? It's hot out. Let's go to a store. There's one that I know that I go to all the time on U Street. It's owned by three generations of African Americans. I mean...

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Done.

SCOTT: (As Dan Egan) ...There's a narrative built right in.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Excellent, it's perfect.

SCOTT: (As Dan Egan) Home run.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Done deal.

SCOTT: (As Dan Egan) Great.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) We can totally normalize with those guys. That's what we're going to do. Make it happen, guys.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

DAVE DAVIES, BYLINE: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: Thank you.

DAVIES: Or should I say, welcome back, Madam Vice President?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: I've gotten very used to being called that. It's - it's rather peculiar.

DAVIES: Yeah, a little heady. Your character is a vice - she's the vice president. We don't learn what political party your character, Selina Meyer, is - not that much about her political career - and kind of inherently has ambitions that maybe exceed her talents. But she can't be a fool either. I mean, nobody who gets to be vice president doesn't have something on the ball and some accomplishments. I wonder, as you developed this, was there sort of a sweet spot you had to find between someone who is competent but maybe not too competent and kind of neurotic.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah, totally. I mean, you know, buffoonery is funny. Let's face it. And you'll see her behave competently in certain situations. But she's betwixt and between. You know, she's in a powerful position. And yet, she's powerless at the same time. And I play it as if that circumstance has a way of paralyzing her. So that's how I sort of justify maybe certain so-called hiccups that she has.

You know, her agenda is often clashing with the agenda of the president. And how does one survive under those circumstances? It's a mess. And if it weren't a mess, it wouldn't be funny of course. So, you know, we keep it messy.

DAVIES: I thought we'd listen to another clip. In this scene, you have just - as the vice president, have just met with a senator who you're trying to get to support a bill that you're backing. And it kind of didn't go as planned. And you've just come back from the meeting and are kind of confessing what happened to your staff. The staff members here are played by Reid Scott, Anna Chlumsky and Matt Walsh. And you speak first. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "VEEP")

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) I think I did the right thing, but I just need you to confirm that I did the right thing. I said something to someone.

SCOTT: (As Dan Egan) What - what - what exactly did you say, Ma'am, and to who?

WALSH: (As Mike McLintock) To whom.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Senator Doyle said that he would sponsor the bill.

SCOTT: (As Dan Egan) Oh.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) If we keep oil off of clean jobs. And there was an implication, perhaps...

CHLUMSKY: (As Amy Brookheimer) You didn't say yes.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) No, I didn't say, yes. I said, yeah.

WALSH: (As Mike McLintock) OK, well, we told oil we'd put one of their guys on clean jobs. That's why we got away with the Cutler (ph) tweet.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) I know. I know. I know.

CHLUMSKY: (As Amy Brookheimer) She's aware of that.

WALSH: (As Mike McLintock) OK.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) I was charmed by Doyle. He's got that little twinkle in his eye. He's just nice to me. I got nice, all right? And where were you, Amy, by the way? Where were you?

CHLUMSKY: (As Amy Brookheimer) No, you said you had it covered.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) No, I didn't have it covered. And it's your job to know that if I say I have it covered, I don't have it covered. And you cover me. I need you all to make me have not said that. I need you to have make me unsaid it.

DAVIES: (Laughter) That is our guest, Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I mean, very funny scene.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: Thanks.

DAVIES: You can imagine this character as a senator, when she had her own base of power and kind of more sure of where she was, handling a negotiation with another senator well. But here, she - she's kind of undermined by her position and gets frantic and does stupid things.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: Exactly. In fact, in the first episode, when she has a meeting with Senator Hallowes, she comes in. And she says, Barbara, what have I been missing here? And Senator Hallowes says, power. When she says that, I sort of played it like it was like a punch to the gut because she's sort of speaking the truth. And that throws Selina off her game for the rest of that scene as a result. She's - she's sort of struggling to get her balance back. And she doesn't quite recover it.

BIANCULLI: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, speaking to FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies in 2012. After a break, another cast member of "Veep," actor Tony Hale. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTEFIORI COCKTAIL'S "GNE GNE")

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Tony Hale has won two Emmy awards for his performance on HBO's comedy series "Veep." He plays Gary Walsh, the personal aide to Selina Meyer, the vice president. Hale also co-starred in "Arrested Development" as Buster, the youngest of the Bluth siblings.

On "Veep," Gary, who's been with Selina for years, remains loyal to her. He worships her and fawns over her. He carries her oversized handbag, nicknamed Leviathan, which contained the nuclear codes when she was briefly the president. He's always standing right behind her, reminding her of the names of the people she's greeting and suggesting things she might say to them. He even chooses clothes for her.

Terry Gross spoke to Tony Hale in 2016. In this scene from Season 5, Selina's mother is in the hospital and is critically ill. But all Selina can think about is the recount in Nevada. In order to have a quiet space, Selina, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Gary, go to the hospital chapel.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "VEEP")

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Do you pray?

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) A lot.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) What do you pray for?

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) You - you know.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Hmm.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) Do you maybe want to try it?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Sure. You know, what the hell? We're here, right?

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) OK. All right.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Yeah.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) OK.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) God, I - I just - I'm...

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) Lord God, it's me, Selina.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Oh, Lord God, it's me, Selina.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) Grant me wisdom and strength.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Grant me wisdom and strength.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) Give us your comforting presence.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Give us your comforting - I've got it now. I've got it. Lord God, please ease my mother's pain and suffering.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Ease her passing. Ease it all. Ease it down the - the - Lord, let her daughter, thy humble servant, be the first woman elected president of the United States. Please. This is so much to bear.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) It is, Lord, it is.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Hear my prayer.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) Hear her prayer.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Lift me up.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) Lift her, Lord.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) No, I mean actually lift me up 'cause my heel is stuck in this.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) OK.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Yeah, I got it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

GROSS: Tony Hale, welcome to FRESH AIR. Let me ask you to describe your character of Gary.

HALE: Oh, sweet Gary.

GROSS: (Laughter).

HALE: Gary has been with the president for many, many years, and he's what's called a body man. And he - what he does is he pretty much carries around a bag and anything she needs. Like, it could be Purell or pens or her speech or - other things is in this bag. And so he's always by her side. And typically, when we - before we started the - shooting the pilot, we were able to meet people who had done this role just to kind of find out about their life. And I met a guy who was a body man, and he did it his 20s. And he did it for a couple years and then burned out and moved on to other stuff. My character has done into his 40s because he has no identity outside of Selina Meyer, and he worships her. She is so verbally abusive to him (laughter), but he doesn't hear it. He just bounces back like, you know, some kind of domestic abuse situation. And he is perfectly content where he is.

GROSS: So the handbag, which has been nicknamed The Leviathan, now has the nuclear code in it, as well as things like tampons.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: So do you have...

HALE: Very important.

GROSS: So one of the things your character has to do is whisper in Selina's ear what she needs to know about each person that she's meeting and what she needs to say. So, like, when she says to a congressman, oh, and this must be your wife. You whisper in her ear, that's not his wife. It's a prostitute.

HALE: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

HALE: That's not his wife. And there was another time when she said - she was talking to somebody and she said, oh, how - right before, she said to another guy - how is your wife? And I said, he's divorced. And so she has to quickly turn it into some other topic. The thing about Gary that's - is fun to play is he knows nothing about politics (laughter), doesn't care to know about politics, doesn't know - but he knows these random factoids about people. And so he'll just whisper in her ear just, like, you know - I don't know - his daughter's in rehab. Or he likes eclairs. Or he's a fan of Britney Spears or something just random so that she can have these conversation pieces, which are probably not good conversation pieces to have, but he thinks so.

GROSS: So your character hardly talks. He's usually just like whispering lines to Selina.

HALE: Yeah.

GROSS: So what does your script look like? When you get your script, does it say, Gary, parentheses, looks pained, Gary, parentheses, winces...

HALE: (Laughter).

GROSS: ...Gary, parentheses, looks confused? Like, what - because you don't always have lines, but you're on camera...

HALE: Yeah.

GROSS: ...A lot, and you're conveying a lot through your facial expressions and your body posture.

HALE: I mean, they give me kind of a lot of fun lines and tidbits to play with and to kind of react off of her. However, there's times - because in the - which is very special to this show that I've never experienced before - they do give us these two weeks of rehearsal time before we shoot. And so in that time, since I'm always standing behind her, I can kind of play with, you know, how would I react to that or, you know, make odd noises. I mean, Gary's, like, big on, like - all of a sudden, he'll just go (vocalizing). He just makes these really awkward noises behind her, which I'm sure is so annoying. But - so it's fun to kind of play with that and just to kind of have that life behind her.

GROSS: So although your character doesn't have much dialogue because he's mostly just, like, reacting and giving her little verbal cues, there is a very famous scene (laughter) in which you and Selina have a big fight.

HALE: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: And this is soon after the president resigns, and Selina becomes president. You start to assert your new power by doing things you believe are right but probably aren't. For instance, there's a painting she doesn't like, so you have it removed from the White House, but it turns out to be the only painting in the White House by a Native American.

HALE: Yeah (laughter).

GROSS: And that becomes this, like, huge issue and a big PR crisis. Then you also spend way too much money on the first state dinner, which also becomes a big PR crisis because she's accused of overspending. When Selina finds out that you're the person behind these disasters, she's furious with you. And she goes to find you and you're kind of trying to hide from her.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "VEEP")

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Come out of there.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) Ma'am, if you'll just let me explain.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Come out here now. Who do you think you are, Gary Antoinette? Did somebody make you first lady? 'Cause I don't remember marrying you, Gary. I don't remember [expletive] you in Niagara Falls. I think I'd remember that.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) Ma'am, I'm really sorry for the painting, and I'm really sorry for the spending, but you have to understand...

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Oh, shut up. Just shut up. You are unimportant, OK? And you have suckered on to me like some sort of a car window Garfield.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) That is not true, ma'am.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) You think you're some sort of a big shot here? (Laughter) Oh, my God. You are not a big shot, Gary. You are a middle-aged man who sanitizes my tweezers - God.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) You're wrong.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Excuse me?

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) When's Catherine's birthday?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) June 8.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) Ninth.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Ninth.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) Which senator's daughter's in rehab?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) You're out of line, missy.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) Gildrey (ph). What are you wearing tomorrow?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) I don't know.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) I do. I'm your calendar. I'm your google. I'm your Wilson the volleyball.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) No, you're not.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) Yes, I am.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) No, you're not.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) I have broken my body for you.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Oh, come on.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) I have let myself be laughed at. I have let myself be humiliated. And I'm happy to do it.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) OK.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) Most of the time you don't even know that I exist. But I am [expletive] everything to you.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Oh, well, I am so happy to get somebody else to give me my hand cream.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) OK, go.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Yeah.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) Can you find somebody else who did what I did?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) You mean on Labor Day.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) I didn't say that.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Yeah, you did. You just did. You just said Labor Day.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) I said I would never mention that ever.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Oh, God. OK, look, I'm sorry if I lost my temper a little bit.

HALE: (As Gary Walsh) I am so sorry for the words that I just spoke.

GROSS: So what happened on Labor Day? Do you know?

HALE: Oh, man. I don't know, but I am dying to find out, man. I mean, there's something fun to not knowing just because it's got to be something really dark...

GROSS: Yeah.

HALE: ...Cause I've done some dark things for her. I've dug out stuff in the trash for her. I've broken up with boyfriends for her. She told me - I think it was Season 1 where she's like, I need you to break up with this guy for me. And I was like, I'm on it. So, I mean, I've done a lot of weird stuff, but something happened on Labor Day, man, that takes it. Like, that's - it's got to be really dark.

GROSS: Hey, you've walked in on the president and the vice president having sex.

HALE: Yes, I...

GROSS: I don't know what you're going to be doing with that information.

HALE: Which was like walking in on mom and dad having sex.

GROSS: Yeah.

HALE: That was a rough day for Gary. That was a rough one.

BIANCULLI: Tony Hale speaking to Terry Gross in 2016. He's won two Emmys for his role in HBO's "Veep," which is ending its seven-season run this weekend. After a break, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews the new movie, "Bolden." And we'll have a special poetry reading for Mother's Day. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONNY ROLLINS' "I'M AN OLD COWHAND")

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.