Veep's Tony Hale: 'We Need to Stop Putting Politicians on Pedestals'

The actor shares what he's learned about Washington from playing the veep's devoted bag man.
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HBO

Behind every powerful politician is someone holding a giant man purse.

Tony Hale plays that guy on TV. For two seasons, he's appeared on HBO’s vulgar political comedy Veep as Gary Walsh, the vice president’s personal aide. Walsh is the oblivious, lovestruck sidekick to Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s borderline incompetent Selina Meyer, fulfilling her every whim and snack craving with the same kind of neurotic codependence he delivered as Buster on Arrested Development.

Given the show’s history of coming up with storylines that later become real-life headlines, critics have hailed Veep as a hilarious confirmation of one of the country’s worst fears: that the federal government is indeed run by a bunch of proud, power-hungry blowhards more concerned with moving up in the ranks than doing their jobs. Yet even after playing the bumbling little guy privy to Washington’s (fictional) worst behavior, Hale says he has only become more impressed with the public servants the show sets out to skewer.

I spoke with Hale about his favorite moments from Season Two (out on DVD this week), why British comedy writers nail American politics, and what to expect when Veep returns for its third season on April 6.


We included Veep on our best television episodes of 2013 feature last December. What was your favorite episode of Season Two?

I would say it’s the episode where she walks into a glass door and she’s going on a marathon and Gary accidentally gives her a very high dose of St. John’s wort. She gets loopy and tells Gary every single thing he’s ever wanted to hear: That she’s going to his parents’ wedding anniversary, they’re going to dance, she adores him. Gary’s like, “This is happening!” And it all comes to a very sad crash.

I picked the episode where everyone goes to Finland, and Gary is a big part of what makes that episode funny. What do you remember about that episode?

Obviously working with Sally Phillips, who played the prime minister, and the awkward conversations she and Selina have made me laugh so hard. One of the hardest things about this job is to keep a straight face. I am incredibly unprofessional. I break every single time. I remember that episode, and also Dave Foley playing [Phillips’] husband, he gropes Selina—the whole thing was so extreme and ridiculous I could not keep it together.

Anytime Selina and Gary have a private conversation, it takes me having rehearsal time with Julia [Louis-Dreyfus] just so I can keep it together before we shoot. I just have to have a moment to get it out. I need to laugh, I need to get this material in my head so I don’t break on camera. And, of course, the camera rolls, and I still break. It’s worthless.

Part of what made the second season so great was its plot about a fictional government shutdown that aired months before the government actually did shut down.

I know! Isn’t that crazy?

What was it like seeing a Veep story arc become a real news story?

It’s happened a couple times. Something would happen in the press, and it hadn’t aired yet, and we were like, “Uh-oh.” It was a direct connection. That’s always strange.

Veep’s creator, Armando Iannucci, has done a lot of research in D.C., meeting with all sorts of Hill staffers and basing characters off real people. Are you part of that, or do you keep your distance from the Capitol?

I was able to meet with a guy who was a body man for a politician for two years in his 20s, and he shared with me how he had no life, he never saw his family, he was there constantly for two years, and then he moved on to something else. I think about Gary, who’s still there, in his 40s. He knows no life outside of Selina. I just thought, Oh my gosh, this two years of this guy’s life, what if that was extended into 20 years? His identity is completely this woman, which is incredibly sad.

But he’s content. Where everybody else wants to get new positions and power, Gary doesn’t want to go anywhere. He wants everything to stay the same. He wants her to get more famous so that he can keep his position and his place.

Do you think he likes the job or just likes Selina?

I think he’s obsessed with the job. I think he absolutely loves the job. When she belittles him and puts him down, he has this amazing recovery and just goes into a state of denial and pops right back up like he didn’t hear it. She’s screaming at him, and he’s seeing rainbows and unicorns. It’s just this odd, dysfunctional recovery.

Is there something that could pull him away?

I don’t think he would survive on his own. I think he would probably stalk her. I think it could get really ugly! I don’t think he knows how to survive. I think he might still show up at her house. I think he might send her an itinerary. He might sit in a car outside of her residence. I think he might be committed. I think he might be a serial killer.

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Nolan Feeney is a former producer for TheAtlantic.com.

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