Things to Do

"Veep" Star Tony Hale Says "the Country’s in a Lot of Trouble" in New Season

The HBO series returns Sunday.

Nothing ever goes well for Gary (Tony Hale). Photograph by Patrick Harbron via HBO.

The third season of Veep, HBO’s blistering satire about a vice president and her bumbling staff, ended with the not-ready-for-prime-time Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) getting called up to the big job after the show’s never-seen president resigns. The new season, which premieres Sunday at 10:30 PM, picks up a few months later with Meyer and company still adjusting to life in the Oval Office while attempting to balance her campaign for a full term.

At Meyer’s side for nearly every moment, as always, is her sad-sack body man Gary, who strives to be at the ready with whatever the now-president needs, from snacks to hand cream to sycophantic comments. Played by Tony Hale, who has won one Emmy and been nominated for another in the role, Gary is one of Veep’s breakout characters, even if he’s perhaps the most broken. The new season finds him even more marginalized before, as Gary’s second-class status prevents him from accompanying Selina into every cell of the presidential bubble.

Four years into the gig, Hale, 44, says in an interview with Washingtonian he continues to be surprised by what Veep creator Armando Iannucci and the show’s other writers churn out, especially the show’s supremely vulgar insults. He’s also plugging a children’s book he published late last year, Archibald’s Next Big Thing, which could be good reading for kids (or middle-aged White House flunkies) who need a boost of self-confidence. We spoke by phone in March.

The last season ended with the president resigning and Selina Meyer being promoted. Is the dynamic of the show going to be different?

The stakes are higher. She’s president, and that’s terrifying. The country’s in a lot of trouble. She should never have been vice president. Between her and Kevin Spacey, it’s not looking good. She’s got a bunch of keystone cops around her, and it’s just absolute chaos. The stakes are entirely too high for these people.

You said when the show started you had consulted with some political assistants in developing Gary. Did you ever meet anyone this henpecked?

No one really in particular. I was able to meet a guy who was a body man to a really respected politician. He was telling me you have no life. You never see your familiy you never see your friends. People move away from this. My character is in his 40s and will never leave his position. Any kind of life outside of this would just be trauma. If she ever does leave office or politics, he might just still carry her purse to the grocery store.

But Gary is so clueless most of the time. Is he ready to jump from the veep’s office to the Oval Office?

Gary doesn’t bump up his game well. With the attention that comes from her being president, he’s kind of going through growing pains, and it’s not pretty.

His life has always seemed so much more miserable than the others’, which is saying a lot for this show.

He has no friends in the office. He would like to be friends with some people. He’s such a sweet guy. He might hire a friend. He might get on Craigslist and put an ad out for a friend.

He occasionally stumbles into having the upper hand, though. Does Gary finally get his big moment this year?

My dream for Gary is that he’s just going to go off on every person. Now and then there’s been a dabbling, but I’m wanting that pressure cooker to explode.

But Selina is still running for a full term, right?

There’ll be a lot of campaigning. In Gary’s world she should have been in this position. I don’t even know if president is the right word. Maybe queen, or Jesus. But in reality, she should never have been in those shoes. I will say this is what probably most excites me about the show. I think for Veep, we are a satire, we take it to the extreme. But it does give a glimpse of humanity to these people. They always put the best foot forward. You never see them insecure. They are holding such big decisions in their hands, they’re human beings, they have to lose their shit sometimes.

Veep features a fair bit of improvisation. How does it compare to Arrested Development?

I feel very fortunate to have been on two shows I’ve been a fan of. They’re very different. Mitch Hurwitz, who created [Arrested Development], is such a mastermind. He knew so much about what he wanted to do. He choreographed bits and callbacks. On Veep, the writers do lay a pretty strong foundation, but they give it the freedom to go where it goes. It’s an environment I’m so thankful to be a part of. Typically in TV you show up, you get your script, and you move on. The writers work really hard to lay a foundation, but they aren’t too precious with their words. That’s very rare.

One of the amazing things about the writing on Veep is the insults characters throw at each other.

It’s beyond. The writers have a vault of insults I’ve never heard. The person who gets the most verbal abuse is Jonah. He gets called things I’ve never heard of. Human scaffolding. He was called “if the Washington monument was made entirely of dead dicks.” Just awful. My character is screamed at. I think I was called cow-eyes once. But Tim [Simons, who plays Jonah], poor thing, just gets abused.

What’s the worst thing someone says to you in Season Four?

It’s just one big emasculating process. With Gary, it’s what’s not said. If he does not get attention for Selina, if she forgets something about him, if she turns her back on him, that’s just getting stabbed in the back. He’d prefer she scream at him.

You have a kids book out.

It’s called Archibald’s Next Big Thing. I was seeing a pattern in my life. I’ve been fortunate to have a bunch of great gigs, but I was always looking for my next gig. It’s not about something coming. It’s something I struggle with every day. It’s about being present. I have a nine-year-old daughter, and I want her to have the freedom to dream, but I want her to look around her. And I’m a freelancer. It’s part of my job to look at what’s coming next. You have to be looking at your job and being present.

Gary should read it.

Gary needs about 10 copies of this children’s book. He’s pretty content where he is. But he’s content with abuse.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.