EMMYS Q&A: Anna Chlumsky Of 'Veep' On Playing It Straight

Christy Grosz is an Awardsline contributor.

Anna Chlumsky Veep Emmys 2014Occasionally she still gets recognized on the street for her starring role in 1991’s My Girl, but Anna Chlumsky is better known these days for HBO’s Veep, in which she plays the Vice President’s chief of staff Amy Brookheimer, an all-business problem-solver who spends much of her time keeping VP Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) out of political hot water. Chlumsky, who received a supporting actress Emmy nom last year, also took a left turn to appear on NBC’s Hannibal this season. “I was happy to do something completely different. It stretches you just enough,” she says of her role as ill-fated FBI trainee Miriam Lass. Here, she speaks about working with Veep showrunner Armando Iannucci and the luxury of being pickier about roles.

AWARDSLINE: You worked with Armando Iannucci previously on In The Loop. What has your experience been like on Veep?
ANNA CHLUMSKY: We’re unlike any television show that I’ve heard of (because) we actually workshop the episodes first. Awardsline logo_use this oneWe all get into a room with the writers and read whatever draft we’ve got of each episode. Then after we read the draft, we get up on our feet and we work out scenes. Improv goes into those sessions and the writers are just furiously taking notes. A lot of times that stuff will end up in the production draft and (then) onscreen. So it’s all about collaboration, which is probably the reason why I have vowed that I will follow Armando Iannucci anywhere. It’s just the most delicious way to work.

AWARDSLINE: Did he use the same process for 2009’s In The Loop as well?
CHLUMSKY: Yeah, he did. And from what I hear, it was absolutely the same way on (the British series) The Thick Of It. So it’s something that he’s discovered through his years of broadcasting and writing, and it obviously works for him. I think all of his stuff is brilliant.

Related: HBO Renews ‘Veep’ And ‘Silicon Valley’

AnnaChlumskyVeepAWARDSLINE: What’s it been like to live with Amy as a character for three seasons?
CHLUMSKY: That’s really been the new skill. The first season, we knew six of the eight episodes beforehand, so I approached it as I would any play or film where I knew the bookends. It didn’t really dawn on me that, “Oh, yeah, this is ongoing. This is evolutionary.” In the second season, we really started to go episode-by-episode and started to look at our characters’ personal lives more. I’m very happy to make specific choices (as an actor), (but) you can’t be married to them because you never know when the writers are going to be like, “By the way, you have no brothers, you have a sister.”

AWARDSLINE: What did you do differently to prepare for the third season? Do you have a ritual to get back into character?
CHLUMSKY: I do. I’ve been poked fun of throughout my career by fellow actors for my notes that I take. I have spiral notebooks that I carry with me on every project I do, and I take notes just so that if I have to relive a scene, if I have to go back, I know what I did. It’s really served me — with Amy especially — because even for our first season we had to go back and shoot the pilot. I was so grateful that I actually kept the scenes, and I knew what I did. I definitely have a page that I will refer back to on days that I’m a little bit more tired or a little bit like, “Oh, my gosh. What is she up to? What would she do?” Every season begins and I go back to those notes and embody who I’ve discovered her to be throughout these years.

AWARDSLINE: The show has a quick pace with staccato dialogue. Is it tough to wrap yourself around those lines?
CHLUMSKY: When you start a season you certainly feel like, “Oh, wow, I haven’t spoken her words in awhile.” The nice thing is, everybody collaborates on every episode, and so (the writers) develop our characters’ voices in a way that I don’t necessarily have to put anything on for Amy in order to get the words out. You just have to have really good diction to say it.

veepAWARDSLINE: Has the success of the show brought more film and TV offers your way?
CHLUMSKY: I’ve certainly gotten to a point where I’m a little pickier, which may or may not be a good thing. I feel like it’s a good thing, but we’ll see what the wallet thinks. People have gotten to see some of what I do, which is what’s so nice. I’m not a stranger now. The big difference with the recognition is that when I go on an audition, I don’t feel like they’re testing my abilities as much as they’re just seeing if it’s a fit. So that’s nice.

AWARDSLINE: You received your first Emmy nomination last year for your role on Veep. What was that experience like for you?
CHLUMSKY: Our show is such an ensemble show. I never expected to be singled out, and I think everybody in our cast deserves it. It was just so unexpected, especially because I always find Amy to be more of the straight man. She’s funny, she has funny lines, but I do find her to be subtle. So for people to notice what I was doing, it was a nice little feather in the cap. Also, it came at a really nice time in my life because I had just had (my daughter) Penny, and it was my first week with her. To get that encouragement from my industry, it really couldn’t have come at a better time.

Original photo atop interview by Mark Mann

  1. This chick works a little too hard in this show. But so do some others on it. They could take some lessons from the lead.

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