How many shows lose their showrunner after they finally strike Emmy gold in one of the top categories? That’s what happened with Veep, which took home the Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy last year (to add to a plethora of Emmys including four Best Actress trophies for Julia Louis-Dreyfus), offering a sweet swansong to creator Armando Iannucci.
But Iannucci’s departure was on good terms—he simply wanted to be closer to his family in the UK—and the HBO show turned to Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm alum David Mandel to pick up the baton. And by all accounts, Mandel’s turn at the Veep helm has resulted in a seamless transition to a show that lives up to its legacy while introducing new layers.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who has worked with Mandel before, continues to lead a cast of characters who are as well-reputed for their ambitions and insecurities as their ability to spew turns of phrase that not even the most up-to-date urban dictionary could conceive.
When Armando announced his departure, how did the plan form for a transition? Was there talk about ending the show?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: I definitely wanted to continue. I did not want to walk away from this. Timing-wise, it didn’t feel right for me to not do the show. HBO was very much behind this idea, and [HBO President of Programming] Casey Bloys suggested Dave. I worked with Dave prior on Seinfeld and of course Curb and it immediately felt like this was the perfect fit. Not only did he get it, but he had layers to add to allow us to open the show up even more. I certainly felt very protective with what we had done thus far with Veep, and so my desire to carry on was to hold and protect it and grow it in a good way moving forward.
Tony Hale: When I first heard Armando was leaving, we were family and we worked together so much, so it was upsetting. I loved the fact that he wanted to spend more time with his family, but it was like, “Oh, God, how is this going to go?” And when Julia told us about Dave, and her history with Dave with Seinfeld and Curb, and gave us assurance there, it really helped. I remember we had a little get together at Julia’s house to get to know Dave and we started rehearsing in August so it was very quick. At first I think there were a few growing pains, but once we got into the rhythm, it was great.
Anna Chlumsky: I was slightly apprehensive just because it was a new thing going into the new season, but Julia was really confident in Dave, and [producer] Frank Rich who I also trust immensely was really confident. When I met Dave I recognized right away how much he knew and revered the show and how smart he was.
David Mandel: The biggest challenge for me was probably the first draft of the first script. After sitting down with Julia and being told the tied election storyline, and getting a chance to read the scripts and see the episodes, very quickly in the process I started coming up with where I wanted to take the season. I like to do that with a season, which is figure out where I’m going to end; that’s the most important thing to me. Figure out the end and kind of work to it.
Chlumsky: When we did our first read, I think the biggest concern on all of our minds was, “Can we preserve the tone and what we’ve built with the characters?” And that first episode to me really felt as seamless as I could have hoped for. It felt pretty much all systems go when we did the table read. This is how the season will be. There’s growing pains along the way, but there always has been. Julia likes to say we take our comedy very seriously, so sometimes we agonize, and that was no different this season from previous seasons.
Veep is a show about office politics in the most-hallowed halls of American politics. After four years under a British showrunner, how did having an American in charge shift the sensibilities?
Louis-Dreyfus: For me the concern was keeping the original tone in place. And that includes the flowery, sweary language, which is kind of a symbol for the tone of the show, or part of it anyway. I think we have this great advantage of having done it for four years, so we sort of understand the tone. The feel and the parameters of the show are in our bones to a certain extent. But I have to say, this is first and foremost on Dave’s mind. It wasn’t his goal to come in and change it in such a way that you would feel a seismic shift. He knew the show forwards and backwards and it was his goal to keep the good thing going and then maybe even, in a perfect world, add to it in a way that is respectful of what was already there. I think he’s accomplished that and then some.
Mandel: Brits have certainly a unique perspective being outsiders to our system, and I’m sure they’re bemused by it. I come at it as somebody’s who’s inside of it a little bit. I think there are some topics that are perhaps more interesting to me than to them. We’ve dipped into race from the get-go, which is something I think for them is perhaps a little more uncomfortable.
Hale: Armando had a viewpoint of looking into American politics. I think the Brits’ insult vocabulary is astounding and there are so many creative ways to diminish somebody, and it was fascinating. A lot of times there were British-isms, so we were pointing those out. It felt from the inside pretty seamless, which we’re incredibly grateful for and relieved because you never know how that’s going to go.
Veep began before the current news cycle was overrun by a U.S. presidential election that has seemingly gone off the rails. Is the real world catching up to it?
Louis-Dreyfus: God, I hope not. It does seem everything that’s happening in the current political climate here in the States is a bit too broad for our show. And I’m just flabbergasted.
Hale: If somebody scripted some of Trump’s lines, and if we had put that in the script two years ago, we would have all been like, “Come on! No one’s going to believe this.” [It would have looked like] we totally jumped the shark.
Chlumsky: Politics will always be a part of society and therefore will always be ripe for satire. When people want power they do funny things and that’s where Arm came in and where Dave is picking the torch up.
Hale: I look at Veep, and obviously there’s a tremendous amount of research that goes into it, but it really is office politics. It really is what goes on in a regular workplace; the relationships and people positioning to get ahead, and lying and walking over people. Obviously we’re satire and we take something very serious and make fun of it. But from what I hear, a lot of people in DC really like the show, and my interpretation of that is people see what they see in media, but nobody sees behind the scenes, and these people who live in DC see behind the scenes on a daily basis. Yes, we take it to the extreme, but a lot of it is truth because they see people freaking out behind the scenes and getting insecure and I think they like having that represented a bit.
Mandel: It was always satire with an element of, “this is what’s going on when you’re not looking.” It was satire saying, “this is what people who crave power are really like.” In terms of our world, I think perhaps it’s a lot harder for real politicians to hide their true selves now. Unfortunately, the show has come to be correct in some sad ways. There is this sort of weird thing where certain shows air and the season is done where people are going to go, “Oh, God, you predicted this, or you based this on that.” Most of the time, no we didn’t. We just simply were taking these characters to their rightful points story-wise. We’re not as smart as you think we are. Selina is a little bit of a venal character who craves power and that is not unique in our political process.
The characters on Veep have shown some growth over the past few seasons; think Amy’s long-boiling meltdown with Selina in Season 4 and the backstory that emerged about Selina and her mother, ever so subtly, this past season. Is it necessary to keep those characters moving?
Louis-Dreyfus: [Selina could evolve] maybe in centimeters, but that’s about it. I think that part of the fact of her being a kind of stunted person emotionally is at the comedy core of the show. So I think if Selina were to go into deep, deep therapy and have some sort of revelation I don’t think that would be good for the comedy of the show. Unless the revelation is completely off-base, which might actually be good for the show. [Laughs]
Mandel: I do think it’s that weird thing of we love it the way it is, and sometimes when you’re watching a show you’re not even aware that people are changing. But if they don’t change, you get into that almost network sitcom feel where every week they’re sort of the same and hit similar beats. That’s why I think it’s important, and why these ongoing storylines are so important. The evolution of Selina from Vice President to President to President desperately running to the effects of this tie, but also just finding out new bits and pieces about her and seeing her relationships change. If you look at the show besides all of those things, all the characters have changed across the board; some of the relationships used to be more antagonistic. There’s an evolution even if you’re not going, “Aha, there’s an evolution.”
A 6th season has been ordered; what’s the lifespan of this show?
Mandel: As we were planning this season and people were getting excited, a lot of it was with an eye on the next season and, dare I say it, the next season after that. There’s a sense of: as long as there are stories to tell in a good way… Having been around Seinfeld at the end, you kind of know when it’s time, and I don’t think it’s time yet.
Chlumsky: We definitely have a 6th season and I’m personally really looking forward to seeing what they’ve got in store. It will be very creative and different. When we started this, I was being very naively conservative. I was like, “We’re either going to have four or eight seasons because that’s how long a term will be.” And then right away Arm started changing the trajectory of the entire career of Selina. Now I just go along with it and I’m grateful to have a job.
How much does Veep owe its success and longevity to its home on HBO?
Louis-Dreyfus: Needless to say, this show could never survive at a network under any circumstances—language or not. I honestly cannot even begin to tell you how grateful I am to be at HBO. That sounds like a load of bulls–t, but that is in fact the truth and here’s why: As we’ve made this show over the years, there is such a culture of respect for the process and for the art, dare I say, of trying to get these stories up and running that I have never experienced in my career at any other place. I really haven’t, and I credit them for helping to make this transition such a smooth one. I’m not kidding, we could not have done it without them. Being able to work this out with Dave, I credit that completely to HBO and Casey Bloys specifically. And in addition to that, just making the change and moving it to California [this season] and sticking with us throughout this. They have been 100% supportive. I just can’t imagine it anywhere else and I know that sounds like bulls–t but I don’t know what else to say, it’s the truth.
Mandel: I’m the first to say that for many years I labored in the world of network television and it was never a good match. We agreed to disagree. And I’ve had great success working at HBO on shows that I have not created, but have been very intimately involved with. On both Veep and Curb, this comes from Julia and Larry [David], but also from HBO, that the only mission is to be funny. We’re not worried, “Is that too mean? Is someone offending somebody?” It’s just about being funny. My experience has been that that’s not what a lot of network notes are about. This wasn’t a plan, but the easiest way to explain it is: I’m not a car guy. I drive an Acura. It’s nicer than some cars, not as nice as others, and I’m not a guy that sits around going, “I wish I could drive a Ferrari.” But if somebody came along and said, “Hey do you want to drive a Ferrari for a bit?” It’s hard to say no to that.
Big gets like Hugh Laurie, Martin Mull and John Slattery have populated the last seasons. Does the series have its eyes on future guests?
Louis-Dreyfus: Can we bring Buster Keaton back from the dead? That might be fun. I have tons of dream guest stars, but we don’t do stunt casting. There are tons of great actors out there, but I hesitate to say anyone I would dream to have. Assuming we get anyone fancy or incredibly interesting, I would want to keep it to myself. But if we could bring back people from the dead that would be fun. It would be interesting to see Buster Keaton strolling around in the West Wing.
Mandel: Sometimes you think about somebody in the Veep world and it somehow doesn’t seem to fit. Maybe they’re too well known in whatever they’ve done previously, or they don’t seem like a politician. Martin Mull is someone I have admired forever; you can’t be a comedy writer and not admire Martin Mull. But I didn’t come into the season thinking, “This is my opportunity to work with Martin Mull.” We have a wonderful casting person, Allison Jones, and a lot of times she brings these people in and it’s the people I never would have thought of. With Peter MacNicol, there were certain aspects we loved. His size versus Jonah, for example. I am a huge fan of his, so this guy is amazingly skilled and we brought him in for what we thought would be an episode or two, and this character that we sort of presented him with—that he then made his own—is so wonderful and hateful. The stuff that spouts out of his mouth became so enjoyable that he stuck around for like four more episodes just because we fell in love with it. Again I didn’t go, “This is the year that I work with Peter MacNicol.” I don’t have a magic list.
The insults, mostly about Jonah, are a thing of legend at this point. And almost not even suited for print. Does any of that carry over into the real life of the folks involved?
Louis-Dreyfus: I’m a big swearer myself in my own life and I think I’ve become slightly more cavalier about it. I realized the other day, as I was talking to someone who’s not in the business, I was using f–k in different ways, as an adjective and then a verb and a noun possibly, all in the same sentence. I looked over at him, and his eyes were kind of bugged out like, what was I doing? What was I trying to communicate? And I realize that I gotta maybe edit myself a little bit more than I have been. But I love the language.
Hale: My favorite is when Zach Woods called Jonah, “Frankenstein’s monster, if the monster was made entirely of dead d–ks.” I probably break the most. It’s incredibly unprofessional and I need to go back to acting school, but I’m the closest to Julia, and she does small stuff that nobody sees and it’s just impossible to keep it together. Once, I was laughing in a scene, and she turned to me and said, “Tony, you know you’re not watching the show? You’re in the show.” And I was like, “I know but it’s a really funny show.”
Chlumsky: Most of it goes away, which I’m really glad for. I’m very good at doing the parental euphemisms, but I need to say “Jesus Christ” less. I really do, it’s not nice. It started with Veep. I never used to say it and suddenly it became part of Amy’s vocabulary and it sticks with me when I’m in a bad mood. I think it’s my sentiment underneath it and I need to chill out.
Has anyone ever quoted those lines at you?
Louis-Dreyfus: You mean do they come up and say, “You’re a jolly green j–z face?” Not yet. Most of these fans are too polite for that. I mean, I appreciate not being sworn at in that way.