Before he played vice-presidential aide Dan Egan on Armando Iannucci’s political satire Veep, Reid Scott was known for his roles on kinder, gentler shows like The Secret Life of the American Teenager, My Boys, and The Big C. On his current HBO comedy, he’s an acerbic opportunist and expert in managing up within the White House. In short, he’s kind of a douche. Scott couldn’t be happier. The 35-year-old Albany, New York, native trained at UCB, the improv comedy troupe that counts his Veep co-star Matt Walsh as a founding member, and it’s served him well when he needs to come up with rapid-fire insults for the other members of the vice-president’s staff on the fly. Choice Dan quote: “What I’m saying, you fucking ape, is that you are a useless waste of fucking carbon. I’ve been trying to cynically use you, but you’re so fucking low-rent you can’t even be exploited.” Fun! Vulture got a hold of Scott earlier this week to talk about having a job that requires you to trash-talk your co-stars and the plentiful evidence he’s accumulated proving the series gets D.C. exactly right. The season-two finale airs Sunday at 10 p.m.
To nail slimy D.C. PR speak, you said you “read political rags and watch as many pundits as possible.” What are some of the important things to remember in getting it right?
The No. 1 thing is that Dan’s always looking for what he can get out of someone. There is no such thing as a pure friendship. Everyone serves a purpose in his grand scheme.
That’s what you observe most in your research?
Yeah. I have some friends who have been living in the political world for some time now. It’s a lot of robbing Peter to pay Paul. If you’ve got something you want and that person who has it wants something in return, it quite literally becomes your job to find whatever it is that they want. It’s a lot like Hollywood. It’s like when someone tells you, “Yeah, we’ll produce your movie if you can get Tom Cruise to do it,” then you do whatever you do to get Tom Cruise to do it. It’s this weird convoluted mix of agendas. People contradict themselves constantly. They’ll sell themselves out five different ways to get one thing they want.
You’ve got family members who are involved in politics as well. What do they say about the show?
They love it. My dad is involved with politics in upstate New York and he gets the biggest kick out of it. He sees this stuff, not quite on the level of the White House, but just the way people interact with each other. I’m sure the level of incompetence is really a direct reflection of what he sees every day. We were actually paid a really nice compliment the other day. We were in D.C. and a young staffer said she got into politics because of The West Wing and how glossy and beautiful and Camelot it was, and now she’s really entertained by how dark House of Cards and Scandal are. But she and all of her friends agree that Veep is probably the most accurate. It’s scary.
It is! Everyone is so nasty to each other on Veep! Because you guys do a fair amount of improvising, does everyone have a really thick skin now?
Oh yeah. Everyone, once in a while, they’ll give Dan some horribly verbose tirade, and I’ll add my own little seasoning to it as well, and then they yell “Cut!” and I’m always apologizing. Like, “I’m sorry, I know I was really going off on your weight or your baldness. I really don’t think that!” For the most part, everyone has a thick skin. We’ve had some actors walk through the show that maybe … I think to walk into this situation, at first you’re maybe a little put off [laughs]. I’ve seen the look on people’s faces and think, Oh, you’re totally offended right now. But then, after a little while, they get that it’s a game, and that anything goes. When Allison Janney came and guest-starred, we had lunch with her and she was saying how intimidated she was by how fast and how furious it was, how much improv was going on. She said she wasn’t really comfortable with that. I mean, she was really nervous!
How much of the show is improvised?
We’re definitely working off a script, but as a general rule, Armando gives us a pretty long leash. We’ll get a couple of takes as written and then we’ll do a few just for fun. Hit all the bullets, but then it’s whatever we wanna do. It’s a great challenge, but also a great gift. He demands a lot of you but is also willing to concede some of his power to let you find something on our own.
You guys are especially brutal to Jonah. Timothy Simons must be a really good sport.
He’s just a great target. I’ve had people who don’t work in D.C. ask me, “Is that real? Do people like him really exist?” The answer is yes. I was just having drinks with a friend from D.C. and he said at this bachelor party he kept hearing the guys go, “Oh, dude, don’t be such a fuckin’ Jonah.”
Tell me about doing Pilates with Gary Cole.
That was awesome. Gary shows up for his first day of rehearsal and our introduction was getting a crash course in Pilates. My “getting to know you” with Gary, who I’m a huge fan of, was the two of us lying on our backs in the same position that we are in the episode with our butts in the air doing these awkward poses. “So you’re a skier?” “Yeah, man.” “That’s cool.” Just bullshitting with Gary Cole. It was great.
The camera was pointing upward at your butts for that entire scene.
It was a lot of man thigh.
What do you think was in Selina’s trash?
It’s so funny. Everyone asks me that. Honestly, I’ve been told I’m not allowed to say because they really like that mystery.
So it was revealed in the original script?
Yeah. We all knew what it was, but in the edit I think they realized it would be funnier to let the audience’s imagination run wild. What could be so embarrassing that she’s going to subject her staff to digging through the trash? It’s pretty gross. Very perverted.