Thomas Middleditch on His Emmy Nomination and His Silicon Valley Character Breaking Bad

Photo: Jesse Grant/Getty Images

Silicon Valley's Thomas Middleditch wasn't watching when his first-ever Emmy nomination was announced this morning. Not intentionally, per se; he just didn’t know it was going on. But what are friends for, if not to text you congratulations when you get nominated for an Emmy? By the time Vulture spoke with him, Middleditch definitely knew and he was pretty excited. We also spoke about his favorite Silicon Valley scene from this season, whether or not Richard Hendricks is like Walter White, and the border-patrol officer who almost ended his career before it started.

How did you find out?
I found out this morning. I was up because one of my dogs had peed the bed. She's a little incontinent. I was cleaning the sheets like a good little mother hen, and then I saw my phone had a ridiculous amount of missed calls and texts. At first, genuinely, I thought it was bad news. I was like, "Oh, no. Someone's dead." Happy to report it was just an Emmy nomination.

Do you remember the first message you saw?
No, not necessarily. I have a Droid and when you go in the texts, you get them all laid out and it just gives you a preview. I saw a lot of "Congrats!" "Woah!" "Crazy!" "Emmy!" "Wow!" Honestly, I put the phone back off and tried to go back to bed, but it was just buzzing too much.

Did you expect to hear anything this morning? Were you aware that the nominations were coming?
I was not. I don't typically pay attention to most things in life, let alone award season. Not because I think it’s silly. I just don't typically get caught up in it.

Well, now you're caught up in it. What was your immediate reaction?
It definitely feels good. I won't lie. With all this stuff, I try and essentially assume that the worst is going to happen. Even prior years, people saddle up next to you and are like, "You're probably going to get an Emmy nomination." Then you start getting excited about it, and when it doesn't happen, you're bummed. I didn't care about it in the first place, so why the hell am I upset? You spend the entire year not giving a shit, and then suddenly you care more than anything. I'm just trying to be like, "Ah, well. There's a lot of other great nominees." This is just really cool. I'm happy, but also I got stuff to do.

When you and T.J. Miller interviewed each other, you were talking about how crazy this is. You got a show with your friends, with Mike Judge, it’s on HBO, and people like it. Now you’re nominated for an Emmy. What would you say if I told you this would happen, all those years back in Chicago when you were starting?
I think if you'd ask that very same question to my 21-year-old self, I would've said something like, "It's expected. I'm awesome." Time happens and life happens, and then you realize it's so hard and the odds are stacked against you. So much defeat and perseverance comes that when it happens, it is crazy. So much of it is like, "We're all creating opportunities for ourselves, we're all hustling, we're all trying to make this thing happen," so hopefully, naturally, there's some progression to that. The fact that the stars aligned in such a way, even just by virtue of doing a show about Silicon Valley when it’s such a huge talking point. Going into that we thought, "Oh, it could do well," but we had no idea it would be a thing in the way it is. I don't believe in fate, but the rest just sort of is the randomness and coincidence of life.

You can look back and think of the things that could’ve been your break … or could’ve been the end.
I remember in my early 20s, I was coming back from a visit in Canada to come back to Chicago and resume my improv training. I was in this country on a Canadian visitor's visa and the border-control guard was giving me slack about it. I was just being friendly, and he was like, "You better wipe that smile off your face. I can put you in jail and ban you from the country for up to three years." I barely got out of that. I think about that all the time. If that had happened, honestly, I would have gone back to Canada and not been an actor. I would've just been like, "My dream can't happen, so I'm going to join the air force." That was another passion of mine. I would've been a pilot or something, which would be much more dynamic. I should've done it.

Is there a moment from this season you’re really proud of?
There are not a lot of ultra-heartfelt moments in the show. It comes and goes, but Mike Judge and the writers aren't ultra-sentimental people. The purpose of the show is to be a comedy show. I like that moment when Richard's talking to Jack Barker and does that face-plant. This doesn't embody how I've grown as a fucking actor — I'm just falling on my face for a laugh — but what I like about it is it’s pretty symbolic for not only Richard, but the premise of the show. "Hey, I'm going to do this really awesome thing and totally win, but right after I've done it, I'm literally going to fall on my face. Then we're going to have to pick ourselves up and grin and bare it." I like that moment just because it's pretty meta.

Richard grew to be more of a dick this season. Did you always know this side of him?
That wasn’t the plan initially, but it definitely feels like a plan in hindsight. In the first season, the premise is he’s this humble coder, this tiny little coder who just been plucked from obscurity. He has a dream to do things different, to not be Gavin Belson. But in the first season, Bachman is the guy that says, "Hey, no. You have to be an asshole." It seemed like an innocuous thing that happens in the first season, but it ended up being true. That's how I've looked at it. When that scene happened, at least for Richard, I took that to heart. He's now not a coder. He's in charge of our company and everyone tries to wrestle it from him, so he's like a mother bear protecting his cubs at all times. That gets him into hot water because he comes in way too hot.

Do you think he's on a track to create a different version of Hooli?
There's definitely good inside of him, but I would also argue there was good inside of Gavin when he was starting out, too. That was the thing they were setting up to with Peter Gregory, with Chris [Evan Welch] before he passed away. They were Steve Jobs and Wozniak, but Gavin’s hunger led him to eviscerate his relationships for money. I don't think anyone sets out to be the evil villain. It all comes in with good intentions, and then sails off from there when you're like, "Wait, I could make how many billions of dollars? Oh, yeah. Fuck them. They're all dead."

Your character reminds me of Walter White, of Breaking Bad, but maybe Richard isn't ultimately evil. Would you agree?
Yeah, I was thinking the exact same thing. I don't think it's Breaking Bad. There's already been examples: Richard could have thrown people under the bus for the betterment of the company, but he hasn't. That's his thing. It's a stupid flaw that you'd say at a job interview, but his flaw is that he cares too much. It's probably why he's not really suited to be CEO. He makes too many compassionate decisions, which is a terrible state of how business works.

Back to the Emmys. Who do you think will win?
I don't know. This is going to sound catty, but I'm just speaking as a comedy nerd: I think the term "comedy" has really broadened. I would argue that one of the shows on this list is a drama — unapologetically so. It seems like the way to win in comedy is to have a show that's pretty much a drama with a joke or two in it.

As a Canadian immigrant, is there anything you'd like to say to America?
[In Borat voice] I like America. [Normal voice] It's a great country and I understand that interest needs to be protected, but it's not about putting up walls. It's about making sure the immigration process is transparent and clear and efficient, as opposed to isolationism and racism.