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Veep’s Timothy Simons on Jonah’s Near Victory, ‘Goober Peas,’ and Letterman-Induced Stress Dreams

Veep’s Timothy Simons. Photo: Getty

For the better part of this past Sunday’s episode of Veep, it looked as if Jonah had finally bested the vice-president’s director of communications, when he forced Mike to get on his knees and sing round after round of “Goober Peas.” But if the HBO comedy has any guiding principles, Rule No. 1 is that Jonah can never win. Timothy Simons’s smug goon has become so popular in Washington, D.C., circles that Reid Scott told us that referring to someone as a “Jonah” there is the same thing as calling them a d-bag. Vulture caught up with Simons to talk about finding sympathy for Jonah, working with Seth Rogen and James Franco on the upcoming comedy The Interview, and his talk-show stress dreams.

I can’t get “Goober Peas” out of my head.
That was one of those scenes that was very simple when it started, and through our Veep-ish process, became amazing. We knew what was generally supposed to happen in that scene: Mike comes to me, I ask him to beg, he gets down on one knee. And through our rehearsal process, it became this thing of Jonah not being able to let it go, like, “You’re still trying to maintain some sort of dignity, Mike, and I’m not going to allow it.” We had two ideas for the song. One was the old version, not Simon and Garfunkel’s, of “Scarborough Fair,” and it became immediately clear that “Goober Peas” was the winner. One of our writers, Ian Martin, who rarely cracks, could not keep it together watching us.

It snowballed in a great way. I especially liked the tipping of the hat.
The [unscripted] discoveries we made doing it were Mike doing a Southern accent and pretending to play the banjo. I made him tip his cap. But, of course, Jonah doesn’t get what he wants.

I felt a little bad for him. He never wins. I might be the only person on Earth who sometimes feels bad for him.
Every once in a while there’s someone who feels sympathetic. I have heard that. Probably more so than you think! I do take a little bit of pride in that. If I even manage to make him one percent sympathetic, that’s a win.

I love that Jonah has a neon Bud Light sign in his living room.
That is a John Hopkins University frat house, and it is as absolutely disgusting as you would imagine that would be. It’s one of those apartments that always smells like stale beer and sweat. There are half-eaten cereal bowls everywhere. Nothing had to be done to that location. I’m pretty sure the only thing we did was remove some branded items that we couldn’t have in there. I don’t think you ever see it, but my favorite part of the house is in the front room when you come in. There’s a turret in the corner, beautiful hardwood floors, and, literally, a bare mattress in the floor and a pile of clothes in the opposite corner. That’s it. That is where an adult human man who goes to a college lives.

Do you model Jonah on anyone in particular?
Some of what he says I’m very uncomfortable saying because even at my worse it’s something I wouldn’t say. But there are some things I’ve improvised that came out of my own brain, so certainly that’s in me somewhere. And I remember talking to a guy who was involved in both Obama campaigns, and it was sort of his attitude. He didn’t care about decorum or human decency. There were just things he wanted and he was going to say whatever was in his mind in his attempt to get them.

Jonah talks big one moment but is a total ninny the next.
He’s like this compartmentalized person: At the White House, he’s a complete suck-up, he likes the D.C. metal scene, and he thinks he and Jay Z would get along.  

What can you tell me about The Interview, which is the comedy you just shot written and directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg?
We shot that last fall. I didn’t have to audition for it, which, God, you have no idea idea how good that feels. I don’t think I signed a nondisclosure agreement, but I’m not sure what I can say about the plot. I can say that it’s about a guy, played by James Franco, who’s the host of one of those vapid celebrity interview shows. Seth plays his producer who wants to do serious journalism but has found himself in this very lucrative job. I play the associate producer who has anger management problems and believes their celebrity interview show is the best thing ever and that James Franco’s character is the best man in the country. Working with Seth and James and Evan was so fucking ridiculous. A new idea will pop into their heads and they’ll blow it out until it’s completely ridiculous, until they’ve mined everything they can from it — and that’s starting from a script that was already super good to begin with.

How do you feel about James’s recent Twitter and Instagram behavior? Are people being too hard on him?
I found him really great to work with. I don’t know, and certainly I’ve been guilty of making a judgment about a celebrity, but there’s a part of me that’s like, why don’t you take the time you’re spending ripping James Franco and go do something you like?

You’re going to be a guest on Late Show this Wednesday. Congrats! Do you have your anecdotes in order?
The pre-interview is on Tuesday, and I swear to God, I’m going through every moment of my life. I’ve been making notes on every memory I’ve had from 4 years old on. The pre-interview will take 24 straight hours. David Letterman was my guy growing up. My parents recorded the tenth anniversary special for me, and I watched it 40 times.

Letterman actually watches Veep, so that’s a bonus.   
I know! I will tell you, though, I had my first stress dream about it the other night.

What did you dream?
I literally dreamed it was Wednesday the 23rd and I was about to go out on Late Show and I realized I wasn’t wearing shoes. He was about to say, “Please welcome Timothy Simons,” and I was like, “Motherfuck, I’m not wearing shoes,” and I had to sprint to the dressing room. I woke up in a sweat. I’ve never had such a literal, one-to-one stress dream before.

Before you go, since I know you’re a fan, what did you think of the Scandal finale?
I actually missed it. I’m two behind. I’m sure once I see it I’ll probably say, “Holy fuck! How does anybody ever think this makes sense?” It’s not like all of a sudden it will start making sense. Last year, when Olivia got in the limo and said, “Dad?” I literally threw my hands up in the air like, “I can’t fucking take this anymore.” But they build in that months-long break for you to forget how ridiculous it is.

Given all that, I think you’ll enjoy.
Fantastic. I can’t wait.

Veep’s Timothy Simons on Jonah’s Near Victory