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Veep’s Matt Walsh on Improv-ing About IVF and Suits As Sleepwear

PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 21: Actor Matt Walsh poses for a portrait during the 2014 Sundance Film Festival at the Getty Images Portrait Studio at the Village At The Lift Presented By McDonald's McCafe on January 21, 2014 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images)
Veep’s Matt Walsh. Photo: Larry Busacca/Getty Images

Things are finally looking up for Mike McLintock, the communications guru Matt Walsh plays on Veep: The season opened on his wedding, and he’s now trying to start a family. Of course, complications have arisen, particularly involving a certain portable cooler, a.k.a. “jizz box.” Outside of the show, Walsh is finishing up work on A Better You, a movie about a hypnotherapist that he directed and co-wrote, and he still performs ASSSSCAT once a month at the UCB Theatre, which he co-founded. Vulture called Walsh to ask about his past life in psychology, sleeping in formalwear, and Veep, which wraps its third season this weekend.

Mike finally has a few positive life developments this season. What was your reaction when you got the scripts?
I love it. I had a meeting with Armando [Iannucci] last year — he met with us to talk about what we would like to see happen for our characters. I said, “The first year we saw Mike have an imaginary dog, and the second season we saw a boat, but you never saw the people in Mike’s life.” Armando said, “Actually, we’ve been thinking along the same lines, that maybe you get married this season.” I’m like, “Oh, let’s do that. I’d love it.”

During Mike and Wendy’s wedding in the season premiere, they force their guests to put their phones in a “phone bowl,” which is both clever and a really good plot device. Did you have anything to do with that concept?
We were improvising in the rehearsal room and I kind of suggested, “Okay, everyone, put your phones in a bowl,” or this box, or something, and the writers liked that idea, and they took it and reshaped it.

How did Mike and Wendy meet?
It’s never stated, but she’s someone in the press pool — she covered the White House for many years — and they knew each other and they were friendly. They were both married at the time, so the timing was never right, but they got along and they were chummy. So at some point, when they were both [available], they explored the idea of dating.

How do you imagine that conversation went?
I would imagine it was very up-front and honest. Reporters don’t hold anything back. I’m sure she probably asked him out — or he was like, “Do you wanna get a drink? And get a hotel room?” Jokingly. And she said, “Yeah.”

In the most recent episode, Mike asked Wendy for a favor — to do a positive story on Selina — and it quickly goes south. I love his line to her: “That’s what marriage is! A conflict of interest!”
I love that line. That was in the table read; the writers had written that. The challenge for Mike is, with finding someone who understands his life, there’s strings attached, because he’s still married to the Veep. His wife, even while she understands it, is going to have to be kept in the dark about stuff. Which is difficult for a reporter who’s smart. So it creates challenges for their relationship — which they want. They don’t want it to be easy.

Do you have faith in their marriage?
I do believe that they are in love, and it’s one of those lucky-timing things. I would say [there’s a] 75 percent chance they’ll stay together.

I was curious what you thought when you got the scripts about Mike and Wendy’s IVF endeavor, which requires him to jack off at work.
That’s actually an idea I pitched Armando. I had a friend who wanted to do the IVF thing years ago, and he’d have to run to a sperm-donor clinic and go in a room with a cup and then go back to work. There was something really funny about trying to create a child while you’re doing a job, and carrying around a specimen. So the writers took that and put their spin on it with the cooler bag.

What was it like to film the scene where Gary catches Mike doing his business in the bathroom?
[Laughs] There were several takes that could not be used because we were laughing. We improvised a lot of stuff in there.

Were there any notable bits of improv that didn’t make it in?
Sexual innuendos that didn’t need to be in there, but we of course have terrible impulses and we like to go for the lowest common denominator.

You have to go there.
You have to at least explore it, right?

Do you watch the show?
Yeah. It’s sort of a roller coaster — one, because you don’t know a lot of the scenes you’re not in, and two, you’re wondering how much of what you were playing around with will get into the actual cut. It’s similar to any viewer, really: You’re surprised as much as anyone.

Do you tend to laugh aloud while you’re watching it?
I get about two or three big laughs, generally, from things I haven’t seen.

That’s a pretty good ratio!
Yeah, I’m proud of that. I usually watch it with my wife, and she usually laughs a little more because she’s totally unfamiliar with it.

How old are your children?
7, 5, and 2-and-a-half.

I’m assuming they’re too young, but do any of them watch it?
They’re way too young. Never. Never. No.

At what age would Veep be an appropriate show for them to watch?
That’s a good question. Maybe 12, 13? Once they’ve been infested with adult language due to no cause of my own. But I’ll preserve their innocence as long as possible.

Is it true that when you auditioned for the part, you slept in your clothes to get that disheveled Mike look?
Yeah, that is true. I put on my suit, and my wife was like, “What are you doing?” I was like, “I’m sleeping in my clothes for the audition tomorrow.” She’s like, “Oh, that’s awesome.”

Is it comfortable to sleep in a suit?
It’s a little hot. It’s a little constraining. It’s not as restful as your normal jammies.

You were a psychology major in college. When did you decide not to go that route?
I worked at an adolescent psych ward at Northwestern [Memorial] Hospital [in Chicago] for two or two and a half years, and I was taking postgraduate coursework in psychology. It was a disturbed population of adolescents — runaways, eating disorders, suicide — really difficult populations, and it was too much. Just by osmosis, you would come home cloaked in pathology. It was rewarding to see people get better, but I don’t think I was willing to accept the responsibility for someone’s case management, because it seemed like the stakes were too high. And the whole time I was doing that I was doing comedy at night, and I was better at comedy than psychology, so I chose to take the easier path.

You’re now working on your second improv movie, A Better You, which is about a hypnotherapist. Did that take root in your psychology days?
Yeah, I think there’s something interesting about the contrast that when you go to a therapist’s office, there’s a faith on the part of the patient: You’re going to make me better, or You’re so much smarter than me, and I can trust you with my problems. And then the reality is, that person in the chair is a flawed human being. A Better You is an exploration of a fringe sort of therapy, hypnotherapy, and it centers on the therapist. It tracks how they can sometimes identify more with their professional self than their real self, and how that’s problematic, because in the room, you get all this reward: “Oh, you’re so brilliant, you’re so smart! You saved me!” When you get home, there’s another part of you that you have to let be real.

Do you still do your UCB improv show, ASSSSCAT?
I do. I probably do it once a month, on a Sunday night. It’s fun; a lot of my friends still do the show, and it kind of keeps you sharp. It’s like pickup basketball. And you get a ton of laughs out of it, which is healthy. It’s practicing this thing that I’ve done forever.

Veep’s Matt Walsh on Improv-ing About IVF