The following piece is filled with spoilers. Read our full, behind-the-scenes story on the making of the Veep finale here.
Some major things changed in the writing of the last episode of Veep, but Selina Meyer was always going to die at the end of it. As ultimately scripted, the funeral sequence, which flashes forward 24 years and functions as a coda to the series, unfolds over multiple scenes: a newscast delivered by Mike (Matt Walsh) from a futuristic, vaguely Kubrickian CBS news set; the actual funeral, which is attended by aged-up versions of Selina’s former colleagues; at the Manhattan brownstone where Catherine (Sarah Sutherland), Marjorie (Clea DuVall), and Little Richard (Ken Ivy), who’s now grown, watch on television; and in the kitchen at Jonah’s mom’s house, where Jonah (Tim Simons) and his wife, Beth (Emily Pendergast), also put on the news. Here’s a peek at how it came together behind the scenes.
When the writers started coming up with ideas for the funeral last summer, it seemed obvious that some big event would have to ultimately overshadow Selina’s passing. It was only right that, even in death, President Meyer still wouldn’t get the attention and glory she craved. Several potential thunder-stealing ideas were batted around: Laura Montez, who assumed the presidency in 2016, being hospitalized; Selina’s former running mate, Tom James, dying; U2 front man Bono dying; and her predecessor, Stuart Hughes, keeling over right in the middle of her funeral.
“The notion of Hughes dying and overshadowing her presidency was really probably the one it would have been,” says Mandel. “That was the favorite. Just the idea that after everything had happened to her, when she finally does die and has her moment in the sun, Hughes clips her wings yet again.”
But then executive producer Frank Rich had a better idea: What if Selina’s death was bumped out of the news cycle by the demise of beloved actor Tom Hanks, a callback to the first episode, when Mike, then Selina’s communications director, implies that the vice-president’s ill-advised use of the word retard could be forgotten if something else significant happens in the next 24 hours? “What if Tom Hanks dies?” he says. “I’m not wishing that. I’m saying anything could happen.”
“The second [Frank] said it, it was just like, ‘Ah!’” Mandel says. “How did I not think of that? It was just like, ‘God, that’s great. It’s perfect.’”
Before the finale aired, Julia Louis-Dreyfus reached out to Hanks and informed him that his death would be featured prominently at the end of the series. “He was completely psyched,” Louis-Dreyfus said.
To make the time jump work, 18 cast members had to be aged two-plus decades for the various flash-forward scenes. Throughout production, various actors would wander onto set, fresh from a makeup test that involved the application of prosthetic skin, receding hairline wigs, and airbrushed age spots, ready to get a stamp of approval from Mandel. The first scene, shot by Mandel who directed the episode, was of Catherine, Marjorie, and Big Little Richard watching the event on TV while a giddy Catherine serves margaritas. It only makes a brief appearance in the final cut, but during filming, at Mandel’s direction, Sutherland stared at a blank screen and laughed hysterically for, by this writer’s estimate, at least 15 minutes.
A few days later, they shot the Tom Hanks moment. The news is delivered by Matt Walsh as Mike McLintock, looking like Walter Cronkite, who attempts to pay homage to Selina when Hanks’s death cuts his eulogy short. In keeping with Walsh’s improv roots as a co-founder of the Upright Citizens Brigade, he sometimes went off-script.
On one take, when Mike gets the breaking news that Hanks has died, Walsh pretended to break down mid-broadcast. “This is really happening?” he asked, distraught. “Hanks is gone?”
Everyone in video village was cracking up, but they stifled their laughter well enough so the mics wouldn’t pick it up.
Then there was the funeral itself, which was filmed on the penultimate day of production at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles. Early in the day, Mandel oversaw an actual honor guard lay Selina Meyers’s casket to rest in the Taper Courtyard of the Skirball Center, where an alcove was altered by Veep’s production designers to look like a vaginally suggestive presidential library crypt. Once the coffin was tucked away, an actual bugler played “Taps.” “That looked really good,” Mandel said happily after the most successful take. “It is particularly stupid in a great way.”
Inside, where the service itself was shot, cast and crew marveled over everyone else’s aging transformations. On the day of the funeral, Sam Richardson, who was going for a stressed-out, second-term Obama look, achieved it with his graying hair and added wrinkles. Gary Cole, as Kent Davison, who’s grown a gray ponytail and an unkempt beard and ditched his blazers and ties for a jean jacket, looked like he just wandered out of a cabin in the woods listed on Airbnb by the Unabomber’s second cousin. (One of the camera operators had a different opinion: He thought Cole looked like Tommy Chong.) Then there was Reid Scott, who, as older Dan, now a real-estate agent with a fake tan and some slight wrinkles, largely appeared unchanged.
“That’s what he’s going to look like when he ages,” said writer Alex Gregory when he saw Scott. “He’s going to age like Clooney.”
But the saddest old Veep character, no contest, was Gary Walsh, and not just because of his faux thinning hair. The heart of the funeral scene is the moment where Gary shows up at the service, approaches the casket, and leaves a tube of Dubonnet lipstick, the same kind he had saved for Selina to wear on the night of her nomination, on top of it.
When Hale shot the scene, he initially did a few takes in which he was sobbing as he looked down at the coffin. Mandel wanted to see more resentment mixed into that emotion, given that Selina had ruined his life by setting him up to be arrested and imprisoned for the improper use of money in the Meyer Fund.
“There is anger,” he later told me. “I thought that was important.”
In subsequent takes, Hale dialed back the grief and hardened his façade until he seemed more like a shell of the man Gary used to be.
After all of the scenes of the memorial service were shot, the mood turned celebratory. Several actors wrapped the series after that sequence, including Richardson; Dan Bakkedahl, who plays Roger Furlong; Nelson Franklin, Furlong’s indentured servant Will; Diedrich Bader, who, as Bill Ericsson, eventually married Amy; and David Pasquesi, the actor who portrayed Andrew Meyer, Selina’s ex-husband. (Yes, if you thought you saw the allegedly exploded-and-killed Andrew at Selina’s funeral, looking alive and well, you were not hallucinating.) There was lots of applause and hugs for all of them.
Then all the “older” Veep cast members gathered for a group photo. As they huddled around Selina’s casket, Louis-Dreyfus, a woman who had beaten a life-threatening disease just months earlier, actually got in the casket and smiled for the camera. Which seemed right: Even at her own funeral, Selina Meyer would take advantage of a photo op if the opportunity presented itself.