Interview with Thomas Middleditch

HBO

What was your reaction when you first read the script for the Silicon Valley pilot?

Thomas Middleditch

I just remember thinking, I really want to be involved. At that point, I’d been working with [Silicon Valley executive producers] John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky and had become friends with them, and knowing that [Silicon Valley creator] Mike Judge was working on this and it would be for HBO and it’s tech stuff in my wheelhouse, I was pretty excited about it.

HBO

Why is tech stuff in your wheelhouse?

Thomas Middleditch

I’ve just always been into it. I’ve always been a gamer. I play a version of Dungeons & Dragons. Nerdiness is all part of it. I don’t know how to necessarily code as well as my character -- or in any respect like my character -- but I would call it in the same wheelhouse.

HBO

You sound like a longtime fan of Silicon Valley creator Mike Judge. Do you have a favorite project of his?

Thomas Middleditch

I remember trying to stay up late and catch as much Beavis and Butthead as I could, and then King of the Hill. Office Space really spoke to me, and Idiocracy -- I’ve always really loved his live-action stuff. I’ve sold an animated show with him and John and Dave, so animation is in there, too.

HBO

As for your character, what do you have in common with him?

Thomas Middleditch

I’m the pinnacle of manliness and confidence, so there is no crossover whatsoever. [Laughs.] Let it be put in print. Richard is a little socially awkward, and he’s very focused. He’s the type of guy where you’d look at him and see a hamster spinning in his wheel constantly, trying to crack codes, like Neo in The Matrix. Me, I’m just casual, you know, oh yeah.

HBO

I saw on a bio for you on the Upright Citizens Brigade website, you were listed as Thomas “Greasy Palms” Middleditch. What’s with “Greasy Palms”?

Thomas Middleditch

Oh, that’s me trying to come up with something fun to say in my bio. You have opportunities in all these bios to say weird stuff. I had this website that, at one point, I listed myself as “actor, writer, comedian, and fart enthusiast” just because I thought that would be a really clear joke. Then I got an email from some guy months later: “So it says on your website you’re a fart enthusiast. I just wanted to know if that was real or not? If it is, let’s meet up and do stuff.” I was like, “Oh sweetheart, no. No, no, no.” [Laughs.]

HBO

Do you have a favorite moment from the Silicon Valley pilot?

Thomas Middleditch

I really like that exchange I get with Erlich, played by T.J. Miller -- the line about Steve Jobs versus Steve Wozniack. When T.J. says: “You just disappeared up your own a**hole.” We had a lot of fun with that, and I think that line in particular is going to be something that will hopefully get a little bit of cred because most coders are underrepresented in that field.

"The carrot that’s being dangled in front of them is an insane amount of wealth and, in their own delusion, changing the world. "
HBO

Speaking of having fun doing scenes, you have a background in improv. Was there much improving on the Silicon Valley set?

Thomas Middleditch

We had time for a bit here and there. It’s more like seasoning as opposed to making a whole new meal. We’re fortunate to have some crazy-good writers, so we get the script and then we see if we can come up with moments here and there. Some of the moments end up getting blown up into callbacks in episodes, but we’re not trying to reinvent what the guys have given us.

HBO

How would you describe the relationship between your character Richard and T.J. Miller’s Erlich, the head of the Hacker Hostel?

Thomas Middleditch

Well, they’re two people who at first don’t really like each other, but they learn that they need each other in order for this thing to keep going. Both are good at what they’re good at and idiotic at what they’re idiotic at. They both help each other and foil each other.

HBO

The pilot is also when your character Richard encounters Peter Gregory and sees him drive off in his mini car. Did you get to drive around in that slim little car on set at all?

Thomas Middleditch

I did sit in it, but they wouldn’t let me drive it. That mini electric car just so happens to be something like $200,000. We weren’t really allowed to take it for a spin. Also, because it’s electric and it has super-powerful batteries, it weighs like two tons or something crazy. I may be exaggerating, but it’s a lot heavier than you think. But it’s super green -- you can drive two in a lane and weave in and out of cars like you would on a motorcycle. It’s pretty rad.

HBO

At the end of the pilot, we see Richard take the smaller amount of cash from Peter Gregory, instead of taking Gavin Belson’s offer. What challenges lie ahead for him and the guys at the Hacker Hostel?

Thomas Middleditch

Well, you’re going to see Richard and his crew in the middle of this billionaire chess match, and the pressures mount from being in a situation like that. The carrot that’s being dangled in front of them is an insane amount of wealth and, in their own delusion, changing the world. They claim that that’s not what they want to be, but that’s what ends up happening. So it’s a lot of pushing and pulling between people with a lot more money and power than them.

HBO

Did you do special research before starting Silicon Valley?

Thomas Middleditch

I just endured years and years of bullying. Does that count?

HBO

Yes, for sure. Is there any part of you that is nervous about lampooning the tech world?

Thomas Middleditch

Not really. Everything needs to be lampooned. I believe that there’s not any sacred ground. Especially since, in one of the later episodes, we go to this thing called TechCrunch Disrupt, and it’s all these different companies peddling their different wares. We changed very few of them for comedic effect -- a lot of them were taken at face value. Yep, those are real companies and that’s really what they’re trying to do. It’s like this weird gold rush. You get a lot of apps and companies that are trying to sell you on something that’s totally useless or potentially unhealthy. Only occasionally does something really worthwhile really come out. I would encourage anyone that’s watching and getting offended to just remember that you should be offended at some point.

HBO

If you could start your own start-up, what would it be?

Thomas Middleditch

I always say, if I had known what my start-up would be, I wouldn’t be here. I’d be a billionaire on a yacht somewhere.