What has surprised you about the reaction to Silicon Valley so far?
The overwhelming, polarizing opinions about my facial hair. It split the country. Bipartisanship has never been clearer, except in the very facial hair on Erlich’s face. That’s really it.
Whose decision was it to shave Erlich’s face like that?
It was collaborative with [Silicon Valley creator] Mike Judge. He basically wanted big mutton chops, and I said it had to have a conquistador, too. A lot of thought went into it, basically. I offered a conquistador, which is a strip on your chin, and then a mustache with the mutton chops. He was like, “Just do mutton chops and a goatee.” I said, “What if the strips go all the way down my neck but I keep the neck beard?” And he’s like, “Rock and roll! Deal.”
Well, the whole thing is a success, just as long as you get people talking.
There’s no bad publicity, except for the time I was caught with a bomb at Disney World. [Laughs.]
Did you do anything special to get your gig on Silicon Valley?
Well, dammit, I made a t-shirt! You can quote me on that. So in the script it says that Erlich was wearing a shirt that says: “HTML: How to Meet Ladies.” Mike couldn’t remember if he made it up, or if he had seen it, but he just thought it was really funny, so it was in the script. I lean toward the irreverent side, as far as reverence goes, so I went and made one, and then I refused to not wear it. I wore it over and over, in every stage of the screening process. It was very funny -- it was in these ridiculous letters, it was really big, it was not how you would expect such a shirt to look. “HTML” was far too big of a font. More than anything else, that’s my dedication to this role. I’ll make a t-shirt for it. It’s a good gift to get my girlfriend! I’ll go there. It’s a sign of devotion.
Did you do any research before stepping into the role of Erlich?
I know about the tech industry, in that I follow what apps are hot and software development. I know my way around different browsers. I know how to restart a computer. No, but I can start a Mac and get into their DOS command module. I know what compression algorithms. But the big difference is that I don’t code. If you code, you understand that world at the highest level. If you don’t code, then you’re Erlich. Although, he does code -- at least he knows how to code. But to me, his program Aviato -- a software aggregation program that takes all the information from social media whenever Frontier Airlines is mentioned and organizes it by region and airport and which are hubs and which aren’t -- that’s the product of a thinking man. That’s a salesman. He’s like, “What if it’s this?” But then he has to get someone to actually make it. So I’ve done more of that kind of research, and the primary way I’ve done research for that is by pulling the wool over Hollywood’s eyes for 10 years and convincing them it’s a good idea to keep hiring me. So it worked out perfectly.
But you don’t know what the hexadecimal times table is?
I don’t, although it’s real. What I do know is that I don’t know what hexadecimal times tables are, but I did riff the line, “Ask me what nine times F is? It’s fleventy-five.” Or whatever that is. That’s what I bring to the table -- improvising and ridiculous, nonsense words.
Where else did your improv influence factor into this show?
We riff on almost every single line that we do, all of us do. They’re great writers -- [executive producer] Alec Berg, and Mike Judge is an icon. But we all have specific, defined voices. That’s the crazy thing about this show. This really is the all-star show. If I was to pick my MVPs and put them all on one team, it would be these guys. There are no better improv guys alive right now than Thomas Middleditch and Zach Woods, and Kumail Nanjiami is one of the best stand-ups, and Martin Starr is one of the funniest comedic actors of our generation, certainly the most unique voice. We all change and tweak the lines and the wording and constantly add jokes. Like, after someone tries to give Erlich champagne, I’ll go, “This is f**king domestic!” Like that kind of stuff is more me injecting this idea into Silicon Valley that Erlich is so absolutely disconnected. I push the limits of a man that could be completely unaware of how people perceive him. He’s just like blind confident.
Viewers know about Aviato, the program that Erlich sold, but what else have you imagined is in Erlich’s past?