Interview with T.J. Miller

HBO

What has surprised you about the reaction to Silicon Valley so far?

T.J. Miller

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.

HBO

Whose decision was it to shave Erlich’s face like that?

T.J. Miller

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.”

HBO

Well, the whole thing is a success, just as long as you get people talking.

T.J. Miller

There’s no bad publicity, except for the time I was caught with a bomb at Disney World. [Laughs.]

HBO

Did you do anything special to get your gig on Silicon Valley?

T.J. Miller

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.

HBO

Did you do any research before stepping into the role of Erlich?

T.J. Miller

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.

HBO

But you don’t know what the hexadecimal times table is?

T.J. Miller

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.

HBO

Where else did your improv influence factor into this show?

T.J. Miller

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.

HBO

Viewers know about Aviato, the program that Erlich sold, but what else have you imagined is in Erlich’s past?

When I defend Richard against his abuser by kicking the s**t out of a 12-year-old. Fans are going to love it because it’s so insane.
T.J. Miller

I haven’t thought about it very much because I’m not a very good actor. It’s true. [Laughs.] I don’t really know how to act that much. I’m quite good at comedy, but it’s mostly acting naturally. I did have fun with the idea of how he pronounces Aviato. That’s sort of a funny thing. I love mispronunciations. I love when people mispronounce things. I did like the idea that he came up with this thing and sold it and made a couple million dollars, and I really did believe that he’s always seen himself as a Steve Jobs. Erlich really is interested in iconoclasting -- he believes that is going to happen to him. So, that’s about all I needed. Just a guy that truly believes in himself. That, and I gained 30 pounds for the role.

HBO

Wait, wait, wait. You were 30 pounds lighter when you originally took the role?

T.J. Miller

Well, Mike Judge said he kind of imagined him as a pudgy guy. In the pilot, I was told, “If you want to be a method actor and gain weight for it…” I love pizza, and I love beer, and I love eating it for every meal, so it was fun to do that. But then I had to cut weight for the movies that I was in.

HBO

So, if there’s a second season, will you have to gain the weight back?

T.J. Miller

Well, maybe. Mike Judge was like, “You don’t have to do that again.” Here’s what I really believe for the future: If Erlich believes that they’re players in Silicon Valley, he would get a little more conscious of his weight. Like, “I’m doing CrossFit right now!” That would be his thing. “I’m doing CrossFit, but I’m doing it all online! I met a girl and I’m doing Skype CrossFit with her.”

HBO

How would you describe Erlich’s relationship with Richard?

T.J. Miller

Strangely, it’s like kind of like Thomas Middleditch and my relationship in real life. We’ve known each other for 10 years. I’m sort of the overbearing guy -- I don’t understand how what I do is hurtful or abrasive or outright dickish -- and he’s very polite and would rather not deal with things but will still point things out. It really is that scene where Erlich and Richard are debating Steve Jobs or Steve Wozniak. Erlich respects Richard’s mind and what a great coder he is, but he thinks Richard lacks so much vision. He sees him as a Steve Wozniak, and he doesn’t see those guys as being fun.

HBO

In episode two, there’s a sequence where the guys all have to interview with Jared and Richard and tell them why they’re essential to Pied Piper. Why do you think Erlich is essential to Pied Piper?

T.J. Miller

Just the hacker house! That’s it. All house! Erlich is all house, no cattle. You know that old expression? But really, Erlich is the alpha nerd. In the end, Richard can do it on his own, but he’s gotta be there to push things through. Throughout the series, there’s not one point where Erlich doesn’t go, “We can still do this! This is still possible! You guys can’t give up! We’re still gonna win!” There’s a great line where Erlich says something like, “We’re gonna win if I have to personally jack off every f**king person in that audience.” It’s this eternal optimism and obliviousness to how insane his whole thing is. Erlich can make a good thing out of anything, which is sort of similar to me in real life. They need somebody like that -- he can always find a spin.

HBO

What is the scene or moment or thing coming up that fans should most look forward to?

T.J. Miller

When I defend Richard against his abuser by kicking the s**t out of a 12-year-old. Fans are going to love it because it’s so insane. The producers found out a way to justify it comedically. It’s amazing. That’s all I’ll say.