Well, I loved the show, and I watched the first season. They were auditioning both Kent and Ben in the same round, and they called me in for Kent, which I didn’t feel I was right for. Before I could ask them, they said, “Would you care to read for Ben as well?” So I read for Ben. [Creator] Armando Iannucci was in the room, and the best thing is that Julia Louis-Dreyfus was there for the audition, which really was great because she’s such a great force and a great person to have if you’re going to do any improvising.
All the actors on ‘Veep’ talk about the great atmosphere on the show. What do you have to say about that?
It’s a unique atmosphere. All of it is kind of a trickle-down experience. First of all, we have Armando and his writers, who are just really great people. It’s much more of a cooperative efforts than I’ve encountered in a lot of things. You rehearse a lot, and they hand that over to you in rehearsals -- you throw the script away and work through it. My favorite part of rehearsals is sticking around and watching these people work without a script. Julia and Matt Walsh and Timothy Simons and Reid Scott, they’re just so great. You see great stuff that you may never see during the course of a rehearsal. For me, I was never a big improviser -- that wasn’t the route I took -- so it’s a huge learning curve. I was never made to feel like I was behind or that I needed to catch up. It is a very inclusive atmosphere.
Has working on ‘Veep’ improved your improvising?
I’ve learned a lot about it, surely because most of the things you do are written and you do what’s written, there’s not a lot of straying outside of the page. They want you to stay on page and get the work done and move along, whereas the whole design of this is to rehearse things intensively and they keep writing and writing. Usually, you get your scripts and you take notes and memorize it and hope by the time that you shoot it you know it inside out, but it doesn’t really work that way on ‘Veep.’ You have to trust everything around you that you may get things at the last minute, but you’ll be able to learn it and know it well enough and be accustomed to the terminology and do it on the fly. It’s not the most important thing to memorize your lines -- it can be counter-productive. It’s a whole new way of performing for me in a lot of ways.
What’s the backstory you have in mind for Ben?
When I get a script, I try to think about where he may have come from the night before, or that morning, and if that’s going to have a play on how he’s behaving or reacting to stuff during the day. Ben is very aware that he’s dangerously close to being in the hospital because he has horrible habits. He’s on this wheel, and that’s the only way he can be on that wheel -- to live the kind of life he lives. He could decide to go to the gym and work out, but it just doesn’t compute to him. Some guys go to the gym to get the scoop. He goes to the bar. His sources are at the tap. That’s just the way things are for him.
Ben gets some pretty good lines this season, for instance when he says that there’s a ‘Saturday Night Live’ sketch out there that’s a “nine on the sphincter scale.” Are you ever startled at the lines you have to deliver?
I always think, who’s going to be listening to this? You know? But you just kind of do it. There’s a scene where we see Jonah show up in Selina’s office, and me and Reid and Matt, we just unleash this barrage of insults. Tony Hale’s mother-in-law and his wife and her sister were there, watching on the monitors. His mother-in-law exuded this very aristocratic, Southern thing -- really nice woman -- but we were going through this name-calling with Jonah, and I remember thinking, Tony’s mother-in-law must just be ready to disown him. At times, you’re like, who’s going to be watching this? Old Sister Mary Teresa, your eighth grade nun. “Oh, I saw your show!” [Laughs.]
There’s a scene in the finale where Julia Louis Dreyfus rips everyone on her team and says everyone is a “f*ck up.” How do you keep it together during scenes like that?
She just dresses us down. That’s a good example of an intense scene. When Julia gets to that place with Selina, where she’s blindly furious and angry, it’s not funny when you’re there. It’s like, you’re like holy shit because she just keeps upping the ante. We’ll do take after take, and she just turns up the dial. When you’re shooting it, it’s really, really terrifying. She gets right in your face. It’s great acting because it’s not this comic thing -- it's the real thing. It’s hard to do, so when she gets to that place, you have to be right in the scene. We bust up a lot, but during those things we really don’t because they’re these moments that have a huge impact on your chapter. She might punch you right in the nose! She’s shaking with anger.
Selina is now the President. What’s gonna go wrong?
Strictly by the nature of ‘Veep,’ in any given moment, a lot can go wrong.
Are you looking forward to a big role in season 4?
Yeah, I got hired for season 4, so I’m looking forward to what they come up with. It’s an amazing show to be a part of. There are so few things that you do that you can actually disconnect yourself from. But I watch that show and don’t even think that I’m on it. I don’t cringe. I want to know what happens.