On Veep, HBO’s slashing political satire about a bumbling US President and her bizarre coterie of aides and stooges, the Hill is alive with the sound of a-holes. But even in an Emmy-winning show packed with desperate ladder-climbers and overachieving douches—played to the hilt by the likes of Tony Hale, Anna Chlumsky and Timothy Simons—Reid Scott stands out as the POTUS’ smugly Machiavellian aide, the most weirdly likeable scoundrel of a confederacy of dunces.
Sure, Reid has had done stints on other TV series (My Boys and The Big C) and turned up in movies like Bad Summer and I’ll See You in My Dreams. But the 38-year-old Albany native, an avid downhill skier and former producer of the band Get Licious, has mostly played boyfriends and silver-tongued charmers since he moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 2002. All prelude, it turns out: On Veep, the guy with one of TV’s most chiseled, punchable faces has taken a role he was born to play, improv’d the hell out of it and taken well-tailored duplicity to new high.
Reid and I break bread for breakfast early one L.A. morning, just as Veep’s fifth season is about to pop. (It premieres this Sunday, April 24th.) Meanwhile, he has two new movies playing Tribeca: the dramedy Dean directed by Demetri Martin and the rude, crude animated Nerdland with Patton Oswalt and Paul Rudd. For a cherry on top, his voiceover performance on Netflix’s animated Turbo FAST has just earned him a Daytime Emmy nomination.
On Veep, your character Dan Egan is known for being ruthless and hilariously scatological. Do fans expect you to be that guy if they run into you?
Sometimes. People on my Twitter will say, “Come on, give me your best insult.” But you don’t have to be an asshole to play one. I hope that I’m not an asshole. I don’t feel like I am. But I’ll let other people decide that. I like that people say, “Wow, you’re much nicer than the character you play. You’re a real guy.” How else should I be?
A great thing about the show is how unapologetically cutting the characters’ insults are. Like when a character gets described as “a condom filled with fire ants.” Or when the president tells your character, “With your face, when you attempt to be charming, it really does come off as evil.”
We have a whole new writing team on the show but we used to have a “swear consultant”: a brilliant guy who was a member of a number of prominent punk bands and has the foulest mouth you’ve ever heard. Whenever we were stuck for a curse, he’d give us one. Then again, everyone on the show is so funny, we crack ourselves up. I pinch myself.
With a whole new writing staff, is the show on track?
The show’s creator, Armando Iannucci, and his wingmen Simon Blackwell and Tony Roche, absolute mad geniuses and wonderful guys, decided they didn’t want to do the show anymore. I read the subject line of Armando’s email, ‘Time to move on’ and thought, Oh my god, I’m out of a job. I’m at a stoplight, Julia calls and says not to worry, that she’s talking with other writers and it’s all going to be fine.
Armando had set up this system. They’d write. We’d rehearse. They’d rewrite to include our improvisations. Rehearse again and shoot as written. Then shoot at least three, four more times hitting all the road marks but letting it go off the rails a bit more. We work from very tight scripts but maybe 25 percent of the show is improvised. Julia helped bring on David Mandel and Alec Berg, of whose work I’m a huge fan from Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld. I’ve never seen anyone work as hard as she does—probably 18-hour days, even on the days she’s not on camera. The first few weeks were tough. By the time we were shooting episodes three and four, it was banging on all cylinders. By the end, it was wonderful. People who like the show are going to be very happy.
Last season ended with the presidential election being a tie and a recount demanded. Your character got fired. What’s next for him?
They call him back into the fold as a kind of secret dark operative. The characters are trying to keep Julia’s character in the White House. This is my favorite season for Dan. The writers have brought us back again to where we were in season one, where you’re really discovering the characters again as they themselves are discovering what they’re good at and what brought them together in the first place.
Dan Egans aren’t exclusive to the inner circle of Beltway politics. Have you met a real-life Dan Egan?
I have a couple of buddies who work the exact same job as Dan does. I don’t want give away his position, but one of my buddies ran a couple of past presidential campaigns and he’s working in a high position right now with one of the candidates. When I first got the job on Veep, I called him immediately. He read the script and texted back, “Oh fuck, you’re playing me.” Now he always tells me how much he loves the show and how deeply he thinks we and the writers have gotten into that world. He just hopes he doesn’t end up like Dan. He’s a good guy, he’s brilliant and I don’t want to vampirize him, but he is legendary among our friends for his rants. I do find myself sneaking him into my improvs on the show.
When you were starting out, did you see yourself as an actor who could wind up playing such a morally bankrupt guy?
When I started out, it was the blond haired, blue-eyed supermodel look they wanted from actors. I wasn’t that. I wasn’t “character” enough, either. So I was “the nice guy,” “the boyfriend.” Veep? This the best.
Mostly because of your Veep performance, some critics have compared you to the early George Clooney: nice-looking, good at playing smart, smooth, slightly sociopathic guys on the make. How do you react to those comparisons?
I’m fine with that. It worked out okay for him. He’s an inspiration to me. Most people don’t see him as a comedic actor but he’s a fantastic comedic actor. Clooney does things very naturalistically, but he can also do a comedic performance like in the Coen brothers’ O Brother Where Art Thou? That’s one of the greatest comedic performances of my generation. I have another big favorite actor, too.
Gene Hackman, one of the funniest guys ever on screen. I grew up on him. Confident, quiet, strong, so intelligent, dynamic and that style of his—just incredible. A big regret for me is that I’ll more than likely never get a chance to work with him.
The show makes the world of politics look so unhinged. Has doing it turned you off toward politics?
I am interested in the world of politics. I like Obama. He’s done many good things. I think he could have done a lot more but, then again, he’s dealing with people and issues that I’m obviously not privy to. I’m very refreshed by the emergence of Bernie Sanders. I feel a kindred spirit with him. I’ve met him a couple of times and he’s the genuine article.
Could you see yourself running for office?
Like many kids, my mom got it into my head as a little boy, “You could be president one day.” I don’t know if I see myself doing something political on a national level, but seeing how Bernie’s message is really reaching people with the idea of enacting real change is very attractive to me. Even “small” things like better schools, better sidewalks—seeing those actions succeed can inspire others to help make change, too. When people see that something can get done, even on a small level, it challenges them to say, “I want to do something, too.” People need to realize that they have a choice. Being a dad, too, makes me want to leave the world a better place.
You and your wife [screenwriter Elspeth Keller] are parents, as you just mentioned, but has more fame made you more attractive to women?
I married my best friend. I’m so smitten with her. No one else even turns my head. I was a guy who liked to go out and have a few too many drinks and stay out too late. I can’t do that as a dad. I’m much happier for it. Being a husband and father is the thing I’m most proud of. I wouldn’t even take a series job that would take me away from my family. I’d rather move into writing and producing so that I could be with them.
You have some writing projects on the front burner, right?
I started off as a writer and director. My longtime friend and frequent writing partner and I have a TV series project set up with Robert Zemeckis. It’s a contemporary detective noir. Those are the movies I grew up on with my grandfather and dad, who was a big movie buff. If we get it right, with contemporary settings and language, it will harken back to those great movies from the ‘40s. Horror and sci-fi also weave themselves into it.
And what about these movies you’ve got coming out—and that Daytime Emmy nomination?
I play Demetri Martin’s best buddy in Dean, which has Kevin Kline and Mary Steenburgen. It has a very Woody Allen feel to it, with classic sidewalk walk-and-talk scenes. We had a great time shooting it and Demetri has a great future. That felt good. Doing Nerdland was great. It’s an animated comedy about people chasing fame in Hollywood, and Turbo FAST is just as much fun for me. I’m still new at it but I love doing voiceover. I mean, no hair, no makeup, just playing with fellow actors? It’s no-holds-barred and you can try anything. I find it so freeing.
Veep’s fifth season premieres this Sunday on HBO. Details here.