Sam Richardson has carved out a niche for himself on HBO’s acidic D.C. satire Veep (returning for its fourth season on April 12) as the show’s least nasty character, relentlessly upbeat vice-presidential aide Richard. “He doesn’t always have an insult ready,” says Richardson, the show’s newest regular. “He’s got a lot of confidence, but he doesn’t necessarily have the ability to back it up. He’s always one step behind himself.”
The Second City-trained improv comic has been taking a few steps forward lately, landing a role in the new Melissa McCarthy movie Spy and a pilot order from Comedy Central for a sitcom called Detroiters. (Richardson grew up in both the Motor City and Ghana.) He talked to Playboy.com about working with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and playing a TSA agent (twice!). Plus, he took a shot at our Lucky 7 questionnaire.
Is it safe to say that on this season of Veep, Richard is pretty much a flunky to the widely loathed Jonah (Timothy Simons)?
Oh, yeah. Richard is the only character who respects Jonah in the universe. For the past three seasons, Jonah has been spouting off all this cocky garbage, and finally he’s got someone who’s absorbing it like it’s gospel.
Do you ever get intimidated working with Julia Louis-Dreyfus? A magazine recently declared her the greatest comic actress of our time.
EW was just quoting me. But she’s so generous as an actress that it was easy to get comfortable around her. She has zero ego. It’s never, “Hey, you need to back off — this is my laugh.” She’s a comedy machine. It’s always about what’s best for the scene.
Can you tell us anything about your role in Spy, or is it top-secret?
I play one of Melissa McCarthy’s CIA coworkers in the basement. To be honest, I saw the premiere, and I kinda got cut out of the movie. It’s like “Where’s Waldo?” See if you can spot me! What a heartbreak that was. But I got to go to Budapest for nine weeks and live in a luxe hotel and be friends with Paul Feig and Jason Statham. It was the greatest paid vacation ever.
You get cast as government officials a lot. You played a TSA agent twice, in Arrested Development and We’re the Millers. How’d that happen?
I’ve really got that down. When I go through TSA, I’m like, “Oh, well, that’s not how I’d do it, but…” I think it’s my diction. I speak very clearly. And there’s a bold confidence in my face that’s good for a comedic authority figure. It’s like, “There’s a guy who looks like he thinks he should have some power, but he really doesn’t.”
Did you experience culture shock going back and forth between Detroit and Ghana when you were growing up?
My dad is from Detroit, and my mom is from Ghana, so I’d go to Africa once or twice a year until I was in high school. Ghana is the most gorgeous country, but I didn’t appreciate it. My grandfather was a chief and a king, so we lived a very nice life in Ghana. We had a pool and a driver, and meanwhile, I was like, “Let’s get back to America — I need McDonald’s and Ninja Turtles!”
Your Comedy Central pilot, Detroiters, will shoot on location this summer. I take it you’ve got a lot of civic pride?
Everybody from Detroit reps it 1000 percent. There’s a heart to that city that beats so true. There’s zero pretension in Detroit. I have blind civic pride. I love that city do-or-die.
What was your first exposure to Playboy?
My cousin Dwayne had a collection of magazines, so we’d go over to his house and go through them. Even at a young age, I read it for the articles.
What movie scared you the most when you were a kid?
Ararchnophobia. I’m still arachnophobic to this day. I was in Africa watching that movie when I was 7 with another cousin, Julian, and I ran out of the TV room into a hallway. I was like, “Okay, that was terrifying, but it was super-fake, Sam. Relax!” I look at the wall, and like a bat symbol there’s a shadow of a spider. I turned to my left, and there was a huge spider. I was forever changed and ruined. I can’t handle that movie.
If you ended up on death row, what would your last meal be?
Some sort of extra-life potion!
What was your first car?
A ‘95 Chevy Camaro. It served me so well. I was the coolest guy in school. I loved that car so very much.
What was the first song you knew all the words to?
The Perfect Strangers theme song. I loved that show. TV show theme songs are kind of my thing. And that one’s so full of life and energy. It’s so hopeful. “Standing tall on the wings of my dream…” That’s poetry.
Do you have a pop-culture blind spot?
Sports. I follow Lions football, but what I’m also very good at is absorbing a conversation about sports and then completely reappropriating it in the next conversation. I sound like I know everything, but I’m a temporary sponge. An hour later, I wouldn’t have that information anymore.
What was your favorite mistake?
Dropping out of college. I was in the theater program at Wayne State University, but I quit when I started working at Second City in Detroit full-time, and it’s been a no-looking-back situation for me. It’s been great, but I should make sure I get some savings going, just in case.
Currently Senior Articles Editor for Closer Weekly, Bruce Fretts wrote TV Guide Magazine‘s wildly popular “Cheers & Jeers” column for 10 years. His work has also been published in the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Emmy Magazine, Vulture.com and TheMid.com. You can follow him on Twitter @brucefretts.