Actor Matt Walsh is an expert on improv comedy, but when it comes to “Veep” — the HBO series in which he stars as a vice presidential spokesman — he prefers working from a script.
“I think you cover your [derriere] by having a really good script,” Walsh told XfinityTV when we caught up with him for a phone interview the other day. “That’s definitely [how] you hedge your bets.”
Walsh, 48, plays Mike McClintock, press secretary (or, if you prefer, “communications director”) to Vice President of the United States Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) on the HBO comedy, which started its second season a week ago. The second episode of the new season — out of 10 that were produced — airs this Sunday, April 21, at 10/9c on HBO.
McClintock is the guy with the receding hairline and red hair (well, it looks red to us) whose job is to fend off the news media. In real life, he has no experience in the political world at all, although he does hail from Chicago, where he picked up some knowledge of politics just by inhaling the Windy City air.
“I came out of Chicago,” he said, explaining how he views the McClintock character, “so I always imagine he’s like the kind of guy who knew a guy, who had a friend … and it was all these relationships that made you successful in the news industry and politics and he curried favor that way.
“He’s a bit of an old shoe,” Walsh said. “I think he’s a survivor in that, much like the cockroach, he’ll be the last thing left. I think he is smart. I think he’s seasoned. I think he’s less likely to react emotionally to each tiny little crisis. I think the way he’s learned to play the game is to say as little as possible so they can’t parse your words and throw ‘em back at you.”
If you’re watching “Veep,” then Walsh might be the kind of actor who makes you think you’ve seen him somewhere before, but you just can’t place him. Here are a few of those places: On TV, he has guest-starred in “Parks and Recreation” (starring his friend, Amy Poehler), “Community,” “Happy Endings” and “Animal Practice.” On HBO, he had a recurring role on “Hung.” You may have also seen him last summer in the Seth MacFarlane-Mark Wahlberg hit “Ted.”
On Walsh’s list of credits on IMDB.com is a 2010 movie called “Freak Dance,” in which he played “Adolf Hitler Jr.” We’re sorry we missed that one.
Amy Poehler was also in that movie, which was written and directed by Matt Besser. The connection between these three is this: They were all co-founders of the Upright Citizens Brigade, an improv-and-sketch-comedy institution that has “graduated” scores of comedy actors who now appear all over the place in TV shows and movies.
While the scenes that are ultimately filmed for “Veep” are scripted, they get that way via an improvisational process, Walsh explained.
“The way improv informs what ends up on screen is through the rehearsal process,” he told us. “The writers inevitably do seven or nine drafts of every script, so we’ll see the first draft and then we’ll put it on its feet, or we’ll table-read it, and then if [executive producer Armando Iannucci] is looking for a scene that isn’t on the page, we’ll just basically improvise something that might be necessary to connect two scenes.
“Or, if there’s something that’s not working for him, or even for us, we’ll improvise basically or say it in our own words, and occasionally some of the jokes we come up with in improv will end up in the script.”
All the action on “Veep” takes place in and around Washington, but the show is made in a studio in Columbia, Md. And when exterior or on-location shots are called for, they’re just as likely to be filmed in Baltimore as in Washington (Baltimore is about 40 miles from D.C.).
However, during their weeks-long stays in the Baltimore-Washington metro area, the stars of “Veep” sometimes find themselves in Washington restaurants being besieged by fans — namely, the kind of government staffers the actors are playing in “Veep.”
“This season, we happened to go to a fundraiser for veterans — a campaign aimed at getting them jobs after they get out of the military — and HBO was asked to send some of their big-shot celebrities and we showed up,” Walsh recalled.
“We went to a restaurant — the Capitol Grille — and we were literally swarmed. People were so fond of our show. It was like we walked into a fan club there were so many people who enjoyed the show.”
Happily, he noted, “There are a lot of people who say my portrayal of the communications director is quite accurate.” He says they also told him that being a press secretary or director of communications “might be one of the easiest jobs in Washington.” Asked to explain that assessment, Walsh admitted: “I don’t know why.”
“Veep” airs Sunday nights at 10/9c on HBO.