Great Scott! – Reid Scott Interview
Los Angeles, mid-July: A baking sun is bright overhead and Reid Scott is standing on the rooftop of The London Hotel, suited and booted. It’s hot-as-hell but after three seasons in Veep, he should be used wearing the tailored threads under a hot glaring spotlight. Anyway, he’ll have to suit up again soon because HBO has just renewed it for a fourth season.
Frankly, we’re just relieved he’s nothing like his Veep character, Dan Egan. He’d probably have us all cowering in the corner demanding only his really good side get shot, and if any of the ladies attending to him are rich and available. The career-climbing, morally bankrupt weasel ‘so deep space cold, he pisses liquid nitrogen’ is the master of the rapid-fire insult. But that’s due to Armando Iannucci, who’s written scores of demoralising takedowns so laudably outrageous we can but bow to his genius.
And Reid’s character is exceptionally Machiavellian. Spouting forth lines like; ‘What I’m saying, you fucking ape, is that you are a useless waste of fucking carbon. I’ve been trying to cynically use you, but you’re so fucking low-rent you can’t even be exploited’ on a regular basis means he’s starting to beat the best in the biz, our very own Malcolm, ‘Come the fuck in or fuck the fuck off’, Tucker.
As we speak, Scott is braving out the pain, awaiting an X-Ray for a recent arm injury.
LUSSO: How are you, man? Are you in one piece?
RS: I’m ok. It’s one of those dumb, meathead injuries where it doesn’t really hurt just sitting here, but my mobility is a little limited.
Were you being manly at the time?
Yeah, I was saving all these infants and puppies from a burning building… Nah, we were wakeboarding in Texas for a buddy’s bachelor party and I was trying to be a little too creative and I yanked my arm a bit and tweaked it. I’m sure the doctor will give me a nice little painkiller, no big deal.
As a Brit, I envy you Vicodin. It’s delicious.
Your character is pretty much a Type A psychopath. Is there any special preparation to get into that kind of mindset?
Ah man, I don’t know if I’m telling you too much about myself by saying no. I based him on an amalgamation of various characters and personalities. Steve Jobs gave me a lot of inspiration at the beginning. And then I took some of Alec Baldwin’s character from 30 Rock, and Will Arnett’s character from Arrested Development. All power-hungry guys who are charming in their way, and I asked myself ‘how do they navigate their world using all of those skills that they’ve acquired?’.
In Season 1, I was doing a fairly poor impression of one, or all, of those guys at some point. And then slowly, it became my own thing.
Across the seasons do the writers find your tone symbiotically, or is it that you begin to blend all those ingredients more smoothly into a performance?
I think it’s a combination of the two. At first (and I’m speaking for the writers here, maybe a little out of turn), you sort of have an idea of the guy. No one knows these characters just yet. I mean, Armando is the obviously genius who has all of this in his giant brain–but you always talk about it on set with the team, everyone agrees that we’re going to find these guys together. So by Season 2 and certainly by Season 3, I was finding what I wanted to do with the character. I think the writers, producers and Armando saw it was working, so they started to write to those strengths. Now it’s just humming. I pick up the beautiful pages that they’ve written for me and I think, this is great, I can nail this. Or if we can tweak this here and there, it’s right on point. Now, it’s really fun.
That’s the ambition isn’t it, on a multiple-season show, you get to that point of harmony between the performers and the writers. The characters have a life of their own.
Exactly, yeah. I love sports analogies, so I always equate it to a team. After a while, the coaches start to see what their players can do. We got lucky enough that our writers, producers and directors are all wonderfully collaborative people and we all have a blast, pushing each other. There’s a lot of rehearsal, a lot of dialogue and wonderful amount of communication. I think that’s why we’re able to elevate the show to where it is now, everyone feels invested. You’re not just an actor, you’re really part of the process.
Obviously you’ve watched The Thick of It. Are you mindful not to be too wedded to that variant of your character – the terrifying, but hilarious Malcolm Tucker?
Absolutely, I think in Season 1 I was looking to it more for inspiration and obviously Malcolm’s character really spoke out to me. I think you could start to see the counterparts of all of our characters in The Thick Of It, or at least the shading thereof. Now, I just watch TTOI as a fan, and at this point, for us, I view it as a very different show.
It’s said that over here that TTOI is actually far too close for comfort to the truth of the political process. Do you think that’s true of Veep, too?
Absolutely, yeah. There was one moment in Season 2 where (fellow cast members) Matt Walsh and Tim Simons and I went out to watch a basketball game in D.C. and we ran into all these D.C. staffers. One particular young woman said, ‘You know, my generation got into politics because of shows like The West Wing because of how glossy and beautiful it is?’. It’s true, they made it look like Camelot. She said ‘…but Veep is just so goddam accurate!’ And the three of us were just taken aback by that. We thought ‘man, I don’t know if we should be scared, because that means we’re all fucked here’.
Is that depressing?
We get those comments a lot now which we love, because it means that we’re doing something right. And because it means that we’re really in the zeitgeist. You know, if it’s really that close to home, then maybe there’s a weird way for us to actually influence government, who knows?
Does the amount of time you spent in DC and the amount of research you’ve done now, does it make you more cynical about the process?
Yes and no. I’ve met a number of people from politicians to writers, to journalists, to lobbyists, who all seem so down in the mouth about the whole process, and they’re always very eager (maybe because they have the ear of an actor) to tell us what’s wrong with the system and what’s broken.
Watching TTOI, it seems to me that our comedy is based on class. Malcolm’s resentment essentially is born of not being from the higher echelons (‘Feet off the furniture you Oxbridge twat, you’re not on a punt now.’). Whereas in a more egalitarian culture like America, Dan is the guy that believes he can get to the top.
I think in the States, obviously there’s still class differences. When you’re younger you’re a little more divided by class. But here, you get to a certain age in life, maybe in high school, when you’re all out in the real world. It’s just the Wild West out here, it’s every man for himself. And I think Dan–he can’t let it go. Which probably speaks for the fact he might have come from a lower middle class or a middle class family, because he’s just so goddam driven. Whereas, someone else born into a little more privilege might have been easier going about it.
Do you think that’s also reflected in Dan’s sartorial taste, the Paul Smith suits and the desperate desire to look groomed at all times?
I think so, yeah, the backstory that I gave him was that in college he discovered that his look kind of worked for him to manipulate people, so I think he’s just been playing up on that. But one of the fun choices we had when we were discussing wardrobe in Season 1, is that most people in D.C. are such nerds that their fashion sense is ten years behind the times. Dan, on the other hand, is cutting-edge in that he’s only 5 years behind.
So what now in your consciousness has changed then, what do you think is possible?
The buzzword, is transparency. I still don’t think we’re anywhere close to where we should be, but I believe that’s what’s going to change. I think the next generation will be raised with a certain level of transparency, where everything you do is constantly being broadcast on Facebook or YouTube, or whatever. You can’t really hide anything. I’m hoping it might change something because when people really see how the sausage is made, I think they’re gonna want to change it.
It seems, certainly in the States, that lobbying has become a big wedge between the people and the legislature?
Oh it’s out of control, it’s actually out of control. I heard this wonderful radio interview with an American professor who was teaching in China about American politics. He said the one thing that he couldn’t quite get them to grasp was lobbying. Because they would say, ‘Oh, you have legal bribery’ and he’d say ‘No, it’s not really legal bribery…Oh wait, it is. It is legal bribery’. He couldn’t quite get them to appreciate that it’s not really illegal, but yes, it’s kinda wrong. Whereas in China, hidden corruption is possibly more rife. But shameful when discovered.
On a slightly more showbizzy note, when you’re in a show that HBO’s supporting long-term and since Bob Odenkirk (from Breaking Bad) has gone on to do Better Call Saul, do you think your character might get their own spin-off show?
Haha. Oh man, I don’t know I haven’t even thought about that. I mean that certainly would be fun, and Dan is sort of the loose cannon of the bunch so I think he does kind of have the potential for that kind of mobility. It never really occurred to me before. But certainly that would be great, I would jump at that chance.
Oh great, well, I’ll take 5% if it flies.
You got it man.
Reid Scott transitions from hunky oncologist to Academy Award nominee Laura Linney on the Golden Globe-winning Showtime series THE BIG C into the coveted role as a D.C. legend opposite Julia Louis-Dreyfus in HBO’s Emmy-winning comedy series VEEP. During his current hiatus, he’s juggling a succession of five films inclusive of THE INTERN with Anne Hathaway and Robert DeNiro, the horror film THE VEIL opposite Jessica Alba and Lily Rabe, the dramedy I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS with Blythe Danner, and the romantic comedy BAD BOYS CRAZY GIRLS.