The pitch-perfect political satire Veep is cast with a gaggle of comedic heavy-hitters: sitcom vets like Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tony Hale (both of whom picked up Emmys for their work on the show); improvisational dynamos Matt Walsh, Zach Woods and Timothy Simons; and great character actors like Gary Cole and Kevin Dunn.
It would take a lot for any actor to stand out amid that talent, but Reid Scott has managed to do just that. Although steadily working on stage and screen since the ‘00s, Veep has provided the 36-year-old actor with his breakout role: the vice-president’s deputy director of communications Dan Egan, the type of snaky and ambitious political striver who concerns himself with the world around him only so long as it serves his self-interests. It’s a great role that Scott takes to with visible delight, giving as good as he gets with the rapid-fire insults and gamesmanship that goes on with every episode.
With season three on the horizons, we caught up with Scott to talk about his work on Veep and how some people in D.C. react to—and some times mirror—the characters on the show.
: When we left off everyone last season, Selina and her staff were gearing up to run for the presidency. Can you talk about where things pick up with season three?
Reid Scott: The third season opens up with the campaign trail solidly underway. The big question is: who is Selina going to pick as her campaign manager? So, Amy and Dan in classic Amy/Dan fashion are really vying for it.
: Dan is such an interesting character in that way. He’s willing to do most anything to advance his career in Washington. I’m guessing that this is you playing against type?
Scott: [laughs] Well, thank you for knowing that. It’s kind of funny, there are huge parallels between politics and the entertainment industry, so I’ve very much been able to draw inspiration for Dan from actors I know, producers I know, directors I know, agents I know; that complete Machiavellian “love for no one” kind of ambition. That’s definitely not me. You’re right about that. But I gotta say it’s such a treat to play because I get to flex my dark side.
: It must be almost a cathartic thing to explore that side of yourself.
Scott: Oh, absolutely. When I started season one…we all did this…there was a lot of apologizing going on. We improv a lot of takes, and the epithets that we’re flinging left and right…because Dan is so verbose with his profanity, I’d go in these rants and when they yelled, “Cut,” I’d immediately turn to Matt Walsh or Julia or Tony and be, like, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” It took us a while to give each other the pass of, like, “Dude…just go for it.”
: Had you done a lot of improv work before joining up with the show?
Scott: I’d taken some classes at UCB in New York and again at the Magnet Theater and the PIT Theater. I definitely never advanced to where I was on a team or anything like that. I took it just to have that skill in my back pocket and understand it a little bit because I could see the writing on the wall that this was going to be the future of comedy. And then I did a series called My Boys years ago and so many people involved with the show had come out of Second City or ImprovOlympic, so we just improv’d a lot because it just helped to make it funny. So, honestly, my biggest education regarding improv comedy actually came on the job working for My Boys.
: So much of Armando Ianucci’s TV work in the past allows for a lot of room for improvisation, but are things with Veep still tightly scripted or a really close framework to play with?
Scott: That’s a misconception…we do improv a lot, but that’s mainly there to refresh everything or give it a little extra juice. These scripts are so…I wouldn’t say tightly written. Maybe overwritten at times. These guys have crafted the plot. These guys have crafted the scenarios and 80 percent of the language. The improv comes in to sort of give it that naturalistic feel. Armando and the rest of the writers and directors have given us the gift of trusting us that if we find something in improv, they’ll say, “Oh God, that’s a really great idea. Maybe we’ll start writing to that.” But we’re always working off a blueprint of a script.
: I also imagine that now that you’ve worked together so much, it’s a lot easier to play off of each other.
Scott: Oh, absolutely. One of the greatest assets of the show is the people that are involved. Everyone is so wonderful and simpatico. We developed a really nice shorthand almost immediately. We could show up after months of not doing the show and then bang—go right back into it. Literally just putting on Dan’s shoes, it’s like, “Oh, the bastard is back.”
: With you diving into this dark side that you talk about, is that an easy thing to leave at the office, so to speak, at the end of the day?
Scott: For the most part, I haven’t had too hard of a time leaving that hat at work. But we shoot in Baltimore a very intense schedule and sequestered away from friends and family, so there’s not much else to do than work and hang out with each other. There are certain times where there’s a little bit of bleed over. I’m not sure if that’s because everyone is so well-cast that you start to see the sides of each actor that works for the character come out a little bit more or if we’re starting to morph with our characters a bit. Certainly no one is their characters on the show. One of the great things about working so intensely with each other so far away from home is that gets a little theater camp-y. You really just lock into the character and dial in because you literally don’t have time to do anything else.
: From other things I’ve read, it sounds like Veep is being watched by people in D.C. and they’re recognizing the archetypes within. Are you getting that feedback from people you meet around there?
Scott: Absolutely. Julia actually had a really nice meeting with Joe Biden, and she came to the office and she walked in and was greeted by a couple of people who said, “Oh we love the show! Joe’s such a big fan.” And this woman stepped up and extended her hand and said, “Hi, I’m so-and-so. I’m the Dan of the office.” Julia sort of looked at her and said, “Yeah, I wouldn’t brag about that.” And it went on like that, “This is our Mike. This is our Amy.” And everyone seems to know a Jonah. Everyone at some point has worked with a creep like Jonah. But yeah, several times a young man or a woman in D.C. has stopped me and they’ve said, “I’m Dan! I’m Dan!” And I’m, like, “You should not be proud of that! That’s definitely not a good thing!”