Julia Louis-Dreyfus — who plays U.S. Vice President Selina Meyer on the HBO comedy Veep -- says that growing up in Washington, D.C., and later living in Los Angeles helped her prepare for the role:
"I think I understand the insular nature of Washington ... " she says. "There's an inside-the-Beltway mentality, not dissimilar from Hollywood — it feels like the only thing that matters. I think you're selling a brand of yourself."
Louis-Dreyfus also did plenty of research for the show, now in its sixth season. She talked with lobbyists, senators and even former vice presidents.
"I really tried to ask questions that would get at: What is the human experience of this position?" she says. "Nothing about policy or anything like that, but just about: What it's like day to day? ... It was also interesting to watch them not answer or read between the lines."
After a couple of seasons as the vice president, Selina Meyer actually does become president briefly, but doesn't get re-elected in a runoff election. In this new season she and her posse of staffers and former staffers are struggling to figure out what to do next. There have been no shortage of comparisons of the character to Hillary Clinton, but Louis-Dreyfus says the show was written before the 2016 election.
"There is post-presidential life, you don't just fall from the face of the Earth." Louis-Dreyfus says. "Selina Mayer is very, very ambitious and she has a huge chip on her shoulder, so there's a lot of mileage there."
On how people on both sides of the aisle appreciate the show
On the show we have never identified party — we have just reaped so much benefit from that. Because everybody is invited ... both sides of the aisle think we are making fun of the other party. ... They identify with it which is super fun. I love that.
On the way characters on the show sometimes treat each other terribly
We all sort of wince. Very often there are lines that a multitude of characters might say that are so foul and nasty and mean-spirited that we all sort of die a little bit. ... But you need to know that the group itself of actors and writers are incredibly kind and nice. They are the absolute opposite of the characters that they play.
On the relationship between Selina and her personal aide, Gary, played by Tony Hale
We do have a chemistry, we're very good friends and we rehearse a lot. ... It's all of those things. ... Tony Hale is notorious for breaking in a scene and so that's often why we also have to rehearse a lot is for him to sort of get that out of his system.
On her character's vulnerability
I think she's very vulnerable. She's incredibly brittle and just covers it up like crazy. ... It's like a toothpaste tube and you put holes in it and then you squeeze ... and toothpaste goes out in lots of different directions and you didn't expect it. I feel like that's what she's like with her emotional life.
Radio producer Anjuli Sastry, radio editor Mallory Yu and web producer Beth Novey contributed to this story.
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Julia Louis-Dreyfus has won six Emmys for lead actress in a comedy. That is more than any other female actor. Five of those Emmys were for her work on the HBO show she stars in, "Veep." She plays a woman named Selina Meyer, a woman who is also the vice president when the show starts. When we talked the other day, Julia Louis-Dreyfus told me that growing up in D.C. and later living here in LA helped her play the role because the two places are a lot alike.
JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS: I think I understand the insular nature of Washington in terms of, you know, there's an inside-the-Beltway mentality not dissimilar from Hollywood. It feels like it's the only thing that matters. All the time you're selling a brand of yourself.
MCEVERS: She also did a lot of research to play a vice president. She talked to lobbyists and senators and former vice presidents.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I really tried to ask questions that would sort of get at what is the human experience of this position? Nothing about policy or anything like that, but just about what's it like day to day?
MCEVERS: Do you feel overlooked (laughter)?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yes. And it was also interesting to just watch them not answer or read between the lines. You know, the whole thing is fascinating just from a...
MCEVERS: That is so great.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: ...Behavioral point of view. Yeah.
MCEVERS: I mean, one of the things about this show is that while on this one hand it is this totally absurd depiction about what insider Washington is like, it can be pretty on the money. What do Washington people say to you about the show, like, when you go to Washington or do things like the White House Correspondents' Dinner? You know, do people come up to you and they're like, oh, my God, that's so spot on?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: And both sides of the aisle do. You know, on the show, we have never identified party.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: We have just reaped so much benefit from that because everybody is invited to the party. So both sides of the aisle think that we are making fun of the other party. And so I've had very conservative people, very Republican, very Democrat, very liberal, the gamut come up to me and say either that they like the show, that they're the Dan, they're Amy, they - that my boss is Selina. You can't imagine. I know this Jonah. They identify with it, which is super fun. I love that.
MCEVERS: "Veep" is now in its sixth season. Here's what's happened so far. After a couple seasons as vice president, Selina Meyer actually becomes president for a hot minute. But then she does not get re-elected. In this new season, she and her posse of staffers and former staffers - Dan, Amy, Jonah and others - are trying to figure out what to do next. And a lot of people are comparing that story to Hillary Clinton. But Louis-Dreyfus says the show was written before the election and that there are a lot of other comparisons that can be made.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Barack Obama's also in a post-presidential phase right now.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: And his speaking fees and his book advances are in the news.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: And it's very much a part of what we're doing on our show, starting...
MCEVERS: Right, the presidential library, the speaking fees, the...
LOUIS-DREYFUS: ...The presidential library, the Meyer fund for, you know, adult literacy and AIDS and now the spreading of global democracy. I mean...
MCEVERS: Right, which sounds a lot like the Clinton Foundation. Yeah, I mean, there's stuff that's obviously, like, taken from the news already.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Well, or taken from history.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I mean, people - there is post-presidential life.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: You don't just fall off the face of the earth. Now, Selina Meyer is very, very ambitious and she has a huge chip on her shoulder, so there's a lot of mileage there as well.
MCEVERS: For her to be funny. She's also - this character is - can be a pretty horrible person.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Oh, yes, she's terrible.
MCEVERS: Yeah. This is just - I mean, are there times where you're just like, wow, that's really awful? Like when she tells her own daughter, like, you can't get pregnant.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yes, yes, yes.
MCEVERS: This is about me. You know, I mean, does that - that's got to be kind of, I don't know...
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah. I mean, we all sort of wince. Very often there are lines that are so foul and nasty and mean-spirited that we all sort of die a little bit. We all - you know, there's always this look and - but, you know, you need to know the group itself of actors and writers are incredibly kind and nice. They are the absolute opposite of the characters that they play.
MCEVERS: And then there's the truly great relationship of the show, of course, which is the one between Selena and her body man Gary...
MCEVERS: ...Who's played by Tony Hale. He adores her. He is so loyal to her. And she is so awful to him.
MCEVERS: Let's just take a listen. This is from this new season when she thinks that even after losing the presidency that she's going to run again. And, of course, the first person she tells is Gary.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "VEEP")
LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) I'm going to run for president again.
TONY HALE: (As Gary Walsh) That is a great idea.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) I know. I know.
HALE: (As Gary Walsh) I think you're definitely ready for this.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Yeah, I feel so great about this.
HALE: (As Gary Walsh) You should.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Yeah.
MCEVERS: So he's saying you're definitely ready for this. But, like, to see him in this moment, his face.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: He means the opposite.
MCEVERS: The two of you, the way your bodies work together, it's just this, like, dance that tells us so much about this relationship. Do you rehearse a lot? Or are you guys at the point where you just, like, have a chemistry that just happens?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Well, thank you. We do have a chemistry. We're very good friends. And we rehearse a lot.
MCEVERS: Yeah, OK. So it's all of those things.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah, it's all of those things. But in that case, that scene that you just played was a very sort of intimate one, which meant we were very up close to each other. And I will say that Tony Hale's notorious for breaking in a scene.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: And so that's often why we also have to rehearse a lot is for him to sort of get that out of his system.
MCEVERS: He just can't help but laughing at what's happening.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I'm telling you, he's the biggest fan of the show.
MCEVERS: Is he really?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah, he really digs it.
MCEVERS: There's so many things about him that are great, but, like, the - one of the things is, like, she'll say something and then his face, like, is the punctuation. Like, she says something and he's like, mm-hm (ph), you know, like...
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, we're sort of in tandem. We're like - it's like bicycle built for two.
MCEVERS: You know, there was one thing I was wondering. There's a point in this season - you know, as we said, she's decided she's going to run again. Gary's like, that's a great idea, but it's not. And then she talks to sort of a more trusted aide, Ben, who's like, you can't do this. You cannot run for president. And, you know, she sort of pauses for a beat or two and then she's like, oh, I was just kidding.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "VEEP")
KEVIN DUNN: (As Ben Cafferty) I'm sorry, ma'am, I can't watch you lose again. There's nobody out there who wants to see a Meyer comeback, Selina. It's over.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Well, I was speaking hypothetically.
MCEVERS: You know, she's a person who never wants to let her guard down. I mean, every once in a while there's a crack in that. But is it frustrating to play someone who doesn't let herself be vulnerable ever?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Oh, I think she's very vulnerable. I think she's incredibly brittle and just covers it up like crazy. So in that moment, in fact, it was a very crushing moment for her. But she didn't show it. You know what she's like? It's like a toothpaste tube. And you put holes in it, and then you squeeze the toothpaste tube and toothpaste goes out in lots of different directions. And you didn't know - you didn't expect it. I feel like that's what she's like with her emotional life.
MCEVERS: We talked about how, you know, the decision to - for her to not run again sort of got that - you know, you get that out of the way early on in this season...
MCEVERS: ...So we know that this is going to be about kind of a post-presidency and the libraries and the speaking fees and the books.
MCEVERS: But you have to wonder, then, where could she go next? Like, what are the - you know, what could she be? Who could Selena be next?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Right. Well, that's what we explore all season.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: And so I don't want to give anything away.
MCEVERS: Yeah. All right, so we'll just keep watching. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, thank you so much.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF L'ORCHESTRA CINEMATIQUE'S "VEEP - SEASON 3") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.