Matt Walsh plays Mike McClintock, press secretary to President Selina Meyer, on "Veep" in Season 4, which starts tomorrow night at 10:30 on HBO.
The 50-year comedian and actor is one of the founders of the Upright Citizens Brigade, an improv and sketch comedy troupe that has helped train and launch new talent like Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson of the Comedy Central's "Broad City."
McClintock has thrived as a performer during the first three seasons of "Veep" under the leadership of creator Armando Iannucci who uses improve extensively in the rehearsal and production process to bring the actors into the creation of the final script.
(This interview was conducted Wednesday, two days before HBO announced that Iannucci was leaving the series. Read that here.)
Q. Judging from your background, I am guessing you put a lot of thought into who and what Mike McClintock is. Can you share some of your thoughts on him?
A. Well, he is fairly incompetent, so I think in the real world, he might have been fired on the first day. It is a comedy, so there's a bit of a push of reality there.
But he's a seasoned veteran of politics and he knows it's about relationships, he knows as press secretary it's about giving them less information than more, he's willing to take a bullet for Selina, and that has great value. There's loyalty between them because they came up together – at one point, he was her campaign manager.
He is successful in that press room this season. For whatever reason, he's a bit of a teddy bear for the media to kick around. He's sort of regular, and I think the press enjoys that. He had his drinking days back in Maryland when it was more about camaraderie. The challenge for him now is the explosion of media, social media. It's a new game for him, so, he's struggling with that. But in the end, friendships and relationships hold a lot of power and he has that. And his presentational skills are solid in that room, in the press box.
Q. Last week, Armando and I were talking about social media a lot. Does Mike really get social media?
A. (Laughing) My assumption is her gets a young kid and says, "OK, sit down, this is what I want to say." I don't think there's any benefit to him learning to upload things on Tumblr or Instagram. I think he just gets a youngster as an assistant and takes him everywhere.
Q. I was surprised to see you are only 50 years old. And then I realized I thought that because Mike seems at least 10 or 15 years older. Do you play him older on purpose?
A. I think his energy has checked out. I think he has a very lethargic energy. So, I've played him as if he's given up at times. But I don't think he's as vulnerable as when he started. I don't think he hangs his hopes on any one given bill or one given meeting.
I think his lesson is that there's going to be another meeting tomorrow, another crisis. So he's more guarded and weary about it. But it's a survival mechanism. He was always written as older. I read the pilot I said, "Hey, I'm not that old." But it's the way the team is constructed: He's the dinosaur still hanging on.
Q I want to ask about the Upright Citizens Brigade, which you co-founded with Amy Poehler and others. It seems like as the years roll by, its reputation only grows. Do you take pride in that? And it was the mid-90s when you guys founded the troupe, wasn't it?
A. Yes, we came out of Chicago in '96 and moved to New York.
Q. So, almost 20 years.
A. Yeah, as I look back, there are moments when I'm very proud or nostalgic for our sort do-it-yourself attitude. I think we thought we were punk rock back in the day. I think we were in reaction to Second City, because that is the model, the gatekeeper back in Chicago.
We all were there sort of wanting to get up on that stage. But it's a long line, so at some point, we had our own sketch group and decided we were going to do it our own way, because having people you like to work with who have a similar voice is a lot more pure than putting together an all-star team on SNL or something.
… I get pangs of pride over something like our new theater in Los Angeles, which is like a junior college for improv. We just opened it in January. Those are the moments when I'm like, "I can't believe we were driving our U-Haul out with our trucks of wigs and costumes 20 years ago." Those are the moments when it feels like, "Oh, this is very cool. I'm very proud of this playground we created." I love we can turn people onto improve. When I discovered improv, it was like a hit of crack, I was addicted.
But it's also NOT mine in the sense that I don't take any responsibility for like "Broad City." These people are talented and they're doing their own thing and it's like I was a senior and they're freshman, but I don't take any responsibility for their success. I celebrate it and I'm very proud of the people who come though. But it's not like I can brag on it."
Q. How about Armando's process with all the improv that's involved. What is it like for you?
A. It's a dream. I've always wanted to do comedy that I wrote or helped shape. I prefer to have my voice in it a little bit. And Armando and Julia (Louis-Dreyfus) are always receptive to the best ideas. They never look at you like, "You're not the writer, so we're not going to listen to you." It's very much whatever the best ideas are, that's what they want.
Q. Do you stay in Baltimore when you're filming or are you in and out. And what's it like for you when you are here?
A. I stay. The production schedule is pretty busy. We have a hiatus week every two or three weeks where I go home to my family in LA.
But we're all at the Harbor East, like the Homewood (Suites) with those kitchenettes. It's kind of like a dorm room or a semester abroad. We're all just cooking for each other or watching Chicago sports or whatever.
We have a movie theater in our basement, so we see a lot of movies. We do some fine dining. There are some great restaurants through that area. We play a lot of squash. We picked up squash because the hotel has some nice squash courts.
Q. Sounds like going back to college, but with very nice rooms.
A. It's kind of like theater camp. We're away at theater camp. And I think it made the show jell in a good way being away from home. If we were in LA, we'd be trying to squeeze in auditions or going to meetings. When you're in Baltimore, it's just about the show. And I think that's been a real blessing.
Season 4 of "Veep" premieres at 10:30 p.m. Sunday on HBO.