‘Veep’ Star Timothy Simons on Jonah’s Sexual Harassment and a ‘Game of Thrones’ Crossover
Timothy Simons is one of the standout supporting players on HBO’s Veep — as Jonah Ryan, he’s an obnoxious narcissist and relentless weasel who has somehow been able to continuously wiggle his way into various White House positions. Almost everything that comes out of Jonah’s mouth is astoundingly, hilariously terrible, making him the kind of character you really love to hate. We had a chance to talk to Simons about Jonah’s evolution in Season 3, his sexual harassment problem and what would happen if the Veep characters were on Game of Thrones.
Jonah seems really different this year — okay, not really different…
Do you think so?
He seems weirdly empathetic now.
I feel like this is sort of uncharted. I think the reason you might feel like that is that it’s sort of uncharted territory for him and for anybody watching him because I don’t know that he’s any different. I think he’s struggling with being put in the position of “I have, for the first time, a group of people that is giving me actual responsibility,” and it’s a good work environment outside of the fact that he’s being molested. So I think that there is something about that, but as a viewer it’s like, wait a minute, I hate this dude. He’s awful. And now you can’t not sympathize with somebody who’s the victim of abuse. But one of the things I like about him is that I feel like ultimately you will end up paying for that sympathy.
I don’t know that ultimately you’ll be rewarded with this brand new Jonah.
It’s sort of inherently funny in a way for Jonah to endure this sexual harassment. He’s a tall, arrogant guy who seems like he should be able to deal with this short politician groping him. Men don’t expect to be harassed that way, and Jonah in particular has no idea how to deal with it.
Yeah, and he has that sort of like, false confidence and that bravado that you would think would lend itself to someone being like, hey, please stop touching me. I do kind of love the fact that it’s happening to him only because I don’t think he’s the type of person who will ever see the connection between Teddy [Patton Oswalt]’s behavior toward him and his behavior toward women in the offices that he’s worked in. I don’t think he sees the connection there. Even though it might not be touching, he’s a serial sexual-harasser. I think if you asked him in private, he’d be like, I can’t believe somebody would do something like that in the workplace. He would have no idea of that connection.
You guys are also pulling off something really tricky by taking serious, unfunny subject matter like sexual harassment and making it funny. There’s a very fine line there.
When they first told me about it, I remember that Armando [Iannucci, series creator] and Simon [Blackwell, writer] told me that when they were pitching ideas around the table and starting to gear up to write this season, they were pitching things like, “Oh, well what if this happened?” and everyone would be like, “Yeah, okay, that’s pretty good,” or that’s a starting place for this storyline, or “What about this one?” and “Oh, I don’t know if that works.” And then somebody brought up “What if Jonah gets molested?” and everybody said yes immediately.
Everybody really hates Jonah.
Yeah, and it was like, “Yeah, well that’s definitely happening.” You don’t want to just end up having it like let’s laugh at a victim, like boy isn’t it funny that that guy’s getting assaulted. I think that everybody sort of throughout the rehearsals and through the shooting process wanted to make sure that it landed emotionally with him and that it played into the reality of — all of the funny bits would have to play into the reality of that actually happening. If it’s turned out funny, that makes me very happy because it’s just something we worked very hard on to try and get the tone of it right because it is a little bit of a third rail thing.
In last week’s episode he finally opened up about his sexual harassment ordeal — can you talk a bit about where that might lead?
I think he’s going to start dealing with the fact…he might get a little comeuppance. I think he might get a little comeuppance for his former behavior after this comes to light. I can also say that I believe that it has ramifications for the season as a whole.
Veep is very recognizably an Armando Iannucci product, which puts him alongside others with similarly specific brands of comedy. Are there any other filmmakers you’d want to work with? Like, would you want to be in a Judd Apatow film or work with the Stella team?
It’s so odd because I don’t even know if I’m cut out for it, but being a movie star guy, I sort of end up gravitating toward the Coen brothers. That’s one of the reasons my wife and I moved to L.A., that however much of a pipe dream that would be, I moved to L.A. because I’d love to work with the Coen brothers. That was sort of our refrain moving out here — when things were not great work-wise, it was like, well, we’re in L.A., so someday maybe I’ll get to work with the Coen brothers. That’s the dream gig, just being a movie nerd. Comedy nerd-wise, I had the opportunity to work with Seth [Rogen] and Evan [Goldberg] and James Franco on The Interview, so that was a really great, fun comedy nerd thing to be able to work on just because those guys are so much f—kin’ fun to work with. So I like that one of those two has happened.
Now you just have one more item to tick off your list, then.
Yeah, just one more. And also, it was the most nervous I’ve ever been, but I was able to work on Inherent Vice, so like, Paul Thomas Anderson — no matter what, I’m now in the Paul Thomas Anderson Wikipedia. Somewhere in there, if you dig deep enough, I will have always been in a Paul Thomas Anderson movie, no matter if it was one scene or a hundred scenes.
What about HBO? Are you a fan of any of their other shows?
Not to be like a Homer, but yeah. I remember being super excited to find out that when we first started we were on right after Game of Thrones. And there was this part of me that was like, oh, good, I’m going to be there anyway. We were already having Game of Thrones gatherings at my apartment so it was pretty easy to be like, guys, I’m on a show after so you all have to stick around for another little bit. But the stuff they’ve had coming out even more recently…Silicon Valley is great, and I know a bunch of those guys like Zach Woods and Kumail [Nanjiani] have both been on Veep, so I know those guys pretty well, and their show’s fantastic.
And Togetherness, I think, is one of the funniest things. The Duplass brothers do that so well, that very simple, very horrifically awkward comedy. And there’s something I love about watching Togetherness, just like when my wife and I watch it together, there are moments in that show where you laugh and look at one another because ha ha ha, that’s so familiar. And then there are things where you just stare straight forward and you don’t look at one another because it hits too close and you’ll just get in an argument if you start talking about it. So I love the bridge to an actual relationship that that show can have. Does that make sense?
Definitely. Togetherness is crazy good, and it has those jaw-dropping moments that are so simple, like you said.
It’s so simple and just so amazing. I just f—kin’ loved it.
I’m also a huge fan of Melanie Lynskey. She just kills it.
Oh, in everything.
Are there any HBO shows in particular you’d like to appear on? Would you want to guest star on Game of Thrones?
We made this joke before, of wanting to have an entire Veep and Game of Thrones crossover episode, kind of like when Martin Freeman hosted SNL and they had that The Office in The Shire or whatever it was — the Middle Earth Office. I would love to follow that around to see Mike as the guy trying to get the Lannisters’ message out there, to see Jonah be a complete suck-up to Tywin Lannister, to see Reid [Scott]…he would be like the Littlefinger. Just whoever could get him the best job, he’s in for that, you know? I would love to see that happen just to see where we would fit in. Oddly, I was thinking that Julia [Louis-Dreyfus] would be the Hand of the King, ‘cause it would be that second place position. But it seems like in Westeros the Hand of the King actually has more power, so she would end up being the queen, and somehow in second position.
I feel like Jonah would either die very quickly, or because Westeros is so terrible, he would somehow become the king.
I think that ultimately the only thing that keeps Jonah alive in the modern day is the social contract of “We don’t just kill people.” We don’t just kill people without cause. I think that without those rules in place, I don’t think he’d last very long. I think that the first moment away, out in the real world, I think someone would say “Oh, you’re despicable” and just cut his head off.