It’s been a long road for Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch), the code-writing wunderkind and main character of HBO’s tech/comedy Silicon Valley. For the past three seasons, Richard’s been repeatedly brought down by the unfortunate reality that a rock-solid algorithm isn’t enough to make it big in the tech world, resulting in his permanent struggle to try and keep his company together through misguided CEOs, reckless investors, and cold-hearted corporate politics.
At a special sneak preview of the fourth season in Austin, Texas earlier this week, we got the chance to chat briefly with series co-creator Mike Judge about what’s in store for the Pied Piper crew. “I think we realized we can’t just keep kicking [Richard] down forever,” said Judge. “[Well], maybe a little bit, but this season they make a pretty big play, and our idea is that this would carry through to the end of the series.”
With the end of the third season finale bringing its characters full-circle, Judge said that this new play “will be what they’re working on for as long as the show is on. So we made it something kinda big.”
Given that the real Silicon Valley is fraught with big, over-the-top ideas, some of which work their way into the show, Judge said even that can prove to be difficult from time to time. “There’ve been a few things that people think we’ve made up, but they’re real,” he said, adding that “it’s almost hard to satirize it when it’s that absurd, but it’s still pay dirt for us. That whole world is crazy.”
While the world may be crazy, it’s the characters that keep us coming back to the show. When actor Martin Starr first auditioned, it was for the role of Erlich Bachman, a part that went to T.J. Miller (thanks in part to his hilarious silhouette). “They cast Erlich, but they wanted me to come in for a table read,” said Starr, who read for the then-underdeveloped part of Bertram Gilfoyle. “It was one line of dialogue. That was the initial script because they hadn’t figured [everything] out.”
The minimal dialogue aside, Starr went to the table read the following day. “I think my ego got in the way a little bit, but I put all my reservations aside,” he explained. After the table read, Starr said he “had a great talk with Mike, really flushing out the character and what they wanted the world to be.”
Helping contribute to the shaping of his character, Starr described Gilfoyle as a character based on his own sensibility, which has “kind of become this weird defense mechanism because people assume that you are like the thing they saw on television.”
“It’s easy to be standoffish,” said Starr, something his character is notorious for, adding that “it’s easy to fall into that defense mechanism so I can keep my own space.”
Zach Woods, who plays Jared, readily admitted that there’s some “definite overlap” between him and his character. “I spent hundreds of dollars a year on scented candles,” said Woods, “which is something I feel like Jared would do if it weren’t so extravagant. There’s parts of me that are sort of like a mild 60-year-old woman.”
Later, during a Q&A with the audience, Woods talked about the first time he met Miller, who came to his trailer, which was filled with scented candles, while he sat on a yoga mat reading a journal of reassuring quotes, all set to the music of the Indigo Girls.
The similarities between the actors and their fictional counterparts is no accident, as Judge described the symbiotic relationship the cast has with the show’s writers. “You’ll get better performances, I think, if the actors feel comfortable, and if they think something they can just spew it out. There’s this feedback loop, [where] one of the actors will try something, and it’s good, and we kind of write to that.”
Granted, this can be a gradual process. Judge explained that Woods had thrown out several lines of dialogue during the first season that didn’t make it into the show until the third, though the actor never sees those jokes end up on the screen. “[He] doesn’t watch the show,” Judge told to the audience, which, honestly, does seem to reinforce Woods’ self-described similarity to a mild 60-year-old woman.
Silicon Valley returns for its fourth season on HBO Sunday, April 23rd.