As most are probably aware by now, Christopher Evan Welch, the actor who played Peter Gregory on Silicon Valley, passed away suddenly due to complications of a three-year battle with lung cancer mid-way into filming the first season. A veteran character actor, Welch tragically died four months before the series premiered in what would have been his breakout role, as his quirky Peter Gregory stole every scene he was in.
For the remaining episodes of Season 1, producers dealt with Welch’s passing by simply doing some minor script rewrites to eliminate Peter Gregory’s scenes by just having the character exist off-screen. It was unclear going forward, however, how they would deal with the character moving into Season 2. Would they just continue to just have the character exist off-screen as a running gag for the entirety of the series? It was a difficult position they were put in.
Last night’s Season 2 premiere wasted no time in resolving Welch’s passing by having the character of Peter Gregory meet his untimely death during a hippo incident while on safari. It was done with just the right amount of humor and poignancy, resulting in a perfect tribute to both the character and the man who played him. Entertainment Weekly spoke to Mike Judge, producer Alec Berg, and some of the cast about how they arrived at the decision and the process it took to successfully pull off:
“We loved the character so much that maybe there was a way to have the character still exist even though Chris isn’t going to be able to play it. And then it felt like it was a much weaker version of what Chris was doing with it, and it wouldn’t be satisfying…. Ultimately, we decided that that was a lot of trickery, and fans know that he’s never going to come walking back in the door, so let’s not pretend there’s a possibility that that will happen, because it would just be disappointing. At that point, we knew we’d have to do it in a way that feels appropriate and is funny, but not creepy or manipulative or insensitive. If you’re going to write a character off a show, you can do horrible things to him. But the fact that the guy who played this character has passed away, whatever you’re doing to the character, you’re doing, in a sense, to a real person, so you have to be very careful.”
To that end, Judge shared their ideas with Welch’s family. “I talked to his mom and wife and sister, and they said, ‘I hope you make it funny,” he says. “That’s what we tried to do—find a balance but also pay tribute.” Berg, meanwhile, sought advice from some producers from other shows on which an actor had died. “Everybody had the same thought, which is, ’You have to be sensitive, but you also have to be funny because you’re a comedy show,’” he says. “You’ve got to honor the memory of that actor by making their departure really funny and enjoyable. So there was a lot of pressure—not just to do it in a tasteful way, but to actually make people laugh, and they can go, ‘Oh! The last moment dwelled on that character was one that we really enjoyed.’”
The entire piece, which also goes into detail about how Peter Gregory’s funeral was influenced by Steve Jobs funeral, is worth a read. While Welch’s passing could not have been handled better, it’s still difficult to imagine what could have been had we not lost such an incredible actor.