Zach Cherry is that guy. Yeah, that one. The one who helped Kieran Culkin design a theme park ride in Succession’s second season. The bookstore clerk who somehow survived Penn Badgley’s serial killing psychopath in Netflix’s You. The rep for a struggling comedian in HBO’s Crashing. He’s voice animated characters, done stand-up with New York’s UCB crew, and served as a bit of comic relief in a couple of Marvel Cinematic Universe entries.
Cherry’s often been the funniest character in the background of some really great TV shows, but with Severance — Ben Stiller’s workplace thriller coming to Apple TV+ this Friday – he takes on a bigger role. Acting opposite Adam Scott, John Turturro, Christopher Walken, and Britt Lower, Cherry plays Dylan, a driven, competitive employee at a company called Lumon. He’s undergone a procedure known as severance that splits his consciousness so that when he’s at work, he doesn’t remember anything about his home life and when he’s at home, he can’t recall what he did at work that day. Dylan’s reasons for being severed are as mysterious as the show itself but Cherry’s unique comedic timing means he’s normally earning the most laughs on screen.
Uproxx spoke with the star about the show’s central mystery and why he wanted to know as little as possible about his character going into it.
Let’s start off by giving you props. You’ve got a really good track record of picking TV shows that end up being fantastic. Succession. You. Now Severance. Is there something you’re looking for that all of these shows have in common?
I’d say the main thing they have in common is that they hired me. [laughs] No, they’re all things that I’ve been excited about for various reasons. Either the material is really good or it’s like with Succession — I loved the first season. So I was like, ‘Yeah, I’d love to do this.’ With You, it was a very interesting premise, and the book was fascinating and left me feeling a little icky. That’s kind of what the show does. And with this, obviously, the script is really good, but then also knowing who was involved, I was like, ‘Man, I would love to work with all these people.’ So it’s always a combination of things, but I have been very lucky.
Your character, Dylan, starts off as one of those co-workers. He’s very competitive.
Yeah, he starts as a little bit of a business bro type.
Does that change as he uncovers more about the company he works for?
I think … he’s all about his numbers and he’s friendly around the office, but he kind of doesn’t give a shit. He’s just there to earn his perks — the waffle party, the erasers, the caricatures. But I think Helly’s [Britt Lower] presence shakes all the characters up. She kind of brings them together and as they start to learn more about what’s going on, he does kind of, I think, embrace his connection to the other people at the office, especially with Helly and Irving [John Turturro], he starts to open up to a little bit more.
He’s got a very millennial mindset at the start.
I think so. He wants to succeed, but he doesn’t really give a shit about the company. He’s there to get out of it what he needs.
After bingeing the season, I understand why everyone else chose to undergo severance … except for Dylan. Why would he want to do something like that?
The truth is, I don’t really know exactly why yet. I have some ideas. Early on, Dan [Erickson] and Ben [Stiller] asked how much backstory I wanted to know and I said not a ton because, for most of the season, we only see Dylan as an Innie. We only see him at work. He doesn’t know who he is. So I was like, ‘Well, I don’t really need to know until that becomes relevant.’
I think he connects with this ability to not really know what he’s like outside of work, so he can tell stories about who he might be. He could be anyone. He can tell himself that he’s this like a riverboat mogul, or whatever. He has all these ideas. I think he probably was drawn to that element of this – the ability to kind of fantasize a little bit.
You said ‘yet’ so does that mean there’s a plan for more seasons because I think we still need answers to some questions by the end of this.
I agree. I think there are some questions that are left hanging. I also know that Dan did so much world-building where there’s stuff that we know that may never come up in the show. There’s so much detail that you could ask him a question about the family that runs the company, the Egans, like, ‘Oh, what happened to Uncle Eagan 60 years ago?’ And he has an answer.
If severance were real, what would be the pros and cons?
It’s mostly cons. I think the pros are largely hypothetical. It seems like it would be nice, especially if you’re in a really tough situation at home and it’s affecting your ability to work, and you’re like, ‘Man, if only I could just kind of like leave that aside and focus.”‘It seems appealing in that sense. But I think in general it is mostly cons and you kind of see that on the show.
Are there any jobs you’d like to forget doing?
I don’t know if I have any specific memories I would like to forget. I’ve definitely had jobs where I wish I could fast forward the day. The ‘I’m here for eight hours but I finished my work in about two and a half,’ kind of thing.
After filming this show, do you think the whole idea of a 9-5 day job should just die?
[laughs] I don’t know. One thing that the characters on the show deal with is, to them, it never feels like they leave work because they only exist at work. And I think for a lot of people who have started working from home, they’ve probably started to feel that kind of vibe because you don’t get that separation. In some ways, I’m almost like, ‘Hey, I want to go back to an office.’ But it does raise a lot of questions about that, especially with how work is changing right now.
You’re working with Adam Scott, Christopher Walken, John Turturro, Ben Stiller – all incredibly skilled comedic actors. Did you learn anything while on set?
Oh, a lot. The scenes we were doing weren’t always funny, but there was a sense of playfulness in the approach that I think kept everything light and also let us discover things. John, I would pick up some tidbits from him. He taught me that if you want to be able to go home early, you can try and suggest that your character gets up and goes to the bathroom. And then you’re not in the rest of the scene. So, I picked up little tricks of the trade.
Which workplace is worse: Lumon or Waystar Royco?
I would say probably Lumon. With Waystar at least you know a little bit more of what you’re getting into. At Lumon, the possibilities are still quite limitless. Who knows, it could be even worse