As regular readers of this site know, we’re huge fans of Veep around here. And of the show’s legion of memorable characters, there’s probably not one we enjoy more than Jonah Ryan, the dickish White House aide turned bomb-throwing blogger as editor-in-chief of Ryantology portrayed masterfully by Timothy Simons. We were lucky enough to get to spend some time chatting with Simons recently. He talked about his life before and after Veep, his favorite break-up song and his favorite Jonah insult, among other things.
TIM: Hey man. How’s it going?
UPROXX: Excellent. How are you?
TIM: Doing really good.
UPROXX: Sounds like it.
TIM: I get so many comments from people about things that have come up about the show on your site. I have a lot of friends that are on your site a lot. That feels good.
UPROXX: That’s great. I like to think that we were on the Tim Simons/Veep train a long time before anyone else was. And it’s been fun to watch your character develop and I really am enjoying the hell out of Jonah becoming a blogger after getting fired from his White House staff gig. How do you feel about the turn of events in his storyline there?
TIM: You know, I love it. For a lot of different reasons and I think it’s really funny. Also because as a performer it’s just like you, you don’t want to ever get caught in doing the same thing over and over again. You want things to develop. You want things to change and I feel like it’s allowed me to show different things. So it’s been really fun. But you’re nervous. You want to be able to do different things but I remember being really nervous when it first happened. Because it was like, well this is something that really is different than what I’ve been doing for the last two years, which I think we all thought had been working.
UPROXX: So you were worried you might be getting written off the show, I’m guessing? That’s what I, as a viewer, had become mildly concerned with.
TIM: Yeah, sure. But at this point I feel like they would have told me if I was getting written off the show. So when I first read it, I was like, “Well this definitely gonna be different.” But I was confident in that I wasn’t going to be completely replaced. However, it was strange because you kind of get that comfort of, “Well this is definitely working” and so it’s sort of scary to go into unknown territory. But that sort of (lone renegade blogger) reporting is kind of part and parcel with politics these days, so it just makes sense to introduce a character like that.
UPROXX: I thought it was a really, really brilliant plot twist, for lack of a better term. especially from the standpoint of a viewer who really enjoys Jonah’s unrepentant dickishness. You take him out of the White House and you take the behavioral restraints of having a White House job off of him and he’s even more out of control and out there and an even bigger thorn in the side of Selina and all of her staff.
TIM: He’d been rejected but now he’s in charge at Ryantology. Jonah doesn’t have the perceived power that he thought he had at the White House when he really didn’t, but now he has some actual power.
UPROXX: I’ve been a political junkie for a long time and I think one of the reasons that Veep really struck a cord with me was because I had some awareness of how utterly loathsome some of the people in the D.C. power circle are. Did you have any exposure to that before? Were you a political junkie at all or was this a big learning curve for you to try to catch up on who Jonah was, who the people in his world were and so on and so forth?
TIM: You know I was a little bit of a political junkie and I not only tried to keep up on it. The biggest thing that I learned from this was that a lot of politicians will talk but never tell you the truth. And the things that I was trying to keep up on and informed about were the very things that the politicians were putting on about. Like, I wasn’t actually learning what was happening. I was learning what the spin was on what was happening. So in that way I have become a less political person, but someone that is sort of less interested in listening to the spin on events.
UPROXX: So has your part on Veep made you more cynical to politics?
TIM: Absolutely. I still have a reverence for it and I still think that it can be a force for good. But I am definitely a lot more cynical than I was when I first started the show.
UPROXX: I don’t know if you’ll remember this or not, but last year you and I got into a discussion about break-ups and breakup songs via e-mail after you did an UPROXX 20 for us. Somehow it came up that I was going through a breakup at the time and you told me about how you had gone through a really nasty breakup a few years back and how you listened to “Title and Registration” by Death Cab for Cutie on repeat for months after that particular breakup. So I was wondering if you have any other breakup song suggestions that you’d like to share with the UPROXX audience?
TIM: Oh my God. Okay well that’s a really good one. Oh sh*t. Oh that’s just a good question. I want to really think it over – – cause that one was the one for me.
UPROXX: Why don’t you repeat the story of that song to me. Tell me about how you came to discover that song and how it kind of came to be your breakup song, if you, of course, feel comfortable talking about it?
TIM: Oh no it’s fine. I think it was just very much of that time. It was very much — that song was very much about that time in my life for me. You know, I feel like I was such a fan of that Postal Service sound, that aesthetic. I had just moved to Chicago and so I was going through this breakup and I was unemployed. I had just been cast in a big commercial, which had run, and I had gotten some money from that and I was really young and really stupid so I just decided to quit all my other jobs because I figured that I’d get a bunch more commercials and the checks would come rolling in. But then all of a sudden I was broke and unemployed and it was terrible. I remember going to the movies to see Harry Potter — I think it was the third one, which is still my favorite — and I bought a ticket to the early show and I just stayed all day sneaking into other movies because there was a heat wave and I didn’t have air conditioning. The movie theater was the only place I could stay cool. It was terrible.
UPROXX: Since you’re giving a little bit of insight into a period of your life before the show came along, I’m curious: what was your life like immediately before getting cast on the show? From what I remember you hadn’t really been cast in anything big up to that point. You had done a bunch of commercials and stuff like that. But I’m kind of curious for you to describe what your life was like the day before you got the notice that you were getting cast in the show.
TIM: I had been working. I had been pursuing acting at that point for eleven years. Eleven years. It just felt it was natural. I was doing theater and then I came to L.A. and was doing commercials and auditioning for little parts or whatever, that sort of thing.
UPROXX: So you had moved to L.A. before getting the part on Veep, right?
TIM: Yes definitely. I moved to L.A. in 2008. I got cast on the show in late 2010. But like right before that I had had a good run of luck commercially and my wife was working as a teacher. For the first time ever in my life I was sort of content. I always loved working in Los Angeles. People really talk bad about Los Angeles, but I really liked it. My wife and I had an apartment we loved in a neighborhood we liked. We had good friends. We’ve always loved Los Angeles. But for the first time in my adult life I had been, at least for a few months in a row, sort of financially stable. I had been freelancing as a session director and camera runner for a commercial casting company. And I loved that job. I loved the people that I worked with. And I loved the people that I worked for. And I had sort of a run of good luck for that year commercially, booking a bunch of commercials in a row. My wife and I were also starting the process of having a kid. I was sort of happy with how my life was going and sort of achieved one of the goals that I had been going towards. I didn’t do the thing that I did when I was 20 and stupid, which is to quit all my jobs. I just kept running. You never know when it ‘s going to dry up. But I wasn’t in the position where I was like auditioning for two pilots a day and running all over town for meetings. (Veep) was the only pilot I had auditioned for at that point.
TIM: Well I guess maybe that’s not entirely true. I auditioned for some pilots, but never anything this big.
UPROXX: An HBO show starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus is pretty big.
TIM: Exactly. So there was no f*cking way I was going to get it. But I was really nervous and I really wanted to get it. It seemed like such a big thing — a show starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus on HBO. On paper I don’t get that job. There’s no way I’d get that job. So there was that part of me that like, I’d love to get it obviously. Like this would be amazing to work on. But in a way like I was happy with the direction that things were headed in and that I was just getting to audition for it. Even if I didn’t get that job, to me it felt like a win if I was going through the process of auditioning for it.
UPROXX: Tell me about the audition process for it.
TIM: You know, the very first audition I was like, “This is cool!” Allison Jones was the main casting director and she’s done some legendary stuff. And she’s calling me in for a part that is much bigger than a one or two line part. So that means she believed that I could do it. She wouldn’t call me in otherwise. So then when I got called back for a second audition I was like, “Well this is going to be a good learning experience.” Then I’m going in and talking to producers and then when I got called to the network casting place, I thought, “Well I’m not getting this job. No way.” You know I guess I’ve always tried to look at it like that. Honestly, when I was driving away I remember thinking to myself, “I wonder what it’d be like to get this?”
UPROXX: You’re talking about after the final audition here?
TIM: Yeah the final audition. Like, I knew I wasn’t going to get it, so what lesson can I learn. I’m not getting it. Of course I’m much happier being with the show and being able to work with this cast and work with these sort of legendary comedy people. But I do feel like the day before things were going well and things were heading in the right direction. So in a way I was kind of happy the day before.
UPROXX: Obviously your life has changed much for the better since then. I read in a New York Times piece that you got a part in Paul Thomas Anderson’s next film and you’re in an upcoming Seth Rogen flick. So you’re getting film roles and you know this is a show that everyone who is anyone in comedy watches. I’m sure you’re recognized on the street all the time. So I guess it’s safe to say that your life has changed pretty dramatically?
TIM: You know it has. It’s really funny how the timing of all this stuff’s worked out. Like it’s such a different experience than the one I was having four year ago when we were filming the first season, because at that point it’s just our cast and our crew that knows you. Nobody knows about the show. So what you have, like I had this amazing experience of working with these people and there’s a strange sort of in between time when nobody had seen it. Also, our kids were born right when I was done filming my first season. They were born very early. And so I got off the plane having wrapped up the first season and they were born sort of unexpectedly 12 hours later. So I had this massive change career wise, but it was also a massive change just in my day to day life. But yeah it’s been a strange and odd thing. To be able to do this for a living, which is what I’ve always wanted to be able to do, and to work with people like (Veep creator) Armando (Iannucci) and Julia — it’s flabbergasting. I mean, the fact that I was able to work Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg and then had the opportunity to be on the set with Paul Thomas Anderson. It’s just…I mean, like this is stuff that I would never have thought would have happened to me. I don’t know. It’s been really fun.
UPROXX: One final question: What’s your personal favorite insult that’s been lobbed at Jonah by the other characters on the show?
TIM: You know there have been a lot.
UPROXX: Yes there have been.
TIM: You know, it’s really hard to narrow it down. Sometimes it depends on my mood, which one I’ll say is my favorite. But you know sometimes the really swearing ones or the really gross ones like Jolly Green Jizzface — that one has always been a hit.
UPROXX: Of course.
TIM: But then the other night I found myself laughing so hard at “Hepatitis J.” I just, I f*cking love it. When Reid said that line I just f*cking lost it.
UPROXX: He delivers it so well too. There’s so much to be said for the delivery.
TIM: Oh I know, SO WELL! And I didn’t know it was coming! I think Reid had come up with it on his own and just threw it out there and I f*cking lost it. And I really found myself laughing hard at Julia saying, “Jonah with money? Jesus Christ that’s like if Hitler could fly.”
(This interview has been edited and condensed.)