As Richard Hendricks, the creator of a data compression start-up on Silicon Valley, Thomas Middleditch often has a thankless role to play. While the center of the series, Richard is a constant worrier and very much a straight man to louder characters, such as Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller), an arrogant entrepreneur and partner in Richard's company, and the increasingly zany and subversive Donald "Jared" Dunn (Zach Woods).
"It's always my struggle to keep Richard funny," Middleditch tells ET. "Like, a straight man could just so easily be like, 'I'm worrying, and here's what we have to do in this episode. And that's my purpose.' It was important to me to just keep him funny."
And to his credit, Middleditch has. While Miller or Woods may get loud bursts of laughter, Richard is like a slow burn, becoming funnier and funnier with each season. "That's his journey though, right?" Middleditch notes, defending his character, whom he says starts as"this meek little guy" in season one and by season three, currently airing on HBO, Richard has "a little bit of confidence."
Middleditch credits Richard's evolution -- this season has seen him have meltdowns, confront colleagues with tearfully funny consequences, and become even more neurotic -- over the course of the series to a symbiotic relationship he's developed with the writers. "Now they know where I am as an actor," he says, continuing to remind writers that he comes from a physical comedy background. "Anyone who's been in the improv community and live comedy at that level for the past 10 years would know me as a real hangout, a real physical comedian kind of weirdo guy."
So, when it came time for Middleditch to smash his face into a desk during a confrontation with Stephen Tobolowsky's character in episode four, the 34-year-old actor was more than game to do it. "That is all very much in my wheelhouse," he says.
"I remember there was a stunt choreographer there, like, 'Are you OK? Can I teach you what you want to do? Do you want the stunt guy to take care of it?'" Middleditch says of shooting that scene. "And I was like, 'No. I've been doing this my whole life. I can handle a face plant.' I also remember we had a discussion with the director at the time, Charlie McDowell, I was just like, 'Make sure that shot, that you capture as it is live.' Because I find physical comedy sometimes gets not as funny the more you edit around it or whenever you see that it is CG'd or augmented in some way that at least my brain goes, 'Ah well, he didn't really get hurt,' or, 'I'm just watching a cartoon,' as opposed to that visceral feeling of like, 'Oh man, that looks like he smashed his face.'"
When asked about his favorite scene from season three, Middleditch highlights the face plant, not just for the physical comedy, but what it also meant for his character. "It represents something that's going on with Richard,” he says. "Richard's developed this bubbling temper that, at any moment, can be unleashed because he's just so frustrated with everything."