'Veep': Timothy Simons Breaks Down the Series Finale and Where He Thinks Jonah Is Today (Exclusive)
By Paige Gawley
Warning: Spoiler alert! Do not proceed if you have not watched Sunday's series finale of Veep.
After seven seasons of laughs and delights, Veephas come to end.
On Sunday, the long-running HBO comedy aired its final episode -- a 45-minute love letter to a show that never held back on crude humor, dark realities or perfect insults. Among the characters who was consistently the butt of everyone's jokes? Timothy Simon's Jonah Ryan.
Jonah started out a lowly White House aide and ended his upward climb as an impeached vice president during Selina Meyer's (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) presidency. Jonah's rise and fall from the top was full of twists and turns, from him being ignored by virtually everyone to garnering support through a quasi alt-right movement full of anti-vax propaganda, a war on math and a general lack of decency.
ET spoke with Simons following the Veep swan song, where he discussed Jonah's fate, what he envisions his character doing today and the show's lasting legacy.
ET: I’m so sad to see Veep end because I love it, but I think it was a perfect finale. It was satisfying without pandering and felt earned, but was still unexpected. What elements went in to accomplishing that?
Timothy Simons: Oh man. I mean the credit for all of that goes to [executive producer] Dave [Mandel] and to the writers and to Julia. That’s where all the credit for that goes. The thing about it is Dave and Julia have really high taste levels and Julia’s been through series finales before. She knows what goes into them. She’s landed big planes like this before. I know that there was a lot of thought and a lot of consideration given to what it should be. So all credit goes to them.
As far as Jonah’s ending, the only thing he cared about was proximity to power. Whatever it was, I always wanted his last scene to look like that... I love that the last scene he’s in, is he’s outside the Oval Office trying to argue his way in. That’s all he’s ever cared about. He has no fixed ideology, but that’s the only thing he cares about. And I like that it stayed true to itself.
In the first flash forward we saw Jonah as the vice president. Do you think what Selina says about that being the safest place where he can do the least amount of harm is true? Do you think he’s actively trying to stir the pot as the VP?
We actually have a deleted scene where you see a little bit of him as vice president. I do agree with her that that is probably the safest place to put him, at least in the world of our show. In our show, the whole premise is that if you’re the vice president, you are the second most powerful person in the world and that it is a completely useless job. That’s the premise of the show on Day 1 and also the premise of the show on the very last day. And I like that that found a way to sort of bookend itself. But I will also say, Jonah’s idiocy is so deep that there is probably a way that he could find to f**k up and really make things bad, even in that worthless position.
We know that he does mess up because, in the second flash forward, we learn he was impeached. What do you think he was impeached for?
I didn’t even know that -- this is true -- Tim, the actor, had no idea that a vice president could be impeached. That was all brand new information for me. So, I have to be honest, it was one of the things that I didn’t even give it a lot of thought about what he might have done. It was just, “He got impeached as vice president. Yep, makes sense.” I really didn’t give it a lot of thought.
How do you think Jonah spends his time out of politics?
Oh man, what does he do? I also was kind of like, I’m going to let everybody else just guess. You can fill in your own blank on what that might have looked like and just how little Selina cared about him getting impeached. She probably helped it along. As far as what his life outside of politics looks like, the whole idea is that you work in public service long enough just to get a high a** title so that you can make a s**tload of money in the private sector. So he probably went on to be a consultant and a lobbyist and he probably does TV hits on Fox News and CNN and he probably made an unbelievable amount of money as a lobbyist.
I know you’re not involved in the scene, but a ton of people have been talking about the moment between Gary and Selina. What do you think about how that scene -- where Selina basically turns Gary over to the wolves to salvage the presidency for herself -- turned out?
Even as somebody who knew it was coming, it was still devastating. The addition of the flossing teeth was discovered on set. I didn’t know that was coming. And that just makes it so much worse. It’s so much funnier and so much worse because of the flossing teeth. That is the only person that it would give her pause to have to give up. Catherine and Marjory [her daughter and daughter-in-law] and anybody else, all of them, she’d get rid of in a heartbeat. But Gary was the only one. It was devastating.
The addition of Jonah's wife, Beth, was such a fun arc. She fit perfectly into that world and complemented Jonah well. What do you think her character brought to the show?
Well one thing is that, the woman that plays [Beth], Emily Pendergast, is truly one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. She is effortlessly funny. She has a lot in common with Sam Richardson and Matt Walsh in the way that you can throw anything at them and they are always able to take it and make it funnier and throw it back. It is an unbelievable skill that she shares with Sam and Matt. That right there is incredible. Emily’s a really special performer and she did such an amazing job with it. They wrote her into every scene she wasn’t in. If they wrote a scene and they realized in the morning that she wasn’t in the next scene up, they’d be like, “Hang out. We’ll find something for you.”
She’s also able to take a pretty crazy premise and ground it naturally so it doesn’t feel absurd. And I feel like that’s why it worked so well, she just really loved Jonah. That’s it. They really liked one another. And I think that that’s the first time that we’ve seen Jonah in a relationship that wasn’t poisonous, where he actually seemed to be enjoying that relationship and the other person wasn’t cynically using him, they just liked him a lot. Because it wasn’t that toxic relationship with people yelling at one another, I think that sort of made it feel different.
Jonah took a turn this season toward becoming Trump-like in many ways. What do you think the most offensive thing Jonah said or did was?
The singularly most offensive thing that he did I think was say that sometimes victims of mass shootings in high schools bring it on themselves. I feel like if you’re talking globally, the most offensive thing that he does is what we see a lot of, which is trying to harness the power of idiots and racists to his own sort of narcissistic end because he has no fixed ideology. He doesn’t care. I mean he even sells out the anti-vaxxers. He’s been on this anti-vaccination truth train and as soon as they all get chicken pox he’s like, "Well serves them right. Serves them right for not getting vaccinated." He doesn’t care about them. I think globally that’s the most offensive.
Off of that, I tried to think of any redeemable qualities that Jonah has and came up short. Do you think there’s anything redeemable about Jonah?
Oh man. He has redeemable qualities, he just forgets them. I do think that he loves Beth very much. I think that’s the only one. He sometimes isn’t even particularly nice to her, but he loves her very much. I think that they actually do have a very good relationship. But, you know, lots of people that are awful have had good relationships. Hitler got Ava to get her to go into the bunker with him. Lots of people have good relationships, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re ultimately redeemable.
How do you balance the awful things he’s saying, but still keep in mind that it’s a comedy and people are really watching it, in part, to escape our current political climate? How do you work that into your role to keep it fun and funny while not minimizing his awful behavior?
I feel like a lot of it is he has no idea why he’s saying the things that he’s saying. If he was a political mastermind and knew why he was saying these things and knew exactly how to manipulate people, then it becomes a lot less funny. But he is ruled by emotion. There’s always that thing of anger isn’t funny, but frustration is funny, so I tried to keep that in mind.
It’s a television show and the audience is able to keep these people at arms' length. Even if they’re doing something that’s awful, the fact that they are not real, that they are at arms' length, and that they will not affect the real world at all, allows people to laugh at some of the terrible things that they do. I do also try to build in enough empathy for Jonah that these things are based on actual, human emotion that people can empathize with. And that that sort of brings them in a little bit. And then the hope is that you can always pull the rug out from under them. They find some sort of empathy and then you immediately pull the rug out.
What's your favorite Jonah insult of all time?
I think up until the finale I would have said, “cloud botherer,” but I think the big one when [Selina's] screaming at me at the very end after I say no to the vice presidency [is my favorite]. I think it’s, “President or nothing? You already are nothing. I’m giving you the opportunity to be remembered for something other than the syndrome they name after you after they cut you open and find out what the f**k you were.” That is so brutal, top to bottom.
What has been the highlight of doing this show for you? What's one day on set that you'll look back on and think about fondly?
After a long week of shooting we would rehearse on Saturday mornings, sometimes [at] 10 a.m. We’d all just be so tired and we’d end up on set with [creator] Armando [Iannucci], the first AD, the writers and the cast just working on scenes. Finding out bits. Working in the space to see how a scene could get better. Or if something wasn’t working, we’d all try [to fix it]. The collaborative spirit of that is sort of the thing that I’m going to remember the most. It was so early on, especially that first season, nobody had seen it, we were building something brand new. The rehearsals with the ensemble, the collaborative spirit of that, that’s the thing I’m always gonna hang on to.
This has been a critically-acclaimed show throughout its seven-season run. What does the from the Emmys, Golden Globes and elsewhere mean to you?
To be able to go to the Emmys, to be able to win -- I think we won three times -- to be able to watch Julia win as many times as she has, it is incredibly special to be able to do that. It’s certainly something that I don’t take for granted because it doesn’t happen for every show. We’ve been able to put on tuxes and get together as a group and have just absolutely, ball out on Emmy weekend and it’s super fun.
Now that Veep's over, what's next for you?
Right now I’m on a job, a limited series that’s going to be on Hulu sometime in the fall that’s shooting in New Orleans [and is] based off of the book Looking for Alaska. It’s a younger cast and a very different tone than our show. It’s very earnest. And on my downbeat from that, I sold a pitch to HBO for a show that I’m writing and starring in if I can get it there. That’s what I’m hoping the next long-term job is.