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In Season 5 of HBO’s Veep, we’ve gotten to see a new side of Tim Simons’ Jonah Ryan, the self-inflated verbal punching bag who just earned a Congressional seat in New Hampshire. “Jonah’s never had to have a public face before,” Simons said in our recent live Emmy Talk on Facebook. “He’s always been a behind-the-scenes person …. that nobody has ever cared to talk to. So he’s never had to censor himself. He’s never had to behave in any particular way. He’s never even really ever had to be nice to anybody or think about making a show of being nice. So to play his public face with voters, to see him trying to be nice to people and having it, of course, fail, that was a challenge to find that. Because the go-to with him is just be horrible.”
What was his inspiration? “I think it was sort of like Ted Cruz. Just pretend that you are a human,” he said. “Think to yourself, ‘Well, what would a human being do?’ I feel like that’s what Ted Cruz does, it’s just that it always comes off that he clearly has no idea how to just act like a regular human. So it all comes off very creepy. I would say that was the thing: he has no ability to do it, but he tries really hard.”
The beautiful thing about Jonah’s shockingly successful campaign was that the insults thrown his way only got worse, courtesy of his rainmaker uncle (Peter MacNicol). “He has a particular flair, and a particular underlying rage and anger with his insults,” Simons said. “With everybody else in seasons past… you have a feeling that there’s rarely any anger behind them. It’s mostly just a clinical detachment that they have where they just make fun of him. The emotion goes away immediately. But with him, it’s rage and anger, and you kind of get the sense that that’s how he has controlled the New Hampshire voters for so long and how he wields so much power.”
When Simons looks back on Season 5 — which airs a brilliant penultimate episode June 19 that includes a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Jonah’s commercials and a peak at how he’s been (mis)handling his newfound fame — he thinks first of the mock debate. “[MacNicol] is telling me to switch places with Sam Richardson, who plays Richard, and I start to fight him on that, and it was unscripted that he points to the other podium and says, ‘Shut the f–k up and move!’ That was unplanned, and none of us kept it together. I’m honestly surprised they were able to keep anything from that scene because we did it a few times and all of us lost it every single time. We’re unprofessional.”
His other favorite moments so far? “The backstage speech, prepping when [Jonah]’s angry at Selina for telling us that we’ve just been doing anal with one another. That one I really like,” he said. “And then even though a lot of it didn’t make it into the cut, the scene where he’s giving a speech where everybody’s behind him — and he has a marching band behind him — was just one of the most fun days that I’ve had on set. Because If you put a marching band behind anything, it makes it better. It gives everybody around you the idea that you are amazing at your job if when you finish a sentence a marching band plays. So that day, everybody thought I was a hero.” (He can also claim credit for the Selina-bashing speech line, “I don’t know about you, but my boyfriend’s not a billionaire.” Simons is proud of that one: “Just the cluelessness about of how he sounds.”)
Sadly, the actor didn’t take home any of Jonah’s campaign swag. “I meant to,” he said. “There was a sign that said, ‘Women for Jonah.’ That one I was gonna keep, but I forgot to [take it].” While he hopes it’s in storage and he can grab it when the cast returns to start filming Season 6, the bigger question is: Now that Jonah’s been elected, is there any chance he might actually do some good for his constituents?
“I think there’s always a chance. He’s failed upward into a Congressional seat. I feel like he could fail upward into doing some good. Although it’s one of the Veep-ish things about our show: if you try to do good …. you just get f–ked by it,” he said. “In the sense that when he’s yelling at Teddy [played by Patton Oswalt] in the bowling alley, that might be the best thing that Jonah’s ever done: He is standing up for himself. He’s standing up to a bully. He’s standing up to his abuser. He says that he’s not gonna let that person define him and that he’s gonna work to make sure that that person never is able to do it to another person. It’s the best thing that he’s ever done. And it might be the most honest thing he’s ever done. And it completely f–ks his campaign. He ends up being down 20 points because of it [and Richard’s shotty camera work].”
Watch our full Emmy Talk with Simons above to learn how Michael Jordan’s Basketball Hall of Fame speech inspired Jonah’s revenge-filled victory speech, about the joy of working with Hugh Laurie, why his phone knows to auto-correct the name of one of his favorite actors, Walton Goggins, to all caps, and what children’s show makes him cry. He also answers fan questions about what inspired him to become an actor, his favorite fictional character, and what other HBO show he’d like to have a role on (spoiler: he’d like to play Bobby Cannavale’s character’s cocaine on Vinyl for the screen time).
Veep airs Sundays at 10:30 p.m. on HBO.
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