Emmy Talk: ‘Silicon Valley’ Star Thomas Middleditch on Richard Being ‘Stationary, at Best’

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·Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
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Thomas Middleditch (Richard) and Stephen Tobolowsky (Jack) in ‘Silicon Valley’

As we enter Emmy season — nomination voting runs June 13 to June 27 — Yahoo TV will be spotlighting performances, writing, and other contributions that we feel deserve recognition.

Emmy voters wasted little time recognizing the geeky genius of Silicon Valley. Since premiering in 2014, HBO’s tech world gem, which is currently in its third season, has been nominated for back-to-back Outstanding Comedy Series statues, as well as multiple writing and directing awards. But even as the show itself is being celebrated, its hilarious ensemble of cut-ups and code jockeys — including T.J. Miller, Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani, Zach Woods, and Thomas Middleditch — have been left hunched over their workstations.

Perhaps that will finally change with Season 3, which has earned the already-acclaimed series some of its best reviews yet. And Middleditch in particular has had a great year so far, with his alter ego — Pied Piper creator Richard Hendricks — experiencing the demoralization of a “demotion” (to CTO from CEO) and the rise of an unexpected competitor in the middle-out compression space. And the actor tells Yahoo TV that this season has definitely felt like a special year for him as well. “It’s almost cliché that a lot of shows find their stride with a couple of seasons under their belt, but I think this season is really good,” he says. Read on to find out why, even after three years, he never gets tired of seeing Richard fail repeatedly, as well as his real-world reaction to that infamous horse sex sequence.

There’s a moment in the fourth episode of this season where you’re reading the riot act to Stephen Tobolowsky, only to faceplant on his desk. That scene is probably the purest encapsulation of Richard yet.
Yeah! I love that moment. It can be challenging to play Richard, because he’s the emotional weight of the show, and has to have those moments of gravitas. And that sort of takes away from my ability to sit there and do jokes. I always lament about that; I perform comedy, I want to be the funny one! [Laughs] That’s how I am. But then Worrywart Richard comes along going, “We’ve got to get the company back on track.” So I’m always looking for funny, weird or silly things that can happen, and that faceplant sums it all up. He gets to do his thing, and then falls right on his face.

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(HBO)

I’m consistently impressed with how the writers are able to keep what might otherwise be a limited premise moving forward. Just when you think Pied Piper is done for good, there’s a new storytelling avenue that opens up and Richard is usually central to finding it.
[Executive Producer] Alec Berg always talks about that. He worries that the show will fail as soon as the characters succeed. I kind of disagree. I think there’s plenty of insanity to come if they ever get their billions. The absurdity of being a billionaire in Silicon Valley is ripe material. But Alec had a point in that the heart of the show is seeing these guys fail. At the same time, the balancing act is not seeing them fail too much. It’s a testament to the writers’ ability to walk the tightrope of just failing enough.

But even with all his failures, there’s been some real growth for Richard over the three seasons. When I think back to Season 1, he approached life from a place of introverted fear, and that’s lessened somewhat since.
Richard is sticking up for himself a little bit more, but that also opens more doors for him to f–k himself over! [Laughs] All Richard really wants to do is what he’s good at, which is coding. If you go back to the pilot, he’s someone who created this revolutionary algorithm, but he’s guised it under a searchable music interface. And there are people in the tech world who will create something really groundbreaking, but it’ll be hidden under a weird user interface or customer service platform.

That, to me, speaks volumes about Richard. He doesn’t know what he’s created — he’s trying to push some other tangent of it. I remember that in the original draft of the pilot, Gavin Belson offered to buy Pied Piper for $100 million, not $10 million, but we thought there was no way anyone would buy Richard turning down $100 million. Then, of course, in between shooting the pilot and the first season, the Snapchat founder turned down $3 billion! It seems like we can’t out-absurd the real Silicon Valley.

At the same time, I can actually picture Richard turning down $100 million. He’s just enough of an idealist to turn his nose up at that offer.
Yeah, but he’s also not someone who necessarily wants to do good. He has that speech at the end of Season 1 where he talks about not wanting to be like Hooli or another faceless company that placates employees with endless snacks and bicycles. He wants to make the thing that will change the world, but what that is is megalomania! He thinks his thing is so awesome that he wants to be in charge of it. That’s not to say you should be faulted for wanting to have ownership over something you created. But he’s also had opportunities to further his company, but he self-sabotages because they’ve crossed with his motivation to be [the next] Steve Jobs or Steve Wozniak.

It sounds like there’s a version of Silicon Valley where Richard could be the villain rather than the hero.
If your point of view is that it’s best to simply get Pied Piper into the hands of consumers, he’s totally f–king it up! [Laughs] When he was made CTO this season, that position is much better suited to his talents, but he jeopardized it because he perceived what Jack wanted to do as being bad.

What’s in store for Richard for the rest of Season 3?
What he’s dealing with right now is a competitor with the same IP. In the past, other companies would try to get Pied Piper’s middle-out compression, but fall short. Now there’s EndFrame, which essentially has the same compression, and they’re Pied Piper’s direct competition. So he’s got to figure out a way to rally the troops even as his own company is crumbling. He’s taking charge of the situation, but if you’re expecting a changed man, you won’t get that by the end of Season 3. It’s kind of like one step forward and one step back. He’s stationary at best!

Leaving aside yourself, is there someone else from the cast who you’d love to see recognized by Emmy voters?
T.J. Miller is a force, that’s for sure. He won a Critics’ Choice award last year, and gave a great speech. Someone who contributes so much, but ends up with less screentime is Zach Woods as Jared. Every day on set, the entire cast salivates over what little gem he’s going to throw out there that’s totally improvised and weird. Sadly, half of that stuff gets cut just to make time. He’s also by far the most professional and comes to work with his lines memorized while the rest of us are looking at the script between takes.

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You and Stephen Tobolowsky deserve a dual Emmy nomination for the already notorious horse sex scene from this season’s second episode.
That was done with a greenscreen, so we didn’t have to do multiple takes of watching those poor horses have sex. We did watch the video footage a bunch of times to figure out what to react to. Crazily enough, they cut around some even more gross stuff. Horses, man! What’s interesting is that, in the show, you see the stallion finish the job on the mare. What you don’t know is that there’s this other horse that comes in and has sex with the mare to get it ready, and then they yank him out of there before he can complete his business. And that’s how he lives his life! He gets girls ready and gets yanked out. That’s gotta be metaphorical in some way for the show or my character. [Laughs]

Silicon Valley airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on HBO.

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