This guy says goodbye.
After six seasons of playing Richard’s way-too-dedicated right-hand man (and undercover ladies man) Jared on HBO’s hit comedy Silicon Valley, Zach Woods is facing the realization that the end has come. “They’d put out nachos at craft services and I’d start crying,” the actor, 35, recalls of the emotions hitting him during the last week of filming. “It’s like, ‘Why am I crying? I’m just eating nachos.'”
To help him talk through his feelings, EW chatted with Woods about the sixth and final season, which premieres Sunday.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Now that we’re days away from the final season premiere, is it starting to sink again that this really is the end?
ZACH WOODS: Yes and no. In a strange way, doing interviews makes it feel like it’s not over, because that’s been sort of built into the annual ritual of the show for seasons and seasons. But I sort of feel like it’s been sinking in for years that it was gonna end. For the first few years of the show, I was kind of anxiety-stricken, like, “I hope I can do a good job, I hope the show goes well.” And then by probably the third season I started to relax a bit, and once the anxiety ebbed, it was almost immediately replaced by a much nicer feeling, which was an awareness of the impermanence of the whole thing. I remember looking around at the set and just thinking, “This is not always going to be here. These people are not always going to be here. This is a blink and you miss it part of life.” So I’ve been thinking about the end for a while and it helped me not completely miss it as it was happening.
Were you surprised that this was the end, or did six seasons and where you were at in the story always feel right?
It felt like the end to me; I wasn’t surprised. I’m glad that we’re ending it now, even though I will miss it with a brutal intensity. I think it’s better to end at a point where you’re paying off the story in a satisfying way as opposed to just hooking the show up to life support and waiting for its organs to fail. That’s a pretty grim metaphor. [Laughs] I’m a big fan of having do not resuscitate orders on television shows.
What can we expect for Jared in this swan song?
I love this season for Jared. In the first season, when he meets Richard, it’s like a duckling imprinting on a mother duck. And then his evolving loyalty and admiration was really fun to play. It’s hard to talk about Jared as a character without getting a little obnoxious. I always feel so actory and gross when I talk about him, but I do my best to be both honest and hopefully not fully plunge into like barf bag territory. In this season, Jared wants to be close to Richard as usual, but as the company expands, he has less and less access, and his love for Richard and desire to be close to him compromises his judgment and puts Richard and the company in hot water, so he has to commit some act of self-mutilation so that he doesn’t contaminate them with his need. With the disclaimer that we are talking about a half-hour comedy, which is possibly most famous for a giant dick joke, I believe that one of the challenges with loving somebody is subjecting them to your own imperfections. That can be one of the brutal parts of loving someone — you have to allow them access to you in all your disappointing imperfections. I thought it was a really interesting season for Jared, because I think Jared is reckoning with that in his relationship with Richard; with his neediness, with his loneliness, with his inconvenient and sloppy love. It’s funny to me that it’s between a CEO and a COO. So there’s my very barf bag answer.
You joked how the show might be most famous for a giant dick joke, but you guys have always managed to have these big, ridiculous scenes that get people talking, whether it was the dick joke in season 1 or the monkey in season 2. Are there any moments this season that you can’t wait for people to see?
Oh my God, there’s so much. i think this might be my favorite season — I absolutely loved it. And it’s not just because of the vaseline on the lens that can happen when you’re at the end of something. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I think this season includes multiple moments that are equal to or even better than a monkey jerking off.
We’ve got some time before we get there, but how would you describe the series finale?
I was very surprised by it; it is not what I was expecting at all — and it was much better than I was expecting. I thought it was sweet without being saccharin. I don’t know, it’s very hard to talk about this stuff without discussing specifics. As a fan of the show, I found it very satisfying. That’s a boring answer.
People like to be satisfied!
Again, without being arrogant, I will say this: I can guarantee that the finale will be the greatest 30 minutes of any viewer’s — not just TV experience — but of their life. The birth of your first child will seem like a minor car accident in comparison to the joy that this finale brings you.
Season 3 was when you could start to really appreciate your time on the show and prepare for the end, so then what was that last day like on set?
The thing that I’ve said to my girlfriend is that I feel grateful to be so sad. I feel so lucky to be able to feel such an acute sense of loss, because it means that you’ve found something really worthy of a lot of gratitude. I also feel a real appreciation — and this is possibly going to sound Pollyanna, but I really mean it — for the people who watch the show. I have an acting teacher who told me the quote: “An acting performance exists halfway through the performer’s imagination and the audience’s.” Because anything you watch, you bring your own associations and memories and hopes to, so, in a way, the co-creators of Jared and the show overall have been the audience. Beyond just being people who support the show and make the show financially possible, the audience and us have been collaborators, as is the case with every show. Everyone on set could hug, the crew all hugged, the actors hugged, and everyone was weepy and emotional on the last day and last week, but I wish I could include the audience in that, somehow I could extend the group hug that the crew all shared through the television to the people who have cared about the characters, because they are a part of it too. Personally, the funny thing is that you can’t schedule your cathartic moments. I kept thinking, “This scene is the emotional one,” and then you’d get to it and you’d be like, “Oh, that went well, that was fun.” And then they’d put out nachos at craft services and I’d start crying. It’s like, “Why am I crying? I’m just eating nachos.” It’s just so unpredictable. I think one of the tricks of television is that they can sometimes make you think that your emotions adhere to a tidy narrative, but it’s actually much more like you just have these weird spasms of feelings in strange intervals and you don’t really understand it. But it felt very loving and very sad.
Specifically, what will you miss most about playing Jared? You’ve played a lot of characters but none longer than him.
I feel so embarrassed and self-conscious, but in The Velveteen Rabbit, there’s the section where the rabbit asks the skin horse what is real, and the answer is, if you love something for a really long time, like really love it, then you become real. And I feel that is true for characters, and I feel that is the job of actors, to love these fictional people into existence. And that’s also sort of connected to what I was saying about the audience, that their love for the characters also helps. It’s almost like in the middle of Peter Pan when Tinker Bell is dying and they’re like, “Clap, clap, clap, Tinker Bell will survive!” And I don’t just believe this about characters, I also believe it about everything that is loved. Jesus Christ, kill me, I sound like a cult leader. [Laughs] But I do believe that. I love Jared, and I love Richard [Thomas Middleditch], and I love Dinesh [Kumail Nanjiani], and so I’ll miss getting to see them all the time. I’ll keep loving them and I’ll keep loving the guys that play them, but I’ll miss having daily interactions. I also feel like I’ll miss Jared’s goodness. I’ve played a lot of characters who are very insecure and kind of brittle, which I love, because I like those characters, no matter how irritating they may be. But Jared was the first character I ever played who had a completely unselfish — almost to a pathological degree — interest in the well-being of the people he cared about, and I thought that was a really fun thing to play. And then the repression that comes with that, all the screaming in German in his sleep and brief flashes of rage. I guess I’ll just miss loving Richard and loving Pied Piper through Jared’s eyes.
Was it always a delight to get the scripts and see a little new thing from Jared’s past or one of these weird ticks, like the screaming in German in his sleep?
Playing Jared has been like a six-year long Advent calendar of little horrors from his past, where every new script you open up a new morsel of past trauma or mysterious trouble from his long and difficult life.
And the detail about Jared that became so memorable was “This guy f—-s.” Is that something that people just come up to you and say? I can’t imagine how uncomfortable that would be.
My favorite are the guys who are very bashful when they do that. I’ve had multiple people come up and go, “Hey, this guy f—s. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I had to.” And it’s such a bizarre thing to immediately follow with. Then, on the other side, I was walking down the street in New York City and I was passing the musical Matilda and there were all these kids outside and two like drunk finance guys yelled, “This guy f———–s!!!!!!!” And I was like, “Guys, Matilda is letting out!” There were all these kids spilling out on to the sidewalk as these characters from American Psycho scream “This guy f—-s!” That said, I appreciate that they like the show and that they like Jared, as inappropriate as that may have been.
You’ve already wrapped Silicon, but you’ve already moved on to a new HBO comedy with Avenue 5, which stars Hugh Laurie and reunites you with creator Armando Iannucci, who you worked with on In the Loop and Veep. What has that experience been like so far?
I loved it. It’s always hard to know what these shows are going to be like, especially with Armando, because I feel like he builds it in the edit. He collects such a mass of material and then sort of masterminds it into whatever the finished product is. It could be one of those brilliant things but I don’t actually know. I will say that I thought the scripts were so funny and bold. Holy s—, that show is insane. If the show that ends up on screen is anything like the scripts that they wrote, it is ballsy. It’s a crazy show. Also, I’m coming from Silicon Valley, which has been an exceptionally great group of people. I’ve felt so at home, so I sort of gave myself a little expectation adjusting pep talk before I went to Avenue 5, thinking, “Okay, you don’t need this to be like Silicon Valley,” and, of course, no new show could because I was just on it for six years. However, it’s a bigger cast than Silicon Valley and every single person was a premium sweetie. There was no d—head. I just couldn’t believe it — what are the chances that I go from one show to another and both are just populated with these mensch people? But, I don’t know, shoot a whole season and no d—head? Everyone was so nice that it felt suspicious.
We will see what Avenue 5 becomes, but is it ever surreal to look back on all the shows you’ve already gotten to be on? You’ve appeared on The Office, Silicon, Arrested Development, Veep, The League, Better Things. That’s insane.
Yeah — fooled them again! It turns out that some of my comedy heroes are real idiots. [Laughs] The whole thing is so improbable. It’s so unlikely that you get to make a living as an actor. If you make a living as an actor making craven, cynical movies that are like horrible torture porn with people who are assholes, even then you’re still pretty lucky because you’re making a living playing pretend. But to be able to puddle jump from show I love to show I love with people I admire, I’ll use the most Jared metaphor of all time: In The Sound of Music, Julie Andrews says, “Somewhere in my youth I must have done something good,” because she feels so elated to be with Christopher Plummer and the kids. And I actually don’t believe that, I don’t believe I had to do anything good in my childhood, it’s just dumb luck — and I thank my f—ing lucky stars every day that I get to work with all these people.
Silicon Valley returns Sunday at 10 p.m. ET on HBO.