‘Veep’ Star Sarah Sutherland Talks Catherine’s Documentary


Sarah Sutherland and Clea DuVall in ‘Veep’ (HBO)

Veep fans are looking forward to Sunday’s Season 5 finale, but they’re also still raving about how brilliant the penultimate episode was. The audience was treated to a screening of the documentary Catherine Meyer (Sarah Sutherland) has been shooting inside the White House walls, Kissing Your Sister: The Story of a Tie.

Yahoo TV spoke with Sutherland about what will be remembered as one of the series’ finest half-hours — and whether Selina has seen it.

How long did it take to film this episode?
We did shoot a majority of that episode in a given week, the way that we would another. Although I think it took six or seven proper shooting days, and then we did a leg in D.C., where we picked up specific moments like Kent on the motorcycle, or Catherine’s vantage point from the Turkey Pardoning.

The interviews that Catherine was filming — were you there offscreen for all of those?
I was there for most of them, but in certain cases, I would have to be shooting something else. That episode was so ambitious production-wise, we were often shooting two different scenes concurrently. I was there for Amy’s in its entirety, and I was there for Richard’s in its entirety, which was the first one that we shot. I have a feeling that also, part of why [showrunner/episode director] Dave [Mandel] took the reins sometimes is because I had to keep turning around and laughing silently to the point of tears streaming down my face, to stick with Catherine through this steely demeanor. Obviously, these are some of the most incredible improvisers in the industry, and to get your own private show for all intents and purposes, it makes it very difficult not to break.

That’d be a problem for Bill’s prison interview, where we actually see your reflection.
Oh yeah, that was another one that I actually did. One of the things that was amazing is that on Veep, we shoot so much more than is actually used. I think all together there’s probably a solid three hours of footage from this episode that won’t be seen. When I did the respective interviews with everybody, they were about 20 to 25 minutes long. I can only imagine all the other things that didn’t make it in the cut.

Watching the bonus scenes on the film’s site, I love the extra little nuggets. What did you enjoy learning most?
It was really great to see any of these people outside of the White House, because their identity is so wrapped up in their job. I loved meeting Ben’s wife, and just this idea that he has no idea what’s going on in his family’s life. Seeing Amy, specifically, in the confines of her apartment and realizing that she then has one — a very fascinating, disorienting thing. Also, Catherine being trapped in the closet and overhearing everything happening between Tom James and her mother was a particularly interesting experience to shoot.

Yes, tell me about that.
Basically, they had shot that scene prior. It was Dave on the other side saying the respective lines back and forth and me in the bathroom holding the camera facing me. A lot of the time, we rig it so that I’m positioned in a way that it looks like I’m filming, but there’s actually one of our cameramen there with me. That was one of the circumstances where there was a delicate balance of me figuring out how to play that moment truthfully, and then them having to step in and say, “You weren’t filming your entire face” or “You need to find the crack of light a little bit more.” Our cameramen are brilliant, I surely am not, so thankfully they stepped in. Dave and them had a lot of conversations about how this episode would just really slightly look aesthetically different. I think Catherine’s sense of what looks “professional” is probably very different.

Another great moment for Catherine was seeing her wake up her girlfriend, Marjorie, and having them both be so relaxed and expressive.
I’m so glad you’ve talked about that. That was one of my favorite moments to film. In all honesty, it took all but 15 minutes to do it. I was standing holding the rails on the side underneath the camera so that I could actually get Clea [DuVall’s] eye line. That was totally improvised and just playful. It’s really nice as an actor, after having played this character for so many years, to find that more buoyant, flirtatious side. It’s been really fun to explore what the day-in and day-out of her life outside her relationship to her mother looks like.

What was it like to shoot the scene where Catherine is interviewing Selina and can’t stop crying about her temporary breakup with Marjorie?
That was a really fun one, because what we intended to film ended with Catherine off-camera, and then it was a rare circumstance, where we had extra time to play around. Obviously, the ninth episode, you’re at the tail end of the season and there was a lot to be done. We improvised. Julia [Louis-Dreyfus] motioned for me to step into the shot, and everything that happened after that fact was us just playing around and her saying, “That was great. Let’s do it again, but wipe your snot on me next time, and I’ll be revolted by it.“ The great thing about playing anything emotional in this show is that because it also is a comedy, and it should be funny, you have full license to just be as loud, or outrageous, or unaware of what your face is doing, which is always really fun.

In the bonus footage, there’s a moment where Catherine’s asking both Selina and her dad about their divorce, and Selina blames Catherine for it, saying it’s possible the stress of her acting out her teen angst was not the only cause. Did anything about that mother-daughter relationship come to light during those interviews?
It wasn’t so much that it brought new information to light as much as hammering home what Catherine already knows and has been told her entire life. What’s interesting about the “Mee-Maw” episode, I think, is you start to understand the ways that Mee-Maw has blamed Selina for things that weren’t her fault, to do with her father, and then you see Selina do the same exact thing [to Catherine]. I get the sense that both of Catherine’s parents don’t have proper boundaries, and I imagine they aren’t the kind of people that in the midst of their troubles kept Catherine separate. I’m sure they involved her and blamed her and were very vocal about that. I think, in a lot of ways, that particular breach is something that Catherine is accustomed to. It’s also nice and interesting for the audience to see that kind of backstory.

One of the moments that I loved in the documentary was when Selina, after she loses, ends up posing with the tourists, who applaud her. She keeps repeating, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” I was tearing up. I love that about the show — that I can laugh hysterically at the insults or ineptitude, but still be affected like that. Were you there when that scene was filmed?
No, I wasn’t physically there for that scene. I’m definitely no stranger to the amazing myriad of emotions that Julia is capable of playing in a single moment. I know what you mean. It is one of those surprising things about the show, where it’ll have this emotional moment. It’s very interesting. One of the things that I think is most special about Veep is it makes the audience root for and endears them to a really horrible, narcissistic, acerbic, vile, mean woman. You root for her, and you feel things for her when she doesn’t get them. Even though, if you actually looked at her on paper, she’s not an eligible candidate. [Laughs.] It’s a really interesting duality to play with. The scene in Season 4, between Julia and Tony Hale, where they have their blowout, was one of the most moving, sort of surprising things that I think I’ve seen. I think the scene that you’re describing this season has a similar quality.

Now that the audience has seen the documentary, is that where that storyline ends? Or will it come back into play on the show?
There’s an acknowledgment definitely in the next episode that it exists and Selina has seen it. I think that’s all I can say.

We have seen in a promo that Selina is not handling the loss well, understandably. What can we expect from Catherine in the finale?
I have to speak delicately so as not to spoil anything. I think that, in short, you see Catherine feeling for her mother, but I think you also see evidence that other areas of her life being more full are contributing to her being less connected or meshed with her mother’s emotional response.

I’ve seen you say before that the role of Catherine, originally, was written as someone who would be more combative with her mom. I’m wondering, in your opinion, why she hasn’t fought back over the years?
I think there are moments where you see her try, and I think that there’s the moment in the red dress where she does lash out at her mother. I think you see in the “Camp David” episode her get angry and successfully take distance from her mother. My logic as to why she would stay and not fight back is just that she is smart and she knows better. To have two very narcissistic parents who are very dismissive of her and don’t take her seriously, to understand she’s had a lifetime of that, so she knows that she isn’t going to win. I think she just decides to resign herself, which is where some of her sullen, angry resting face comes from and why she is defeated and probably more of a depressed, sad character. I think a lot of that fight and the things that she wants to say, and wants to be heard, have been turned back [on] in her. I think it’s just knowing that she won’t win. I also think it’s equal parts some weird childlike optimism that one day it might be different that keeps her still there and not moving forward and separating from her mom more. I think she really loves her mom and doesn’t want to make her angry.

Related: Emmy Talk: ‘Veep’ Star Tim Simons on Jonah’s Campaign Highlights

There is something satisfying and poetic about Catherine getting one of the few happy endings we may see on the show this season. How happy were you for her?
It’s really interesting because, obviously, on a certain level, it’s really great to see that happen for the character because a lot of good things haven’t come her way or totally been realized or seen through. It’s interesting, too, that a lot of the good things that are happening then breed this tension between her and her mother — which I think we’re only beginning to scratch the surface of. What that does to Selina, to see Catherine starting to do well… as a keeper of that character, a part of me does feel fearful for what that means in the future. I don’t know that there are many people who are going to be capable of being happy for Catherine. It is really nice to see her start to feel more joy, and also to have an ally in Marjorie.

I spoke with Tim Simons recently, and I asked him if there’s any chance that Jonah might actually try to do something good now that he’s in office. He said there’s a chance, but that usually, if a character tries to do good, you just get f**ked by it. No one gets rewarded for doing good on this show. I can see how your fear is probably warranted.
[Laughs.] That’s very, very funny. It’s probably accurate.

Veep airs Sundays at 10:30 p.m. on HBO.