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article imageReid Scott plays a charming snake in the grass on HBO's VEEP Special

By Mindy Peterman     May 4, 2012 in Entertainment
When Reid Scott was cast as Dan Egan, Deputy Director of Communications for the vice president, he was handed the challenge of making an irascible, ladder climbing jerk likable. The fact that he succeeded was a surprise even to himself.
You may be familiar with Reid Scott from his work on shows like My Boys, The Secret Life of An American Teenager, American Dreams, and more recently the acclaimed SHOWTIME drama The Big C, where he played Dr. Todd Mauer. With his boyish good looks and charming demeanor, casting Scott as a likable fellow has never been difficult. Now on the hit HBO series VEEP he's taken up the challenge of playing a reprehensible yet savvy go-getter who, as unlikable as he is, has what it takes to succeed.
I spoke with Scott by phone recently about his career and the challenges of playing against type.
Where are you from originally and how did you get into acting?
I’m from upstate New York. I guess that’s where I got into acting. As a kid I went to this private school: a Catholic military academy. They didn’t really have the greatest arts program but we did have this one amazing teacher who ran the drama club. We were an all boys school and we would borrow actresses from some of our sister schools and academies in the area. We put on what I felt were some pretty phenomenal plays, albeit at high school level. That was my first taste of it. Then my grandmother, who was a former literature professor at Syracuse University, really encouraged me to pursue it at the college level. So I did end up going to Syracuse University, studying film and theater and combining them into one major. So, yeah, the roots go all the way back to the eighth grade.
You went on to star in My Boys, the first original comedy for TBS, around the time you were doing a multi-episode arc on the ABC Family drama Secret Life Of An American Teenager. Were you working on both shows at the same time?
Not really. I guess I did a couple of episodes of Secret Life during our hiatus between the last two seasons of My Boys. I did a few more after My Boys was already done with. You can’t really do two at the same time. The schedules happened to work out. I could sort of go back and forth but My Boys was my primary gig. American Teenager was just sort of like a nice little side job.
Was My Boys your first big TV role?
No, I had a series before that called It's All Relative on ABC. It only ran one season but that was like my first big, formal gig. It was a blast.
You had a recurring role in the ‘60s era drama series American Dreams.
Sort of. It was kind of funny. I actually played two different characters. I bookended the series. I did the first couple of episodes of the show and I did the last couple of episodes of the show as two entirely different people. The showrunner and I got to be friendly. When he offered me the job as a completely different character, I asked, “Aren’t people going to remember that I played someone [else]?” And he said, “Nah, no one’s going to care.” I know that there were some pretty rabid fans of that show and no one ever even asked me.
Did you enjoy working on a show that was a period piece?
Oh, I loved it. It’s an era that’s so romanticized. Even from the generation that I’m from (Reid was born in 1977), you do feel a connection to it. It was great fun to be able to put on the period clothing, get the hair cut a bit differently and just try to sort of slip into that era. It was really intriguing.
One of your most acclaimed roles was that of Dr. Todd Mauer in The Big C. Did you find it a challenge to portray an oncologist who, while trying to keep his professionalism intact, developed feelings for his patient?
Yeah, it was a little bit because I did a fair amount of research before which only led me to know the professional side of it. I really had to work on my own to find the emotional side to Dr. Todd. The key for me was just to find the place and develop him [to be] as earnest as possible. He really cared very deeply about both sides: his professional relationship with his patient but then his personal relationship almost takes him by surprise. I didn’t want to make it lusty; it wasn’t written that way. It was just that he was so moved by this incredible woman, her spirit and what she represented and how she went about this challenge of her own. He was so enamored. I’ve got to be honest (laughs), as a young actor working off the likes of Laura Linney, that absolutely helped. I was in the presence of one of the great American actresses of our time.
Now you’re in VEEP, where you’re working with Julia Louis Dreyfus, another great actress.
Just fantastic, yeah. I’m counting my blessings here being able to work with two of my favorite actresses of all time.
In VEEP, your character Dan Egan is possibly too smart for his own good. He is somewhat of an annoyance to vice-president Meyers (played by Dreyfus) yet is an essential part of her team.
It’s definitely fun to play the snake in the grass role. Most of the characters I played in the past outside of CSIs, where I tended to play the bad guy or the creep, I never really had the opportunity to sink my teeth into someone you love to hate. It’s been a great experience. It’s been this place that I can go where I can exorcise my own demons through this vicious, vicious character.
It’s been great getting inside his head. I drew from a few things. I did a lot of research for this role and interviewed a few people with this actual position. There are a great number of parallels between the inner workings of politics and the inner workings of Hollywood. Much like the vice-president has her little team, the actors and producers and directors out here have their little team. While each member of that team serves a different purpose, you have the person who might coddle you, stroke you or make you look good, make you sound good, you also want that shark. You want the person who can go out there and do the dirty work, roll up their sleeves, grease the right palms, all that kind of stuff. That tends to be the more interesting person. You don’t really like this person but you couldn’t get by without them. It’s kind of funny how we live in this world that we really do wish that we didn’t have to have this kind of person in our lives. Yet we’re so glad we can find that person who’s willing to do those things because it makes your life so much easier. I keep referring to [Egan] as one of the sharper tools in her toolbox. He also happens to be a massive tool himself.
That’s true but, in a very strange way, he’s likable.
Thank you. That was the challenge for me. How do you take this guy who’s voracious and Machiavellian, such an upwardly mobile ladder climber, and still make him human? I couldn’t tell you how I managed that but it’s working.
Armando Iannucci (VEEP 's creator and executive producer) has produced and written for some extremely quirky shows, most notably the U.K. Steve Coogan Alan Partridge classics. How was it working with Iannucci and were his methods at all different from what you’d experienced before?
It’s amazing working with him because his methods are actually so different. You’re not going to find a more intelligent man on the face of the earth than Armando Iannucci. He’s literally scholarly. Despite his background of such a rich, steep education, he really approaches this with a cutting edge, a breath of fresh air.
He relies very heavily on collaboration and a lot of improv, which is why he is attracted to the actors he has worked with, be it Peter Capaldi or Steve Coogan and now Julia Louis Dreyfus, people who have a strong improv background.
In our process we had an unprecedented amount of rehearsal time. Getting ready for the series, we actually had two weeks in London with all the writers and producers working very intensely, five, six, seven hours a day on the scripts. What we would do would be to take the scripts and work the scripts, find the holes so we could plug those up. Then we could play with its strengths. Then [Iannuci] would turn it over to the cast and say, “Okay, let’s improv it now. Don’t look at the script. Just deliver the scene using your own words. Go way off the beaten path, go way outside the box.” The next day the writers would have issued the scripts with a lot of our improv. So we developed this circle of trust. They trusted us to take the material, digest it, internalize it and give it back in our own voices. We then trusted that they pay attention to what we were doing and start to write to our strengths and write to where we wanted to nudge the characters in general. This wonderful feedback of communication and mutual trust and admiration between the writers and producers and actors developed really quickly.
We had some time off and then came back to D.C. and Baltimore where we shot the series, then had another ten days or so of rehearsal to refine everything yet again. Even when we were shooting, we would shoot it as written, which by that time had been rewritten thirty times. We’d shoot it as written and then he’d turn it over to us again so we could improv the scenes again with the cameras running to try to get those reactions and those little moments that seem so real, which is what in my estimation makes the show “pop” the way it does. It feels awkwardly and very uncomfortably natural. That’s all because Armando is the brilliant chess player that he is. He sees all these moves so many moves ahead and he can slowly direct and massage the piece into the place he wants it to be. It’s been a masterclass to see him at work.
VEEP airs Sundays at 10 PM on HBO.
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