Interview: Timothy Simons is nothing like Jonah on ‘Veep’

Timothy Simons repises his role as Jonah on the third seasons of "Veep." Credit: Getty Images
Timothy Simons repises his role as Jonah on the third seasons of “Veep.”
Credit: Getty Images

Timothy Simons has become legendary as Jonah, the statuesque, weaselly, profoundly boobish West Wing staffer on “Veep,” HBO’s hyper-profane government comedy. No one on the show much likes anyone else, but everyone hates Jonah. (One particularly unprintable jab his way may be the greatest on not only “Veep,” but creator Armando Iannucci’s other government comedies, “The Thick of It” and the film spinoff “In the Loop.”)

In real life, Simons is friendly, polite and soft-spoken, and soon to appear in “Draft Day,” the Seth Rogen co-directed “The Interview” and Paul Thomas Anderson’s film of Thomas Pynchon’s “Inherent Vice.” The third season begins with a surprising twist for his character, about which we’ll keep shtum.

It’s pretty shocking what happens to Jonah in the first episode.

One thing I really like about Armando is he likes shaking things up. I think he just gets bored. I think if it was another year of just Jonah coming in from the West Wing and saying something stupid as he walks through the door, then maybe people would get tired of it.

Chris Addison, who was on “The Thick of It” and in the film “In the Loop,” has talked about reading the scripts and being shocked to find insults that essentially describe him, not just his character.

It is a little bit strange seeing insults tailor-made for you. I’m sort of an odd-looking guy. Every once in awhile there will be an insult about how I’m odd-looking. In my brain, I’ll be like, “Oh, that’s a really great insult to Jonah,” without realizing it’s me. Jonah’s face is my face. They are kind of making fun of my face, you know? But they’re usually just too funny to ever take as personal insult.

Do you think Jonah has changed over the run?

He’s actually gotten to be a little bit more savvy as he’s been there. When he started he was all bluster and he had no idea what he was doing. He’s been there long enough he can consider himself a bit of an elder statesman. But he’s just as much of a s—head. His wardrobe has massively improved. He’s been around long enough that he’s managed to copy what other people wear a little bit better. He’s such a brown-noser. He that guy would go buy a new coat because he saw his boss wear it.

He seemed to have a couple moments of self-awareness last season, especially as everyone was really giving it to him.

There are times when I feel like even Jonah can’t have a total lack of self-awareness. I don’t think he’ll ever be totally self-aware. That wouldn’t be funny.

The show has a hectic pace. What’s it like being in the middle of that as you shoot it?

We have a 28-minute show. Our scripts are normally between 45 and 55 pages. We’ll film all of it, and they just hack it down, which is why they ultimately end up so dense. We’ve all learned not to get too attached to any jokes or any moments, because they may end up on the cutting room floor.

One of the writers, Ian Martin, who also wrote for “The Thick of It” and “In the Loop,” is often referred to as “the swearing consultant” — the guy who punches up the swearing. Is that true?

I think he hates it. I think he hates being this sort of mythological creature — this mythological swearing consultant. In fact he’s just one of the staff writers, and he’s amazing. It’s almost too small a title for how good of a writer he is. He has a particular biting wit when it come to insults. But there’s a shared ownership of the scripts. Everybody gets to throw their stuff in. Every once in awhile there will be a great joke and you ask who wrote it, and sometimes the writers can’t remember.

What kind of research did you do?

When we were shooting the pilot we took a big cast trip up to D.C. We were given a tour and we did a lunch with some consultants and lobbyists. A few of us would take the staffers out for drinks. We’d get them drunk and get them to tell the bad s— about their jobs.

Did you base Jonah on anyone?

I’ve never met a Jonah, because in those situations when we’d go out for drinks, you’re never going to invite a Jonah, because you know he’d ruin it. No one would ever admit to being a Jonah. A Jonah would say he was a Dan [the more dashing staffer, played by Reid Scott]. I’ve had to piece him together from ideas and stories of bad behavior. I’ve never actually seen one up close.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge


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