When the stars and current showrunner of Veep took the stage at SXSW this year to discuss the show’s sixth season, Matt Walsh’s castmates gleefully kept referring to him as “Spicey.” The reason, of course, is that Mike McClintock, the character the 52-year-old comedian and actor plays on the HBO sitcom, has some real life competition for most unqualified White House Press Secretary in the form of Sean Spicer.
It’s a fun comparison but one that falls short thanks to the innate likeability that Walsh brings to his character. Unlike almost everyone else on the show (and Spicer, if we’re being honest), it’s not hard to actively root for McClintock. And as this sixth season got underway, it seemed like he was finding some peace of mind, being a stay-at-home dad to his evil adopted daughter and young twins.
“I love that Mike has some joy outside of work, which is rare for a Veep character,” Walsh says, speaking from his home in Los Angeles. “But it’s complicated by this drive to want to stay involved. He’s not sure if he can survive outside of D.C. He’s played Mr. Mom and he’s experienced what’s it like to be retired and he doesn’t necessarily want to be at home.”
Like all the successes in Mike’s world, though, he was able to get himself back in the game almost by accident. At the end of last season (which was recently released on DVD and Blu-ray) the character was about to be replaced, but he’s back in the fold, helping the now ex-President Selina Meyer craft a memoir with the help of the diary he kept during their time in the White House.
If the character and the actor are reflective of each other in any way it’s the fact that job stability is difficult to come by in both Hollywood and Washington. Especially for Walsh, having a steady gig like this one isn’t something he’s entirely accustomed to. After the cancellation in 2000 of Upright Citizens Brigade, the Comedy Central offshoot of the improv troupe he founded with future Parks & Recreation star Amy Poehler and Key & Peele producer Ian Roberts, the former Chicagoan has been in a variety of short-lived series and picked up plenty of small roles in TV and film. So to have six seasons (with a seventh in the pipeline) of the same character to slip into has been something Walsh has relished.
“It’s nice to have a regular gig for stability reasons,” Walsh says. “But it’s also a real joy to step back into a character every season and understand it a little better. The performances get better and it becomes more nuanced. Plus it’s fun to think of ideas to pitch to the writers. I love trying to find the dumbest thing possible and seeing if I can fit it into the script.”
The attention and acclaim that he’s received for his portrayal of McClintock, including an Emmy nomination last year, has also brought with it some unexpected opportunities for Walsh. In recent years, he’s landed roles in very much non-comedic fare like the 2013 disaster film Into The Storm and the supernatural horror flick The Darkness. He even wound up playing a coach in the videogame NBA 2K17. Cool as those may be, he insists that he’d much rather stick to his lane with funny stuff.
“It’s cool to be in a movie with [Darkness co-star] Kevin Bacon, and if the person directing it is exciting and interesting, there’s plenty of motivation for me to do it,” he says. “But I prefer to do comedy. It’s a better hang and much more fun on set.”
Walsh has had ample opportunity for that as well. He’s got two new movies on the horizon, including the much-talked about Brigsby Bear, where he plays the father of someone kidnapped as a newborn and rescued as an adult (played by SNL cast member Kyle Mooney), and A Futile and Stupid Gesture, a David Wain-directed comedy about the National Lampoon. The latter is perhaps most significant for Walsh as he will be, for the first time, portraying a real-life character. In this case, it’s Matty Simmons, the executive who helped the Lampoon take their subversive brand of humor to Broadway, a syndicated radio show, and several films.
Though he considered himself a “superficial fan” of the Lampoon’s work, Walsh learned a lot more through research and by meeting the real life Simmons.
“Fortunately there’s several books and documentaries and several of the writers of Veep were members of the Harvard Lampoon,” he says. “And I got to talk to Matty for a couple of hours. It’s really interesting to interview the character you’re going to play. But it was much easier than you would expect because all the elements were there. They put together a tremendous cast and replicated everything from the offices to the clothes.”
While Walsh waits for season seven of Veep to go into production, he’ll have much to occupy his time. His podcast UCB Sports & Leisure continues to roll along. He’ll soon begin filming a comedy in Paris with French actress Judith Godrèche. And he also looking to step behind the camera for a third time to film another improv-based film. Better hangs await.
Robert Ham is an arts and culture journalist based in Portland, OR. Read more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.