There must be something presidential about the gangly actor Timothy Simons: He got his big break playing Abraham Lincoln in a memorable 2010 GEICO commercial, and now, as Jonah Ryan on HBO's acclaimed "Veep," returning for its seventh and final season Sunday, March 31, he's a candidate for the highest office in the land. But it's not exactly the land of Lincoln. "You have the second-lowest vaccination rate in the nation!" Ryan exhorts a campaign-rally crowd. "And when I am elected president, you will be number one! "
Born June 12, 1978, in Augusta, Maine, and raised in the small-town suburb of Readfield, Simons found his vocation as a youth. Graduating with a theater degree from the University of Maine, he eventually moved to Chicago and its vaunted theater scene. Shortly after marrying his wife Annie in June 2008, Simons moved to Los Angeles and spent two lean years until his commercial, "Honest Abe," got him attention that led to "Veep."
The actor, whose film credits have since included "The Interview" and "Inherent Vice" (both 2014) and "Goosebumps" (2015), spoke by phone with Newsday contributor Frank Lovece.
Former White House aide Jonah Ryan, this supremely clueless and comically venal character, is running for president. What does he stand for?
He cares about succeeding at all costs and he cares about proximity to power. Those are the only things he cares about at heart, and all of his campaign promises are really just about that.
So it's a documentary.
(laughs) It's a sobering documentary! … As much as people are going to point to Donald Trump [as a model for candidate Ryan], for me Jonah has always existed much more in a Ted Cruz world. He's just this universally loathed person but somehow — somehow — he's just charmlessly, ungraciously failed himself into a position of power, and it's just obscene.
There's a lesson.
Yes, we can all be miserable and untalented and still end up doing OK!
How hard is it for the show's writers to come up with ideas more absurd than what we see daily? Was there ever a time they said, "No, we can't do that, nobody'd believe it," and then that thing happened in real life?
We do pat ourselves on the back for the "Veep" crystal ball, for lack of a better term. The writers have historically tried to get together and think, "What is the dumbest thing a politician can do?" And then invariably before the episodes airs, that exact thing happens. And when it airs people think we stole it, that we ripped it from the headlines. And usually that's not the case — we were just trying to think of something that's so stupid no politician would ever do it. It's happened a couple of times already in this [upcoming] season — things they wrote eight months ago that have already come true.
You graduated high school in 1996 and college in 2001; did you take a gap year?
No, I took five years to get through undergraduate school because I didn't really think about the fact I was going to have to graduate college. I was like, "I'll just hang out here and eventually I'll graduate." And I say this not in an alcoholic-dropout way, I say this as someone who didn't care about doing anything except the things that I wanted to do. And what I wanted to do was go to theater classes and rehearse shows and hang out with my friends. And I wasn't interested in anything that didn't fit into that.
We gotta talk about your GEICO commercial [in which he plays Abraham Lincoln being asked by wife Mary Todd if a dress makes her "backside look big," to which the president, afraid to speak, nearly contorts himself trying to come up with something honest but diplomatic].
It's funny: I remember that being the second-to-last take of the day. At one point there was almost a monologue that I delivered, sort of rambling, that gets to the same point. And then I think the director [Frank Todaro] came in and just said, "Try to do that whole thing without talking." I hope I'm remembering this correctly, but I just remember that whole take being something we kind of grabbed at the end of the day. And it just won out over all the stuff that we worked on.