CHICAGO — “Jonah, you’re not even a man,” begins one of many epic insults hurled in the face of Jonah Ryan, the needling, socially maladjusted pisher of a human on HBO’s “Veep,” embodied with no-holds-barred gusto by actor Timothy Simons. “You’re like a an early draft of a man,” he’s told, “where they just sketched out a giant mangled skeleton but they didn’t have time to add details — like pigment. Or self-respect.”
Jonah is the guy everyone loves to hate, and Simon’s lanky 6-foot-5 frame is invariably the butt of the joke some way, somehow.
“That clown car got a giant clown in it,” observes a character as Jonah drives up in an episode of the current season (airing 10:30 p.m. Sundays).
The vice president’s press secretary (played by Matt Walsh) reluctantly introduces Jonah to his family: “This is Sasquatch.” And then as an aside, letting Jonah know just how welcome he is in the guy’s home: “The edible garbage is out back in the alley.”
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Don’t feel bad. Jonah brings it on himself. He’s the worst. The kind of guy who tries too hard with a hip salutation (“What’s up, young-ass b — — — ?”) or an impromptu insult (“You take that chicken soup and you shove it up your soul!”).
This season his character was fired from his White House job and now spends his days posting a “gossiptainment” Wonkette-type political blog with dubious content. Consider this exchange with one of his interns debating whether or not they should publish an unsubstantiated rumor:
Couch-bound web lackey: “We just don’t know the facts.”
Jonah: “OK, but we just, we put it out there. And then something will arrive that backs it up, right? That’s just Journalism 101.”
It has been an inspired performance these past three seasons, of a character both odious and endlessly entertaining.
When Simons landed the role on “Veep,” it was his first major gig. It has led to appearances in “Draft Day,” the indie drama “Beneath the Harvest Sky” and high-profile upcoming releases that include the screen adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s “Inherent Vice” and a James Franco-Seth Rogen vehicle called “The Interview.”
For the record: Simons is as delightful and unlike Jonah as they come.
Q: I looked up Jonah Ryan’s blog and Ryantology.net does not exist, even as a parody. I can’t believe no one’s snagged that site and done something with it.
A: I know! That’s sort of in a department that’s so far removed from me at HBO, but I’m surprised. Remember when the lights went out at Super Bowl a couple years ago? Within seven seconds there were 15 “Super Bowl Lights” parody Twitter accounts. We live in a world in which whatever you do has a parody account online in moments. So I’m actually surprised someone hasn’t bought the domain name for Ryantology.net. I just figured somebody would grab it. I’m surprised that somebody wasn’t just like, “What, $15? Yeah, sure. (Expletive) it, I’ll buy it.”
Q: This is the first time we get to see where Jonah lives and for a guy in his 30s, that place looks suspiciously like a frat house.
A: It does — and it is. The actual house is a Johns Hopkins, I think, lacrosse frat house.
Q: Wait — really?
A: It absolutely is. And we made that place look better than what it was when we walked in. I’m not kidding.
I got a message from somebody on Twitter who was like, “Hey, I just want to let you know I’ve thrown up on that couch you’re sitting on.” And I wrote him back and said, “If that’s true, please don’t tell me that!” And then he wrote back, “And I know somebody that got really drunk and thought it was the bathroom.”
So that couch that I have to sit on, that you see me on all the time — I think they put a blanket over it for our safety. That couch has caught both urine and vomit. It’s very glamorous.
Q: Jonah brings so much negativity on himself, but I like to think of him as the Unsinkable Jonah Ryan. No matter how many people knock him down, he’s always able to blow it off.
A: I think there really is something to that. I think that his parents did a really good job raising him in one regard, and that was “Believe in yourself.” They fully instilled that in him — but they forgot to do anything else. I’ve always gone with this idea, since the beginning, that when he is confronted with someone who is trying to knock him down, he’ll never look inward and think, “Wow, I’m a serial sexual harasser.” Or, “Wow, I say remarkably awful things to people.” He will look at it as: When you are a powerful and intelligent person, people are always trying to knock you off the throne. They’re jealous that you’re king!
Q: How was he described in the first script?
A: In the first script he was short, fat and bearded. And when he got angry he was supposed to have a really high voice, I remember that being a note in the character breakdown. And also a lot more frazzled. More burnt-out because of how busy he was.
I definitely was not Jonah-esque in my confidence. When I went in, I really just thought it was way too big of a part for somebody like me to get. I had never been on television before. So I felt like, there’s no way I’m going to be on a show with Julia Louis-Dreyfus that’s created by Armando Iannucci on HBO. Like, that will not happen.
The thing I was confident about was, I felt like this is in the wheelhouse of things that I think I’m good at. It’s comedy just played completely straight.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Well, “Veep” just got picked up for its fourth season, so we go back in production this fall. I’ll be shooting a movie in Atlanta. (He plays an inept police officer in the just announced film adaptation of the children’s horror book series “Goosebumps” for Sony.) This whole past week has been completely surreal. I feel like a total jet-setter because I flew to New York (to do Letterman) and then I’m going to D.C. for the White House Correspondents Dinner on Saturday and honestly, not to be too Jonah-y about it, but I get to go be in the same room at the president of the United States. I literally cannot believe it. I’m just going to pretend like we’re old friends.
Q: Do you feel like you’ve made it?
A: (Pauses) Hmm. No. I’ve got Midwestern parents and I grew up in New England and — I don’t think there’s any point ever, maybe it’s the Chicago work mentality …
I’ll believe I made it when I’m 100 years old and I’m still able to get work and they’re about to put me in a coffin and I’ll be like, “Yeah, OK, it went all right.” But until then, I’m not saying it.