“Veep” actor Timothy Simons has a conundrum: he’s a nice guy who plays one of the most annoying characters on television. Simons plays White House staffer Jonah Ryan on the HBO comedy — a character who is usually the butt of everyone’s jokes, yet also the one who would make an offensive remark about this sentence.
With Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s Selina Meyer in the White House this season, Jonah has been hired by the current vice president (Phil Reeves) to act as a spy for his team. Unfortunately for Jonah, he’s still a pro at putting his foot in his mouth — and the new Veep’s chief of staff Teddy (Patton Oswalt) can’t keep his hands to himself.
Simons talked to Variety about Jonah’s seeming unceasing ability to take abuse.
How is Jonah still ticking?
Well, he is kind of a cockroach in that way. Nothing keeps him down. He is one of those people who was told he was very special at a young age and he believes that. In spite of all evidence to the contrary, he was told that he was going to do great things. That confidence never wavers even in the face of all of his failures and his lack of skill and talent.
I think, also in the back of his head, he knows he’s protected because of his (high-ranking) uncle Jeff. That blind faith in himself is what helps him get through it.
Why do you think he takes all those insults then?
I’ve always justified that in Jonah’s mind … everybody who insults him, they’re just jealous because they see how much power he has, how much influence he has. They’re just trying to tear him down.
Every now and then, you get a few good zingers in, too. Does Jonah consider the other White House staffers his friends?
I don’t think he considers them friends, but I think he mistakes it for mutual respect. If he would talk to someone else about Mike [Matt Walsh] and Dan [Reid Scott], he’d say, “That’s my really good friend.” But I don’t think he actually believes that. He’d only say that to somebody else as a way of aligning himself with their power.
It is kind of sad though, because I don’t think he has any friends. The only people who are nice to him are his mother and [SPOILER: eventually] Sam Richardson, who plays Richard.
This season, he has really disturbing scenes with Patton Oswalt’s Teddy, who touches him inappropriately.
I feel like it’s one of these situations where you feel like Jonah’s abhorrent behavior makes you question wanting to sympathize with him. He’s such a terrible person, I feel like viewers hate being in a situation where they’re like, “Oh my god, I have to feel bad for him and I don’t f-ing want to.”
I know the writing staff tries to add some authenticity of its portrayal of DC politics. Is that harassment based on any true event?
I don’t think it’s based on any specific thing. However, they did tell me that when that subject came up when they were pitching storylines for this season, it was universally accepted. Every single person was like, yes, write that down, that’s happening.
It’s ended up being a fun thing. I wanted to make sure there was the actual weight and emotion of that sort of workplace harassment. But you never see the correlation between Jonah’s own workplace behavior and this incident. I like to imagine Jonah being like can you believe someone would do this and has no idea that he’s also a serial sexual harasser. He’s just like oh that’s just like having fun. When I talk to women in this awful way, it’s just like having fun.
Do you feel like everyone has had a Jonah in their life, and the writers are finding different ways to torture you to get back at that person?
I feel like the responses that I’ve gotten about the character, no matter what if it’s politics or Hollywood, there’s somebody like that in their workplace. It seems like all of the writers have met somebody like that along the way. I’m sure it’s easy for them to have sense-memory for an a–hole like that.
Have you met someone like that, and you’re just projecting it with Jonah?
It’s like the sucker at the poker table. If you look around and you don’t see the Jonah in your workplace, I think that means you’re him.
Veep airs Sundays on HBO.