Though he co-starred in “Avenue 5” in the spring, Zach Woods had already been an HBO mainstay on “Silicon Valley.” There, Woods played Donald “Jared“ Dunn, the uneasy Pied Piper COO with an intense attachment to the company’s founder Richard (Thomas Middleditch) and a horrifying — albeit comically vague — history. In the fourth episode of the final season, Jared finally met his birth parents: a wealthy couple who gave him away to ease travel logistics. Faced with their obvious, nonchalant cruelty, Jared still instinctively blamed himself for their abandonment, thrusting Woods into the spotlight of the ensemble comedy.
Woods: In the first couple episodes [of the final season Jared] quits. But then he realizes that, try as he might, he can’t really shake Richard. I think that’s something that can happen in relationships of any kind where there’s love: You want to spare them the ways in which you’re disappointing or limited. Jared does that at the beginning of Season 6. By the end, he’s realized that, in order to love people, you need to subject them to your inadequacies.
The obvious decision would be to have Jared meet his parents and it be two octogenarian Nazis living in a garbage Dumpster. To have it be this tranquil, moneyed life that was his literal birthright is so funny to me.
I remember this one little moment on set that was making me laugh where [the parents] were trying to pretend [Jared] was selling solar panels so that he didn’t upset his siblings, and I end up playing along: “Oh yeah, we offer financing.” So even in the situation where he’s being completely emotionally mutilated, he is complicit in it. He is assisting them, saying “Here, let me hand you the butcher knife so you can carve up my heart a little bit more.” And then leaving that situation and [thinking], “As a preverbal child, I must have signaled in some way that I wasn’t accepting of them,” it’s so insane. It’s that idea of it never, ever crossing his mind to think that he’s been mistreated when he’s probably [someone] who’s been treated the worst in the history of people.
I think that comedy lives in the blind spot. Characters’ blind spots are funny. If someone is deliberately malicious, I don’t usually think that’s funny. But if someone just has a blind spot and is really doing the best they can, that’s something I find both relatable and tragic and funny.
Finding a way to support the story through your improv as opposed to distracting from it is something we got better at over time. If [showrunners Alec Berg and Mike Judge] had been like “You guys are going to be puppets and we’re just going to stick our hands up your ass,” that would’ve been completely understandable. But the truth is they were incredible collaborative and curious about our input. Even though the vast majority of the improv we did was not used, it’s a way of having creative conversations between actors and writers. You’ll improvise and, whether or not something fits into the actual puzzle of the episode, they’ll say “Oh, I see he’s interested in that part of the character.” You get the next script and maybe some germ of what you’ve done in some weirdo improv thing is now included in the story.
If the scene is a good scene, the emotional reality isn’t in competition with the comedy: the emotional reality is the comedy. I feel that for a scene to be funny it has to feel consequential in some way to the characters. The actors playing my parents were being so funny, and [I] wanted to alley-oop them. Their comfortable obliviousness required a counter-balance for it to stand out. So, depending on how real the situation feels, that will determine how funny it is. And I really love Jared. In the sixth season, when you know you’re saying good-bye to him and you’ve loved him for a long time, it’s not hard, even if you’re in a scene that’s funny, to feel things on his behalf. And of course [Jared] would find the fault in himself.