Gary Cole on ‘Veep,’ Improvising and His Early Career

Gary Cole in Veep

“It was all like a dream. It didn’t make any sense to me, how I got there, but sometimes that’s the way that it goes.” – Gary Cole on getting cast in his first major TV role

Gary Cole is one of the stars of Veep, HBO’s blockbuster comedy that’s now on its fifth season, and in a recent interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, he spoke about improvising on the set of Veep.

A lot of the improvising is actually done in our rehearsal periods, which there is a considerable amount of. … We spend a lot of time rehearsing, even on days when there’s not even shooting. Especially before a season, there’s a whole week spent just sitting around a table.

Usually what will happen is the writers will present their first draft, we will read the draft around a table, then we will get up and we will take certain scenes and redo them — but basically throwing the scripts to the side and kind of improvising whatever the action of that scene that we just read is. Then the writers observe that and sometimes we stop and start and they suggest other things, and from that the writers go away and come back with a whole other draft, and that process can actually take place again.

So the show is essentially a scripted show, but … a lot of the material comes out of improvisation. It’s not to say that there isn’t improvisation in front of the camera — there is. We do … “one for fun” after we get a take that everybody is satisfied with. So there is a loose and spontaneous feeling in front of the camera as well, and there is improvisation used, but it’s used around a pretty firm script.

But Cole’s career had to start somewhere, and his began with being cast in the miniseries Fatal Vision at the age of 27. That stroke of good fortune was described by Cole as “very fluke-ish. It was all like a dream. It didn’t make any sense to me, how I got there, but sometimes that’s the way that it goes.”

But Cole’s desire to act came well before that, when he was still in college and saw a play that inspired him to become an actor.

I remember vividly one production — going downtown to Chicago to a production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which starred a guy named Jack Wallace, who wound up doing a lot of work with David Mamet. … I was always a huge fan of that book and of that play because to me, that’s almost the perfect play. It has these great themes in it and it has a rousing, really impactful ending and all of that. But I was mesmerized by him and all the other performers, and realized how tight they were and nothing was forced and how it was directed well and nothing looked amateurish. And we were all sitting forward in our seats — we could barely take a breath we were so enthralled by it. And so that stuck with me and I always wanted to try to get there.

Once Cole started getting cast, he found himself getting confused with a similarly-named actor.

After Fatal Vision wrapped, here I was in Los Angeles all of a sudden going into casting offices. Now if you remember in 1984, that was I think the height of Gary Coleman on Diff’rent Strokes, and on the same network that the miniseries was on — on NBC. So for the first year I was in Hollywood, when a casting director opened the door to the director and the producer sitting there, I was invariably introduced as: “Gentleman, I would like you to meet Gary Coleman. Oh, I’m sorry! Gary Cole.” It was a nice icebreaker for a few minutes.

Written by Randy Johnson

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