Sam Richardson quickly became a fan favourite on the HBO series “Veep” when he came on in season three as Richard Splett, the good-natured campaign aide to Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) who seems to be unfazed by all the insulting and backstabbing that goes on around him.
Richardson has since become a series regular on the show. Last season, Richard hilariously assisted Jonah Ryan’s (Timothy Simons) congressional campaign, and in the premiere episode of season six (which aired Sunday), we now find him as the chief of staff to now ex-president Meyer, who’s trying to figure out her next move.
Richard is ready with incredible responses for the rest of the cast’s sarcastic style, taking every single outlandish comment at face value and responding with a monotone, sincere response that has made the character so memorable.
Richardson talked to Business Insider about Richard’s new position on the show, how pulling off the perfect Richard response is harder than it looks, and why it’s challenging for him to go into an Apple store anymore.
Jason Guerrasio: You’ve said in the past that Richard is the only character in the “Veep” universe that isn’t working an angle. But do you think he has aspirations beyond what he’s doing?
Sam Richardson: I don’t know. I think he would be happy to go up or down the ladder. I think if he got bumped down to something else he would be like, “Well, at least I have experience at this.” And if he goes up he would be, “Oh, ok. Well, a new challenge.” So the thing with Richard is he has no specific ambition. It’s like, he has two doctorates, but he doesn’t seek out to follow those paths. He just does whatever he flows to.
Guerrasio: In the first episode of the new season, Richard has some amazing responses to things Selina says. She says she should get a spot on Showtime at the Apollo, and Richard says, “I’ll check on that.” Or when she talks about getting food stamps, he says, “I’ll look into an application.” The delivery is crucial. It always seems to be a beat after Selina says it. Do you practice that delivery?
Richardson: Part of what Richard does is there’s no time to filter for him. So everything is at face value. With his responses he’s saying it before even thinking about what was said. I have worked mostly with Tim Simons but I think Julia and I have a rhythm that we can play off of. So whatever is in the script, we can add that timing.
Guerrasio: Is that timing developed at the table read or not until you are about to shoot?
Richardson: The table read gives you an idea of what the jokes are. It’s more, “Let’s see the jokes work,” so that timing doesn’t actually come in until you’re doing it [on set].
Guerrasio: And when it comes to nailing the jokes, do you guys just do a couple of takes?
Richardson: We’ll do a bunch of takes because along with shooting all the angles, the scenes can be long and the problem I have is I’ve made this character speak so quickly that I’ll marble-mouth sometimes some of those bits. So it takes a few to get it where it needs to go.
Guerrasio: How has the Richard character evolved? Did you play him differently when you auditioned?
Richardson: When I went in to audition I think I played him, not wily, but I played him like he was covering his own a– a little bit. Just a touch more of that. From the audition I saw him as this person who was a step behind but is fortunate enough to be on the same page as everyone else. If that makes sense.
Guerrasio: Well if I had never seen the character before, that wouldn’t.
Guerrasio: But when you see the character on the show it makes total sense.
Richardson: Yeah. Honestly, we never really had many conversations about him early on. When I first came on the show I was a one-episode guest. So at the table read I just did my interpretation. Then when we improvised some of the scenes I just played what I thought felt right. Little quips here and there. And the writers and [series creator] Armando [Iannucci], they liked that direction and then wrote those things into the script. I think we’re all in agreement on what Richard is like.
Guerrasio: Is there still an aspect of doing the Richard character or being on this show that’s the most challenging for you? That you will always have to work on no matter how long you are on it?
Richardson: The pattern that Richard speaks in. Specific details that he’s got to say. And I have really set myself up because everything I’m saying is so fast already that when I have to say the names of magazines, or a kind of list of things I have to say it’s like, “OK, you’ve done this to yourself, Sam.” That’s really the challenge, keeping up with the rhythm of speak that Richard has.
Guerrasio: Give me your craziest fan experience.
Richardson: When I wear glasses it happens often. And I’m always recognised when I go to the Apple store. It’s always a black guy wearing glasses. It’s like, “Hey man, love you on the show.” [Laughs] Every time. I’m like, ok, guess this is my audience.
Guerrasio: You are also the star on the new Comedy Central series “Detroiters,” which you cocreated. Is that your first time writing a series as opposed to bits?
Richardson: It is.
Guerrasio: What’s that been like?
Richardson: It’s been a learning experience, for sure. Joe Kelly, who is another cocreator and writer on the show, has written for sitcoms before, so we follow his guidance on narrative structure and how to piece together a half-hour TV show. It’s been fun to see that and then do our own thing off of that. Our instinct is funny first, but obviously you also have to tell a story. And we’re from Detroit so we’re telling the story while also giving the city a shoutout.
Guerrasio: And then for you, it was a conscious decision to make sure your character doesn’t wear glasses and speaks a different way from Richard.
Richardson: Yes, exactly. And it’s fun to do new things. And I hope I get to continue to do that.
Guerrasio: So last question: Do you have a favourite Richard line so far?
Richardson: I think it’s when he introduced himself to Tom James [Hugh Laurie] and he says, “I’m Richard T. Splett. I don’t know why I said ‘T’ — my middle name is John.” That one follows me the most and I love that line.
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