Even the people who make TV have trouble getting around to all the TV they want to watch. Case in point: Veep star and Emmy nominee Anna Chlumsky, who’d earmarked Halt And Catch Fire for an eventual binge, and finally got the excuse to delve in when an opportunity to join the period drama’s cast arose. The latest episode of the show’s fourth and final season, “Tonya And Nancy,” introduced Chlumsky as Katie, a library scientist eager to aid Joe MacMillan and Gordon Clark’s effort to catalogue and categorize the World Wide Web—and maybe do a different type of collaborating with Gordon. The A.V. Club spoke with Chlumsky about catching up with Halt And Catch Fire, plugging her exuberant character into the show’s universe, and the overlap she hopes to see between Halt And Catch Fire’s wind-down and Veep’s. [This interview was conducted the morning prior to HBO’s announcement that Veep will end with its seventh season. —Ed.]
The A.V. Club: Were you a Halt And Catch Fire fan going in to the fourth season? And what drew you to this character?
Anna Chlumsky: I had only watched the pilot, and I had done that annoying thing where I was like, “Oh, I’m going to really want to savor this show, so I’m going to save it for when I can binge it.” And then, of course, I only got to it when I got the script. [Laughs.] So that’s embarrassing and I’m ashamed to say it, but I’m not ashamed to say that it was seriously some of the best required bingeing of my life. It’s such a freaking good show and I’m in love with it and I’m so sad that this is its last season. The only time my husband has ever sounded starstruck or excited to hear someone [I’m working with] was when I called him when I was filming with Mackenzie Davis. And my husband’s on the other line, and he’s like [Gasps.] “Is that Cameron?” [Laughs.] He is the least excitable person, so that just goes to show you how in love with these characters we are.
What drew me to it: Katie could’ve gone either way, depending on whose hands she was in. I got the first two episodes, and I didn’t really know what direction she was going to go in, what the purpose of her coming in this season was. But I did know, after reading the first five pages of her first episode, how brilliant these writers were. I couldn’t let go of the idea, because you just don’t come across really, really good writing every day. I got on the horn with Chris Cantwell and Chris Rogers, and asked them to take me through her and what they wanted for her, and they convinced me in that phone call—this is going to be worth something, and she was going to be treated with just as much care as they treat the other characters. So I wanted in.
AVC: What was it about the writing that jumped out at you?
AC: They’re so respectful and patient with the human condition. Even in the dialogue that I read in that first episode, I could tell they weren’t concerned about results, they were just like “Let’s see where these people go. Let’s see what they say.” These characters spoke the way we speak, the way people do. I always make that joke whenever I’m rehearsing something: “Oh, like the people do?” Because that’s our job! Our job is to play people! And they do that—they make people that do what people do. [Laughs.]
AVC: You mentioned that Katie could go in different directions depending on who wound up playing her. Her introduction is a lot: There’s a lot of energy, a lot of information. What was it like to approach that scene and modulate that energy? Because you want to convey her enthusiasm, but you also don’t want her to come off as annoying in that moment.
AC: Right! Oh my gosh, so much. I didn’t want that. I hope I didn’t. I don’t want to be the clown.
It was a bit of a challenge because it’s genuine, everything you said: It’s an interview. There was no reason to shake a nervous energy about it, because that’s what interviews are like. People are their hyper-selves when they’re doing a job interview. [Laughs.] All the attention is on them. The person asks the question, and it’s like “Oh, now I’ve got to perform, and you’re watching me.” And I was reaching into meeting Katie and discovering her life path. I was thinking about a bunch of library-scientist friends that I have in my life. There is an exuberance for this type of work and for archiving and for art and subjects and collections. There’s no reason she shouldn’t have that—that’s what she’s into.
I had to let it slide. I relied on our director and on Scoot McNairy and Lee Pace to let me know if it was feeling like a different show. Because I love the show far too much to want to be anything other than respectful of their tone. That was our first scene, too, so it was like “Okay, we’re meeting her, we’re meeting me, and here we go.”
AVC: From the looks of this episode, there’s a connection growing between Katie and Gordon. What can you tell us about that?
AC: That’s there on purpose. We put that in there [Laughs.] for real. It’s not the audience’s imagination. I think he’s in a place in his life where he can entertain the idea of a relationship. And lo and behold, Katie’s around.
AVC: What’s it like coming into a show as it’s wrapping up, and it already has so much of its dynamic and its culture established?
AC: I felt like I just didn’t want to break anything. That’s the beauty of having a craft that you can actually use a technique for. You can have all the nerves you want or not want in your own personal psyche, but bottom line is I’ve got a job to do and I’ve got a scene to play, and I know how to do that. So I really relied on the scenes and the character and our writers. Our writers were so inviting and they wanted to talk about anything, and it was beautiful. Any intimidation I felt was that I had already been a fan of the show.
Knowing that it was the last season, there was zero pressure. Zero presssure to please anyone, zero pressure to gain an audience that they hadn’t already gained. While it’s not a happy freedom, it was a freedom nonetheless.
AVC: This episode takes place in 1994. 1994 was the year that My Girl 2 came out—was that in your mind at all? You’re performing scenes that are set at a time when you yourself were working as a kid.
AC: It wasn’t directly on my mind. However, because you’re revisiting the styles and deciding on what to wear, it was actually super-helpful for me, because I actually did spend time in California in 1994. [Laughs.] A lot of the things we chose for Katie—the accessories that we pulled—I thought that’s what a 13-year-old wore, but now I’m realizing, no, 13-year-olds were emulating the adults. And so the adults were also wearing those things. [Laughs.]
AVC: How does playing Katie compare to playing Amy on Veep? Both characters are very passionate about their work, but Katie maybe believes more in what she’s doing than Amy does.
AC: I think, maybe [Sighs.] we could just psychoanalyze these two forever. I think it comes down to how they view their own position in the world. They both have leadership qualities. Both very passionate about their work. They both like order to an extent. Katie, she reminds so much of my librarian friends [Laughs.] where they are kind of “alternative”—one of them is very goth-industrial, she wears this huge black coat and black eyeliner and white lipstick—yet there’s this immense sensitivity, and I think that’s why they’re drawn to creating order out of the chaos that is this world. Choosing library science is this way of going “I’m going to delve into the mysteries of the past, and the mysteries of right now and somehow create order so that it’s easier for others to delve into the past.” There’s a nobility to that.
I call [Katie] a “no judgement zone.” She’s almost ultra-respectful of others and their choices and she embraces the fringe of life. Whereas Amy is an all-judgement zone [Laughs.] and she’s probably faced with those same types of anxieties and fears, she just chose a different route. She chose “I’m going to make order out of everything and everyone else is also going to adhere to my rules.” Katie makes order for herself, and if others are into it, great. If they’re not, peace out.
AVC: What about the end of Halt And Catch Fire would you like to see reflected in the end of production on Veep?
AC: It’s a really nice thing when a network can tell everybody, before they film it, that it’s the last season. I think it’s really generous, because it doesn’t always go down that way. I’ve never been on a regular on a show before—Veep is my first—but I was a guest on a series once where they all found out that day that that was their last episode. There are different ways that can shake out, and it all depends on the generosity of the network to give it any forethought. I would hope we found out, whenever we do, before we get to film it. Because there’s beauty in knowing “this is the final time we all get to do this.” There was a real gratitude and respect for one another that everybody had on set, knowing that Halt And Catch Fire was coming to its completion.