Talking to Thomas Middleditch About HBO’s ‘Silicon Valley’
You’re about to see a lot more of Thomas Middleditch in movies and TV. Middleditch got his start as an improviser and sketch actor in Chicago, where he performed at iO, Second City, and was a founding member of The Improvised Shakespeare Company, before moving to New York and then Los Angeles, where he’s performed frequently at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. This year, he has both his first lead TV role (Mike Judge’s new HBO series Silicon Valley, which premiered last night) and his first lead role in a major movie (the upcoming Search Party, which he stars in alongside T.J. Miller and Adam Pally).
I recently had the chance to talk with Middleditch about his experience on Silicon Valley, the joy of working with his friends, and what we can expect from him in the future.
So how did you end up getting involved in Silicon Valley?
I got involved pretty much how a lot of actors get involved: through auditioning. I owe a lot of credit to John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky, the original creators of the show. We kind of stayed in a working relationship for the past few years, and they really were quite instrumental in me being involved.
So you knew them beforehand?
Yeah, I had worked on an animated show with them, and they were showrunners for that animation. They helped me write it and hone it into something better than just the two-minute short, which is what I had originally come up with.
How did you and the rest of the cast familiarize yourself with that nerdy sort of Silicon Valley developer persona?
Me personally, I’ve always been into tech stuff — not so much coding and that world, but I’ve always been a big fan and a big follower of the video game industry and technology and all that. They’re kind of like different spectrums of the same world. I’ll get questions about very tech specific stuff, and I feel like my response is, “I’m not a real doctor, I just play one on TV.”
In Silicon Valley, we see this world where it seems like everybody and their mother has an app to pitch. How much of that, from what you’ve seen, reflects the reality of the area?
Well, actually, we were doing this scene in the show at a thing called TechCrunch Disrupt, and that’s actually a real thing, and apparently when we were filming our version of that, a guy came up to T.J. Miller [Erlich] and started pitching him an app. He wanted him to become the spokesman and all that kind of stuff. I mean, if that was happening just when we were shooting, maybe it happens more.
So your character Richard is a pretty nerdy guy. I know elsewhere you have admitted that in addition to the videogame industry you’re also a big fan of D&D. Do you think your connection to that world makes it easier for you to get in character?
As much as I have some nerdy hobbies, I like to believe I’m not as socially awkward as the character of Richard. It makes it easier to relate to some of those social elements in the character of Richard. I definitely have plenty of friends like that, and as a younger boy, I had a shell to come out of.
You’re also involved pretty heavily in UCB, in the improv world, as are some of the other cast members. How much room is there in the script for you guys to improvise during the show?
It’s less of like, “Hey, let’s improvise the whole episode and rewrite the script.” We stick to the script pretty much and try to find moments, you know? We’ll get it out, and then we’ll goof around after for a few takes, so we just try and find these moments. It’s a nice mix of paying respect to the writer, but also letting us be creative. Some of us have been improvising for 10, 15 years. I’ve been improvising since junior high school, so it’s nice to get to this point.
Does this mean you’ll be keeping a firm grip on your improv roots or are you going all in for script acting?
Well I’ve always aspired to be, for lack of a better term, a “legitimate actor.” [Laughs] Comedy has always been a passion, and even if someone were to call me an “actor,” I think it would be a “comedic actor.” If dramatic work came my way, I wouldn’t shy away from it. My whole approach has been sort of taking what’s in front of me. I have a catalogue of internet sketches, but that’s just been because that’s what’s there. If things show up at my door, I’d like to pursue all kinds of stuff.
You have a great character, “Doobs,” on Jake and Amir’s CollegeHumor show. Will you be doing more with that?
Funny that you bring that up. I love playing Doobs, I love Jake and Amir. I would be into doing more, but to be honest, the fans of Doobs are driving me away. On trailers for Silicon Valley… or, let’s just take for example my Instagram — on very lovely photos, even those with family — the comments are just “Doobs!” or “Penis!” and all the references to the show. And I love the enthusiasm, but I don’t know.
Yeah, you don’t want the jokes from that segment to appear on all of your other work.
Yeah, I’m hoping that being on a HBO show will show them that I have other roles I can be recognized for.
Do you have anything else on the table, or are you hoping to be mostly involved with Silicon Valley for a while?
Right now, I’m doing some random voiceover stuff for a Disney cartoon called Penn Zero, and I’m in a comedy called Search Party with TJ Miller again and this guy Adam Pally from Happy Endings, and that’s going to be coming out in September. It’s already shot, it’s in post. I’m going to be in a film directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson, kind of a horror-comedy. So there’s all kinds of other stuff to be done. Whether or not more Silicon Valley is in the future is dependent on other people. I love doing the show! I got to work with my friends all day, it was the best.
And a lot of you on the cast have known each other for a while, so I imagine that makes for a great on-set dynamic.
They’re great guys. Like I said, we’re friends. I’ve known T.J. for close to ten years. Kumail [Nanjiani], almost the same. Zach [Woods], we knew each other five years when I was in New York. A couple of new friends like Josh [Brener], Amanda [Crew], and Martin [Starr]. It was a blast. It was super fun. We just kind of got to goof off all day.
Silicon Valley airs on HBO on April 6th.
Phil Stamato lives and writes in New York, where he may also be seen standing up and telling jokes.
Photo credit: Koury Angelo