In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
Timothy Simons got his big break in Hollywood by taking a shitload of abuse. As Jonah Ryan—“Jonad,” if you will—on Veep, Simons brings an uncomfortable level of earnest but sleazy ambition to the West Wing, acting as the general punching bag for the now-president’s key staffers. He’s no saint, to say the least, but Simons’ Jonah has become a favorite of fans, probably because they love to see a guy get kicked while he’s down.
In addition to his role on Veep, which airs Sunday nights on HBO, Simons also appeared in both The Interview and Inherent Vice, and can be seen in the upcoming Goosebumps movie, as well as the Melissa McCarthy vehicle Michelle Darnell, which is filming now.
Timothy Simons: I have had a fair amount of shitty jobs in my life. One of the highlights was when I worked at a summer stock theater in Wisconsin where we put up nine shows in eight weeks. We worked 14 or 16 hours a day for every single day for two and a half months putting up these shows. I lost 40 pounds over the course of that time.
I also worked at a really shitty bar in Chicago called Joe’s On Weed as a doorman. It was as fucking awful, as you would imagine, knowing that bar. One of my first nights there, there was riot.
The A.V. Club: Why was there a riot?
TS: There was a Ghostface Killah show at Joe’s On Weed and one of the opening acts said something about Chicago hip-hop like, “Fuck you. You don’t know what you’re doing. We’re from New York.” It just went really poorly. I remember I actually had to take off the shirt that said I worked there, because it just got to this point where people were throwing the furniture off the second-floor balcony. It was like that scene in The Blues Brothers where people just kept throwing bottles.
But I think the absolute worst job I ever had—not because it was a terrible job, just because I was just so bad at it—was when I worked at a scenic factory in Chicago. When I was in Chicago I was working as a carpenter while I was doing plays. I thought it’d be a fun set construction job, but it turned up to just be a straight-up factory. It would be a great job for someone that is equipped to do it, but I was not talented enough or strong enough to do it. I was also going through a really bad breakup at the time and I was not eating, so I was trying to work these super long, physical factory shifts and I had a complete breakdown and completely flamed out of it. I essentially just quit to go play softball. That was probably the worst job flame-out I have ever had. I feel like the people that worked there probably saw me leaving in tears, like I was actually crying as I was leaving. I never really went back or tried to maintain any of the relationships I had with the people that I met there, because it was a pretty embarrassing way to go out.
AVC: How was it like a factory? Did they make sets for people on order?
TS: It was. When I was a carpenter, I built sets for small storefront Chicago companies. Like, I built sets for friends of mine at The House Theater. But this job, they didn’t just build sets for theatrical shows. As an example, they also put together those JCDecaux bus stops that came around in Chicago in like 2006. I was building press platforms for the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Like, that’s what I was doing there. Straight-up repetition of big jobs. That’s the kind of stuff that they would do.
AVC: And you went in thinking it was a theater-related job.
TS: Exactly. I remember I was so bad at it that when I was putting together these press decks for the Democratic National Convention, I had to use wood glue, and on every single deck, I would write like, “Fuck this.” in wood glue and then staple them together. And the next one I’d write, like, “Eat shit.” And then staple it together. [Laughs.] What a fucking idiot. I’m such a fucking idiot. That was so dumb.
TS: You know, I don’t know. It is sort of funny, like, when did I first feel successful? There are different versions of that answer. I feel like there’s definitely a trap to the feeling of being like, “Oh, I’m successful now.” I feel like anybody in our business is going to remove themselves from ever really feeling like that. If you start letting that creep in, “Oh, I’m successful now,” you’re going to get lazy, you’re going to stop working, and you’re going to stop caring. Or you’re going to start caring about the wrong things. But there have been fun parts along the way of this. Like when I was working at that awful summer stock theater company, I remember somebody bought us a round of drinks at a karaoke bar on one of the first off nights that we ever had, because they recognized us from one of the shows. That was like, “I’m fucking famous now.” Like, I’m doing summer stock in the middle of Wisconsin and somebody just bought me a drink. This is what they talk about. That was sort of a big one. But, other than that, I feel like it’s one of those emotions you never really ever allow yourself to truly feel it, otherwise you just get lazy.
AVC: Well, there are probably things that feel nice, like Veep getting renewed the day after the new season started airing. That probably feels good.
TS: Yeah. I don’t want to be the super negative dude who can’t just accept good news, especially because the news surrounding the show has been pretty positive from the beginning, and it’s been such a positive experience, but I try to take good things from it, but try not to rely on them, if that makes any sense at all. I’m very happy for the success of this show and that I get to keep working with a really amazing group of people, but I try not to rely day-to-day on the positive feelings. I don’t know if that makes sense. I feel like I sound like a self-help book.
TS: If I was a supervillain I’d be one of those ones that wouldn’t want to take the credit for anything. I’d just want to watch it all burn. So, I think maybe what I’d do is just amp up every little horrible thing that you see going on in the world by 5 percent. Like the general level of discourse on the internet, let’s just amp that up about 5 percent. I feel like within three or four months, the world will have torn itself apart.
AVC: “Let’s just see what the world can take.”
TS: Yeah, I just want to be the supervillain that just gives the world that little push that sends them into Mad Max.
AVC: I image it like one of those sound equalizers where you kind of can nudge the individual levels up just a little bit.
TS: Let’s just nudge these midtones up a bit and see if the world destroys itself.
TS: I think I was a behavior problem, mostly, but in a fun way. I tried to tell jokes. I was the middle kid, so I was always looking for attention and trying to be the one that equalized everything. Everything has to be fair, everything has to be spread out equally among all of us. But yeah, I think mostly I was a fun behavior problem. Like, I made up jokes to try to make my parents laugh, but also would never go to sleep.
I was probably a good hang as a kid, if you were another kid. But I’ve always been oddly proportioned, so I had a very extended awkward phase. I was always towering over every other kid in my class, but then I also went through a very chubby phase, and then all of the sudden, I just grew a foot and a half and none of my limbs made sense. So I had an awkward phase that lasted from second grade until maybe my sophomore year of college. So, never particularly popular, but never particularly hated.
AVC: You have kids, right?
TS: I have twins that are 3 and a half years old.
AVC: Do you think they’re like you at all?
TS: I do. I mean, we see sort of both of us in both of them. I feel like my son Marty—this is such a dad thing to say, but the dude is such a chuckle monster. He will chase whatever laugh is around and get himself so worked up. But then, like my wife, one of his favorite games is to take any toy he has and line it up in a perfect row. Marty loves a group, but with my daughter, Hopper, we can definitely see that the individual artistic, thoughtful, quiet sides of both of us are more present in our daughter right now.
It’s hard for those guys. We try to do the thing where we don’t want to have people understand them as “the twins.” We want to give them their own separate identities. But it’s hard I think for Hopper, because Marty is such a force when he goes into a room that sometimes Hopper can’t get a word in edgewise because it’s just not her way. So we’re trying to schedule play dates and stuff so she’ll have a chance to talk to another child before Marty decides to answer the questions for her.
TS: There was a featured extra in the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie that I was in love with for a really long time. One of the girls in the Foot Clan’s hideout. I’m not kidding. I was in love with her.
AVC: But at the time, there was no way to know who that was.
TS: No, there was no IMDB. I’ve gone back pretty recently and tried to figure it out, and I still haven’t been able to.
That’s the biggest one that I can remember. I was such a movie store nerd that I’m sure there have been many other childhood crushes. There was also—it’s not a celebrity crush, but I just remembered recently that I had a crush on a girl—I grew up in Maine and there are a lot of fucking hippies in there and a lot kids that I went to middle school with were [Grateful] Dead fans. And I remember there was this one girl, and she and I had nothing in common. I don’t know why I had a crush on her, but I attempted to listen to the Grateful Dead just to try and impress her. Even then, even in the seventh grade, I listened to two songs and was like, “nope, this isn’t going to happen.”
TS: One of my favorite songs is so massively over the top that it can not possibly be for mistaken for sincere. Like, when Gob Bluth comes out to the “The Final Countdown,” that sort of thing. It was our entrance music for our high school basketball team. It was this song called “Fantasy” by Aldo Nova and it’s got maybe a solid minute of these long synthesizer tones. Then the song just comes crashing in with this drumbeat and these laser sounds. And there’s a big drumbeat and these laser sounds and then the fucking guitars kick in. I feel like that song is so beautifully over the top that I would just go back to that.
TS: I dropped off my kids at their daycare and that was a fight. Like, at the age that they’re at, just getting them to do anything in the morning is a gigantic fight.
My wife is a public school teacher in L.A. and she was in Chicago in as well, and she’s directing the play for her high school right now. So, she’s incredibly busy and I’ve been incredibly busy with the premiere of the show and I was out of town for some work about a month ago. Last night we both said, “We’re so fucking tired. We’ve got to catch up on sleep.” And last night was also the night that my daughter decided she was going to start being afraid of stuff. And so every hour, on the hour, we were getting our daughter back into bed and convincing her that the shadow that was being cast by the nightlight was not a bear. Every hour on the hour, “there’s a bear in this room.” We’re like, “I’m telling you, there’s not a bear in this room.” So, we had this gigantic fight over everything with these kids this morning, over brushing teeth and putting on clothes and how many cars they can bring to daycare and whether or not they’re being a good listener.
I also went to go do something for the show on KTLA this morning and was such a rookie. I feel like the entire interview was just the side and back of my head. So I beat myself up for that for about an hour. And then I returned a bunch of emails and now we are talking. That’s sort of how it’s gone.
AVC: And soon enough you’ll have to pick up your kids and the battle will continue.
TS: The entire battle. It’s going to start from scratch. It’s like Groundhog Day. It just resets.
TS: I’ve gotten the weirdest ones that don’t really work and whenever they’re told to me, it’s always somebody more attractive than I am. I’m not trying to be coy like, “Oh I’m very attractive.” It’s just like, when I was 25, I wore a mesh hat and somebody was like, “Oh, hey Ashton Kutcher” and I don’t look anything fucking like Ashton Kutcher.
One time, Tony Hale and I were at the Newseum in DC on an off day from shooting, and he showed me later that somebody had tagged him in a post that said, “I just saw Tony Hale hanging out at the museum with Benedict Cumberbatch.” That one, I’m definitely going to take. I think with that one, they didn’t really know how beautiful he is. They just saw an angular face. They just saw a very strong nose and a very large brow line and they were like, “must be fucking Cumberbatch.”
AVC: That’s such a weird one.
TS: I did not correct them. I would absolutely take that. I’ll take sexy otter any day of the week.
[Simons also emailed after this interview with one more: Sam The Eagle. —ed.]
TS: My dad was a photographer, so growing up, we had a dark room in our basement and I learned how to do all of that. Like, develop with chemicals and use an enlarger. And not only develop photos, but to develop film completely in the dark. I’m not a great photographer, but I really do love it. So whenever I’m on set I pester DPs with questions. I would like to go into that world. I would like to go into something involving photography just because of that.
I’m a hack photographer. I don’t know if it’s a terrible idea or something I really enjoy, but I always found myself taking pictures and not doing anything with them. They would just sit on a hard drive. So I started up this thing called Elevatedtrain.com, which is just like an extension of my Instagram account where, even if they are not great, I’ll at least finish the process of taking pictures and then I’ll put them up there. So it feels like I’m actually working toward something instead of just going out and taking pictures and then doing nothing with them.
TS: I have a very small collection of cameras. That would be the only thing. Mostly my dad’s old ones. I have a bunch of my dad’s old film cameras in various states of repair.
Oh, also—my wife makes fun of me for this, because my mom started this thing when I was young, and maybe it’s like a New England or Northeastern thing of essentially just being a pack rat. But my mom started this thing called the treasure box. And you put any meaningful item into a treasure box, so I have this collection of inconsequential items that I’ve attached emotional value too. I’ve recently started going through them and I have to kind of separate, like, “I get why I kept this, but this is trash. This is a piece of trash that you have decided to keep around.” It’s just a few steps away from hoarder.
AVC: But you don’t want to throw that stuff away. You can’t just open a birthday card from your grandma and turn around and put it straight in the trash.
TS: Yeah, exactly. But I have, for example, in my wallet, a fingernail size paper bus ticket that was in my pocket when my first girlfriend and I broke up. I just kind of kept it in there for luck. And that’s been at least 20 years and it’s gone through probably five or six different wallets.
My old roommate and I were actually interviewed for The A.V. Club in Chicago one time because we had a show called the Big Rock Show. I think it was even the week that I quit that awful factory job, we were having unbelievably terrible weeks and he took this dollar bill and ripped it in half. He kept one side and I kept the other. He said, “Let’s hang on to these and we’ll always remember this terrible fucking week.” I still have that half of a dollar in my wallet now.
TS: One of the best meals my wife and I ever had, we went to Schwa in Chicago, and it’s so fucking good. So what I would want is that experience of going through Schwa with the ability to also then order some staples off menu like a perfectly cooked steak. I started eating meat again a couple of years ago after 18 years or whatever being a vegetarian, so I’d like a perfectly cooked steak and an incredible glass of wine to go with it. Just so that’s handled. And it’d all have to be in outdoor seating in Paris.
AVC: Do you remember anything at Schwa that you particularly liked? Their quail-egg ravioli is legendary.
TS: Yeah, they have the quail-egg ravioli. I was a vegetarian at the time and they served lamb brain. I remember thinking, “I’m going to eat that. I don’t give a fuck what I’m into.” Like what vegetarian diet I’m on. There are going to be very few opportunities in my life in which I’m able to eat something like that. So we ate the lamb brain that night. And it was pretty good.
To the same extent, during the first season rehearsals for Veep we went to St. John, but they’re sort of famous for this grilled ox heart, and I totally ate that. When else am I going to have grilled ox heart?
Bonus 12th question from Jason Dohring: What is your favorite piece of candy?
TS: Because of my general ADD hyperactive kid thing, I don’t—or at least I try not to—eat a lot of sugar, because it gets really bad. It goes off the rails really quick and I won’t stop eating it. But I would say I’m a big fan of Red Vines and french macarons. Do those count?
AVC: Red Vines definitely count. Macarons are more of a pastry.
TS: Given a choice, like if I’m at a movie theater looking at candy—maybe that’s the definition. If I’m at a movie theater and I’m definitely getting candy, I’m either getting Red Vines or Junior Mints.
AVC: What would you like to ask the next person?
TS: What’s the most meaningless lie you told somebody today? Like, that thing where you’re like, “Why did I just lie to that person? There’s no reason to do that.”
AVC: What’s yours?
TS: Oh, God. I lied that I knew how many horsepower were in the car that I have. I was going to the coffee shop and the guy who runs the coffee shop was there standing with some other guy, and he was like,“Hey is that your car?” It’s reasonably new, and I just leased it recently. And he was like, “Does that have about 300 horsepower?” And I was like, “Oh yeah, man.” No fucking idea. Literally. I don’t know what that is in any way. I know nothing about cars. I just knew that I fit into it and I like the way the outside of it looks, but I had to fucking lie and say that I knew how many horsepower it had.