On Sunday, March 19 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, the cast and producers of HBO’s Silicon Valley took the stage for their very first PaleyFest appearance. Alec Berg, Mike Judge, Thomas Middleditch, Zach Woods, Amanda Crew, Martin Starr, and Kumail Nanjiani sat down together to talk Silicon Valley and the tech industry all while remaining the hilarious and witty voice that we all know and love.
I began my evening on the red carpet to interview some of the cast. First, I talked to Kumail Nanjiani who plays computer programmer, Dinesh, on the show. When asked if his degree in computer science influenced the way he plays Dinesh, Nanjiani claimed it didn’t help much saying that “I was a really bad student so I didn’t actually learn anything. I did graduate, but I picked up nothing. When I look at [the screens of code] while I’m shooting, I’m like I have no idea what this is.” Graduating but picking up nothing was far too #relatable for me.
Later, I talked to Martin Starr who plays Gilfoyle on the show. Gilfoyle is a deadpan satanist and when asked if that affects the way fans expect him to be in real life, Starr said “I suppose it creates a standoffish relationship between me and the people who are fans of the show, because they expect me to be a bit like that character.” Adding that, “In general, people have a problem disassociating a person from the character they portray on a TV show.” Starr’s most notable role in the cult classic “Freaks and Geeks” follows the lives of misfit high schoolers. When asked what he thinks Gilfoyle was like in high school, he replied “Goth… I don’t know actually. I feel like he went through some phases. I feel like he might have had some surprising phases that led to the realization that he was a satanist.”
I then talked to Thomas Middleditch who plays main character, Richard. Middleditch has a background in improv comedy and will soon be touring with fellow improviser, Ben Schwartz. When asked what he is looking forward to most, Middleditch replied “What I’m looking forward to is the thing I’m also kind of nervous about.” He went on to describe how he felt nervous about performing two-man improv for huge theatres rather than the safety net of Largo at the Coronet here in Los Angeles. When asked what his character, Richard, would be like doing improv comedy, Middleditch said he “genuinely think[s] Richard would be one of the worst improvisers in the world. He’s all in his head. You could see it where his gears are turning and they’re not turning smoothly.”
Finally, I chatted with Zach Woods who plays business advisor, Jared, on the show. Jared is quite the interesting character and the audience sees many sides to him. There’s the meek Jared, unhinged Jared, and even douchebag alter-ego Jared who goes by the name Ed Chambers. When asked if we’ll see any other sides to Jared this season, Woods replied “I think so, yeah. I think every season you peel back the onion skin another layer and this season’s no different. Jared reveals aspects of himself that are previously cloaked.”
At the panel, the season five premiere was screened (and it was hilarious!) then the cast and producers were brought out to answer questions from moderator Stacey Wilson Hunt. In the past, Silicon Valley has been scrutinized for the lack of women on the show. In response, executive producer and co-creator, Mike Judge, pointed out that the tech industry itself is predominantly male adding that “I don’t think it’s good to pretend that there’s not a gender gap there.” Fellow executive producer, Alec Berg, agreed saying that “We’re a satire.. the job is to hold a mirror to a real thing and say ‘This is what it is.’” Berg then went on to note an example of unfair criticism he received from a friend. This friend criticized the lack of women in the show’s establishing shots of TechCrunch Disrupt, a key event in the season one finale. Berg revealed that these were filmed at the actual TechCruch Disrupt event and questioned whether it was the show that dropped the ball or the industry at large.
This in-depth look at the tech industry was a key topic at the panel. Before his career in the entertainment industry, Judge worked for a startup in Silicon Valley and thus takes the technical side of the show very seriously. The producers want the show to be “photoreal” and keep consultants on set to ensure that any tech jargon is accurate. Sometimes this means sacrificing a joke to remain technical integrity.
It was also noted that sacrificing jokes happens often on the show. Many of the actors have a background in comedy, therefore improv is quite frequent. Despite the fact that everybody improvises, everyone on the panel overwhelmingly agreed that Woods’ had some of the best improvised lines for his character, Jared, in the first season of the show. Even though most of these lines had to be cut, many were simply waitlisted and eventually make their way into later episodes. All of this improv has led to the “beautifully complex” history of Jared.
The evening ended with a question that struck fear into the heart of every fan in the audience: will this be the last season of Silicon Valley? Judge answered saying that “Looking at these episodes, it kind of takes on a new life and a second wind. I think it could go on for a while, you never know.” This was met with uproarious applause from the audience; an extremely telling gesture.
The Silicon Valley red carpet and panel at PaleyFest was a such a fun experience and I’m so glad I was able to attend this incredible event. Silicon Valley is one of my favorite shows and seeing the actors interact with each other and be as funny as they are onscreen in real life was truly amazing. If you haven’t watched it, take advantage of that HBO Go courtesy of UCLA and binge watch it ASAP. The new season premieres this Sunday, March 25 at 10 p.m. PT, so get watching soon!
Photos Courtesy of Brian To for the Paley Center