Hours before Anna Chlumsky and I sit down for coffee and juice at a Brazilian café in Bushwick, where the actress, who is expecting her second child, lives with her husband and daughter, Hillary Clinton had, mathematically at least, sewed up the Democratic nomination for president.
“Bernie’s bringing some, ‘We’re gonna bring it to the convention stuff,’ but nobody wants that!” Chlumsky laughs, fidgeting with the bright pink dress she wore for a day of Veep press, which was ending here with a smoothie. “But, yeah, this is good! We all knew it was going that way anyway.”
Chlumsky’s become accustomed to talking about the presidential election, and politics in general, having starred for five seasons on HBO’s political circus comedy Veep—picking up three primetime Emmy nominations along the way for her role as anthropomorphized boiling tea kettle and brilliant Chief of Staff Amy Brookheimer.
She’s also become quite accustomed to talking about Hillary Clinton, given Veep’s art-imitating-life storyline that has Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s Selina Meyer bumbling her way through her historic position as the first female president of the United States.
It’s led to a rabid party game during viewings of Veep episodes: watching for signs that Selina and her staff could be based on Clinton.
“You can’t blame people for drawing correlations, but it’s sort of logically unsound because we film everything six months ahead,” Chlumsky says. When Veep premiered in 2012, there was speculation that it was a satire of Sarah Palin. (It’s not.) “Maybe it’s that there aren’t many female positions that have reached that level in America to choose from,” she speculates. “Maybe they’re red herrings.”
David Mandel, Veep’s current showrunner, is far more explicit. “She’s not Hillary,” he says definitively. “Hillary is, in my mind, far more competent than Selina Meyers. She is not Hillary. They happen to be women, and it’s very easy for people to just go ‘They’re the same.’” Still, he cautions: “That doesn’t mean that things don’t happen to Hillary that we take note of and maybe bits and pieces are in this season or other ones.”
Mandel, a veteran of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld, took over the show in season five from creator Armando Ianucci, who, even before casting Chlumsky in Veep, was responsible for shepherding her return to Hollywood and its accolades.
As has been well-documented at this point, Chlumsky, now a 35-year-old expectant mother of two with a degree in international studies from the University of Chicago and a past brief career in publishing, is a former child star.
In 1991, she played the lead in the hit weepie My Girl—she and Macaulay Culkin are together responsible for an entire generation’s crippling fear of bees—and filmed a smattering of other projects before returning to the west side Chicago neighborhood of Broadview, where she grew up, to finish high school and go to college.
She was building a career in the publishing world, working as a Zagat fact checker and then editorial assistant for a sci-fi and fantasy imprint at Harper Collins, before deciding to return to acting—a move which has clearly worked out very well for her. Most pundits predict a fourth straight Emmy nomination for the star.
Still, every time she gives an interview, she’s asked about the movie she filmed as a little girl 25 years ago. (Hi, we’re about to do the same thing.) How does it feel to be constantly asked about it, all these years and accomplishments later?
“I don’t want to say it’s irritating, because it is part of my life,” she says. “So I get it. And I think it’s a great thing that it was a resonant film and it meant a lot to a lot of people. That’s terrific.”
There’s a “but.”
“But I think when you’re constantly identified with something that happened so long ago and that was at an age that is not your age now, it just becomes sort of unfair. We all grow. It’s not like I go around asking people about the touchdown they made in high school.”
Chlumsky’s journey from toiling away uninspired in a cubicle to spewing Armando Iannucci’s four-letter arias first in the 2009 British political satire In the Loop and then again as Amy in Veep was, in a way, written in the stars. At least that’s what Chlumsky once paid to hear.
There were many signs that her ennui at the time was pointing her back to acting. They’re all amazing. At one point she heard that Robin Williams had been asking a mutual friend why she hadn’t been on screen in a while. At another, she randomly ran into Roberta Flack—yes, Roberta Flack—while getting her nails done. The singer recognized her and said, “You should go back in.” Chlumsky replied, “I’m done.” Flack looked at her quizzically: “Honey. You’re done?”
Then there was the psychic. The psychic on 53rd and Madison that she had fled to during a lunch break to get some guidance on how to manage this quarter-life crisis.
“To be clear, I didn’t go back into acting because a psychic told me to,” she says, her eyes widening to stress that she is not, in fact, a crazy person. “I did it because I had already been flirting with it. She just said the thing and it just made me go, Jesus, I’m desperate for answers.”
She went back to the office and called her now-husband, who was then training for the Army Reserve, and instant messaged (it was that era) her friend about it. “I was like, ‘Look how fucking desperate for answers I was that I just spent 40 hard-earned dollars to have someone tell me something that I already knew.’”
She enrolled in an intensive course at the Atlantic Theatre Company, began working on stage, and the rest is history.
In person, Chlumsky both is and isn’t like her Veep character.
She’s very smart; at one point in our conversation Aristotle’s Poetics is invoked and on our way out she speaks to the Brazilian owner of the café in fluent Portuguese. She’s driven and works tirelessly—a recounting of her schedule flying back and forth from New York to the Los Angeles Veep set, relocated last season from Baltimore, leaves me needing a nap—but she by no means shares Amy’s ruthlessness.
“I don’t think we’d be friends,” she says about her on-screen counterpart. “I personally am an introvert and get really sensitive when I’m around women who only want to compete. I think if I ever met Amy it would really freak me out.”
Still, there’s something about Amy’s tightly-wound, stress-fueled state of being and intense, tunnel-vision dedication to a job that Veep fans love, and even relate to. “People will come to me and be like, ‘I’m just like Amy!’ I’m always like, ‘Oh God! Get some sleep!’” Chlumsky says.
The most glaring separation between the two is the way Chlumsky works to balance her personal and professional life, while Amy has none of the former to speak of. “I think she only likes doing things that she’s good at,” Chlumsky says. “And she’s never been good at dating, therefore she prefers not to do it.” Seeing that on television has been refreshing for a legion of workaholics who feel the same way.
With her second child on the way, I ask Chlumsky if it’s strange to be asked about how she strikes the work-mom balance—the question that, for some reason, we are always compelled to ask actresses.
“Maybe it’s because we don’t interview a lot of working mothers in other industries,” she says. “Being a working mom is not simple. Being a mom at all is not simple. Being a dad is not simple! I always tell people, none of us know what we’re doing. All we can do is try our best, roll with the punches, lead with love, and do what we feel is best in our gut at any given time.”
“And this is the thing about parenting,” she continues. “The second you think you have it figured out, it changes.”
When Veep begins production on season six this fall, Chlumsky will be bringing the whole family to Los Angeles. This past season she commuted back and forth, but this time she will, quite literally, have a newborn attached to her. Continuing the idea that Veep’s actors are quite dissimilar from their characters, Chlumsky lists off all the co-stars who have young kids: Matt Walsh, Tony Hale, Reid Scott, Timothy Simons.
“They were all doing this and coming to Baltimore, but I was commuting to Baltimore, too!” she says. “It’s funny, when I went to LA someone was like, ‘Now it’s your turn.’ I’m like, ‘I don’t live in Baltimore! I was deploying, too. Now I’m just deploying farther.’”
Before we part ways, I try to get some scoop about Veep’s longevity. The show is creatively stronger than ever, but, leading into this Sunday’s finale, there seems to be a real possibility that Selina Meyer will no longer be in the White House. How long could the show continue?
“I want to come up with something to say as if I know something,” she says. “When we first started I was like, OK, well we’ll do this for either four years or eight. Because that’s a term. That’s the story. I thought it was built in. Then lo and behold in season three she’s becoming president. What? So I can’t tell.”