Awards Daily talks to Yul Vazquez of Apple TV+’s Severance about filming in the thick of COVID and the heavy lifting of playing “Petey.”
If there is a TV show that exists in the last 30 years, there’s a good chance Yul Vazquez was in it. From Seinfeld to Sex and the City to most recently Russian Doll and Succession, Vazquez has been in what feels like everything, but when he read Severance, it was something he’d never seen before.
“I’d been friends with Ben [Stiller] (series director) for a long time, about 20 years, and I guess when they were putting the project together, he thought of me,” says Vazquez. “I got a phone call that Ben wanted to have a Zoom meeting with me. First they sent me the first two episodes and I was like, I’d never read anything like this in my life. Even then, I only had the first two, so I had no idea where it was going to wind up. My mind was already blown with the first two episodes and then what came after that flipped me.”
Vazquez truly had his work cut out for him on the Apple TV+ drama about a corporation that surgically removes employees’ work lives from their personal lives, with his character setting the Innie office rebellion in motion.
“I remember I used to go to work and say to Ben, ‘Hey, man! This is such a hard part.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, that’s why I hired you.'”
Peter vs. Petey
Severance posits a world where you can separate your work life from your home life (ideal, right?), but then you don’t know what either your Innie or Outie self is doing. One way the corporation separates these identities is by referring to characters with cutesy names, like Helena as Helly (Britt Lower) and Vazquez’s character Peter Kilmer and “Petey.”
“They sound like terms of endearment, but they also have a diminutive connotation to them. Usually, it makes something small or cute.”
Vazquez admits that the name actually had an influence on the way he played his character.
“When you hear the name Petey or Mikey, you automatically kind of like that person. The audience has to love this guy in order for this to really work. The thing pivots on him in a way. It takes you into the world of this diabolism that is presented, that we ultimately don’t even know what it is.”
While Helly proves that it’s hard to get out of this world, what with her character repeatedly attempting Innie suicide, somehow Petey gets out.
“I think he discovered something there and started making the maps, discovered these rooms. He knew that they were up to something that maybe wasn’t all that great. He found somebody who was doing the reintegration procedure [reattaching the severed half]. Why do people choose to sever? It’s really a way out. But then he starts to remember his kid and it starts to cause the disturbance.”
Mark (Adam Scott) is his partner in crime in attempting to escape, something we don’t see on screen but learn of via Petey. And yet when his office buddy abruptly leaves, Mark doesn’t seem to know why?
“There’s probably wanting to convince yourself you’ve done the right thing. Sometimes people get involved in something like a bad relationship and you don’t get out because you keep trying to convince yourself it’s the right thing. To get out is to acknowledge you’ve wasted so much time.”
Unfortunately, Vazquez’s character experiences a tragic fate, something that actually helped him with his performance. That and COVID actually—since they shot the show at the height of the pandemic.
“Knowing his fate was actually helpful because we knew where we had to land. Then we would discuss how far along was he [in reintegration]. The isolation [also] helped the performance, but the doing of acting is a very personal thing. Your job as an actor is to stay completely open, but then you’re doing it in very sterile conditions with a shield. It was like you were in an OR. It was a very strange thing to do.”
Vazquez’s final scene as Petey has him locking eyes with his former office mate outside of a convenience store. What is Petey thinking in those final moments?
“He’s asking Mark for help. In some way. It’s many things. The other part of it is, he’s looking at Mark saying, you need to get out. Look at where I have wound up.”
Season 1 of Severance is streaming on Apple TV+.