Zach Woods Talks Comedy, Romance on ‘Silicon Valley’

If you’re not watching HBO’s Silicon Valley, then you’re missing out on one of television’s smartest and most relevant sitcoms. It’s no mistake that it airs with another ripped-from-the-headlines comedy, Veep. Developed by Mike Judge, this Emmy and Golden Globe-nominee takes viewers inside the world of tech developers trying to make it big. They’re always only an app away. Don’t let the tech jargon scare you, though. The show is filled with solid laughs and is incredibly smart.

I recently caught up with UCB alumni and Silicon Valley star Zach Woods. Woods plays Jared, your typical office nerd who seems to run into several modern techie trials and tribulations. Jared, the sweet guy, doesn’t always stand up or speak his mind. Viewers should watch out, though, because Zach Woods / Jared is starting to crack the shell more this season. Will Jared finally find love? Is Zach Woods as funny as his on-screen persona? Is he as tech savvy as his on-screen persona?

Read on to find out more about Silicon Valley‘s secret treasure Zach Woods.

Zach Woods: Do you feel like your mood correlates strongly with the day of the week? 

AwardsDaily TV: I think so. What about you? 

ZW: It’s interesting how much it’s endured, like, even though I know my life doesn’t really adhere to the school week anymore. I still get excited for Fridays even though I often have nothing to do on Thursday. It’s weird how enduring that is!

ADTV: Yeah, that’s interesting. Come Wednesday, it’s like I’ve made it through and Thursday is around the corner and then it’s Friday and then it’s the weekend! 

ZW: I had a school bus driver who used to sing every Wednesday, and I think she was a very unhappy person. She’d sing this song about how “You make it through today and its downhill the rest of the week.” I think she was trying to be light and encouraging, but she just sounded like a disaster.

ADTV:  When was your first experience with comedy? Do you remember? 

ZW: When I was growing up, my dad used to read me Neil Simon plays as bedtime stories and those were kind of funny to me, at the time at least. I don’t know how they hold up. I guess family was my first exposure to comedy. My grandmother loved jokes. In terms of actual performed comedy, I don’t remember the first time I saw live comedy. When I was in middle and high school, I was obsessed with Christopher Guest movies and that kind of thing. Kind of like Monty Python a little bit where, to some people, that’s like an early religion [laughs]. Oh! And old Marx Brothers movies! But I was always just a casual audience member. Then, in high school, I started taking classes about those people and just got that much more interested in the whole larger comedy world.

ADTV: Now, you’re playing Jared on Silicon Valley and he’s a tech guy. Are you a techie? 

ZW: No, I’m pretty tech illiterate. I find it intimidating and often very scary [laughs]. I have an iPhone, and I rely on Waze to navigate. Some of the other guys on the show are into video games and Kumail has done a little bit of programming, but by and large we’re just playing tech guys. We’re not actually techies.

ADTV: How has the show been for you so far? Is it a laugh a minute on set and off set? 

ZW: Yeah, it’s been wonderful! It’s really a dream come true. Such a rare thing for an actor to get to be on a show with people you like and writing that you’re excited to do and characters that you feel like there’s a strong voice, but there’s also room to play and develop. It’s sort of surpasses my wildest fantasies about what a job could be. I still feel slightly [laughs] bewildered by my own good fortune. I’m so happy.

ADTV: I think you play the nicest character on the show. Is that hard? Do you ever wish that Jared had like a… not evil side but would mouth off one day? 

ZW: I think he’s sweet. He yells in German in his unconscious life so he’s probably exercising all sorts of darkness that has no outlet in his waking hours. I like it in the instances where Jared gets to stand up for himself. There was like one little story last season premiere where he’s on the Bro app and someone takes advantage of Pied Piper and he scolds the guy. There’s a scene in the first season where Monica is sort of moving in on his turf, in terms of being Richard’s primary care taker, and he gets really upset with her. Any time he gets to have a little bit of an aggressive moment I think that’s fun.

ADTV: What do you see as Jared’s overall journey on the show? Where would you like to see him go? 

ZW: I always think about it as like he’s a Pinocchio story where when he worked at Hooli, which is where he’s working at the pilot episode, he’s kind of just like a wooden puppet. Once he sees Richard, he becomes a real boy and all of the sudden has all kind of new feelings [laughs] and sort of comes alive. The way I think of that is like over the seasons, I think he gets more and more comfortable being a semi-full human being. Even in this season, there’s an episode where everyone’s giving Dinesh a hard time for the chain he’s wearing and Jared gets in on it and is so delighted that now, for the first time, he’s busting someone’s balls and he’s never done that before. I feel like, with Pied Piper, he has a series of firsts that are badly belated in terms of like normal human experiences. I’d like to see that keep evolving. There’s stuff coming up… like in the episode this Sunday… there’s another first for Jared so they’ve been good about that. He’s just like gently kicking the ball down the court for his character.

ADTV: I like that. I’ll be looking forward to Sunday’s episode to see what his next first is [laughs]. I’ve learned with a lot of comedies and from speaking to people that it is actually sometimes tightly scripted so there’s not much room for improv. What about on Silicon Valley? Do you get much room or is it the same? 

ZW: Most of what makes it onto the show is written. It’s like what you were asking earlier with it being a laugh a minute on set and stuff; that is one of the main things that I’m grateful for. The writers on the show just like break their backs making the show good. You know like at the start of a president’s term you see a picture of like Obama and then they’ll show you Obama at the end of his eight years of presidency and he’s aged like drastically more than eight years should age a person, that’s what happens to the writers [laughs]. Like, if you took a photo of the writers at the beginning of the season and the end of the season, you would see just the sheer psychic pull of their incredibly high standards they’ve set take on them. It’s really amazing. Sometimes you’ll go into a show and they’ll be like “Hey can you improvise?” because basically the comedy isn’t up to par and they’re hoping that you can fill a vacancy. We do improvise a fair amount on the show, but that’s just the fine little moments or funny little things or maybe once a month there’ll be an alt line or some character development that you can get into the script, but you’re not improvising to fix something. You’re improvising is just like a little extra for the editors and Alec Berg and Mike Judge when they’re just putting together the episodes.

ADTV: On the subject of Mike, what’s it like working with him? 

ZW: It’s fun. He’s a very soft spoken, nice, funny laid back guy. It’s a little scary because having seen all of the shows and movies he’s made, I know how observant he is. He’s so good at zeroing in on the things about people that make them ridiculous so when I’m talking to him, I can’t help but wonder what ridiculous thing he’s noticing about me that I’m not aware of myself. It’s a bit like having someone look closely at your face in a florescently lit room and having credible vision for something. It feels like, “Oh God, what you going to see?” He’s wonderful. That’s probably more something I’m projecting onto him based on his work rather than something he’s actually doing. The other guy who runs the show is Alec Berg who worked on Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm and a number of other shows. He’s incredible too. Those two guys together are really kind of unlike any writing team I’ve ever encountered before because they just cover each other’s very small blind spots.

ADTV: You know what it’s like working in an office and on set. Jared is kind of like the outsider, a little bit, so do you maintain that separation off camera? 

ZW: No! That’d be bad for just a fictional ostracizing to be carried over into our professional lives. Although, someone pointed out to me recently, that Jared has been the brunt of a lot less hostility and exclusion this season. I think maybe they’re more accepting of him now. We hang out all the time. I, like, had pancakes with those guys last Sunday. My guess is that probably helps the show too. I think that we legitimately like each other probably in some way influences the feeling of the show. There’s been lots of shows where people detest each other and have great chemistry on screen so I guess it’s not necessary, but it just makes it much, much easier. And, it’s also nice for me because you can take risks and other people get your back and help you out and stuff.

ADTV: It’s like, I want to work with these guys because they seem fun.  

ZW: I always wondered about that when I would watch tv shows and it would seem like the world of the show is so fun. Before I ever got any acting work, I would just think, “Oh man, that looks so fun and I bet they’re all hanging out and eating snacks and dicking around in whatever way they do.” It’s been a great delight to discover that, in fact, that is sometimes the case. It is really fun [laughs]!

ADTV: You’ve also done some drama. You did The Good Wife, and it was like, “This is interesting. Let’s see how that pans out.” Would you do more drama in the future? Or are you a total comedian? 

ZW: No, definitely I would do more drama. My favorite things to watch usually don’t fit neatly into either dramatic or comedic categories. I thought The Sopranos was one of the funniest shows on television and like Freaks and Geeks, which is labeled a comedy, I thought had some of the most quietly dramatic moments of anything I’d seen. For me, the sort of decisive factor in what I want to do is just whether or not it feels like it’s about real human beings. The only things I don’t like doing is if something feels really cynical or cruel, although I’ve certainly done those things too, but if the writing feels like it has contempt for people I’m not interested in that. As long as the material is populated by actual living and breathing human beings. I’m definitely interested in doing dramatic stuff just because I haven’t done as much of it.

ADTV: Do you have any highlights from the last season or some of your favorite moments? 

ZW: Let me think. I love it when Jared and Richard get to have these quiet little scenes together. Like in the first episode, there’s this little scene where he’s telling Richard he’s gotten a bunch of job interviews for Richard, and they’re just sitting in the bedroom quietly. All these little intimate heart to hearts between a reluctant Richard and a very enthusiastic Jared I really like. Coming up in the next episode, there’s some sort of romantic storylines for some of the characters and Jared’s response to that is really fun. It’s hard to remember. I’ll have to think about this. If something occurs to me as like a crowning moment, I’ll tell you.

ADTV: When do you shoot? 

ZW: We actually don’t shoot for that long. We start in October and end in March.

ADTV: Are you enjoying your break? 

ZW: Yeah! It’s great. I’m trying to find a movie to do. I might do some writing. It’s really nice. It’s such a comprehensively ideal show in that it’s my favorite thing to work on and it only takes up a small portion of the year so you have time to do other projects.

Zach Woods can be seen weekly on HBO’s Silicon Valley, airing Sunday nights at 10pm ET.

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