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‘Silicon Valley’s’ Thomas Middleditch has fun taking Richard to the edge

Thomas Middleditch loves when he gets to do physical comedy on "Silicon Valley."
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

In person, Thomas Middleditch doesn’t seem a neurotic with trembling finger on his own self-destruct button although he plays one beautifully as lead nerd Richard in HBO’s “Silicon Valley.” As a result, he has just received the show’s first Emmy nomination for acting. But off-screen, he seems more benignly sarcastic hipster friend than nervous coding genius as he enjoys a couple of hard-boiled eggs.

The lanky Canadian even confesses to being slightly behind the tech times in a quiet chat with The Envelope: “People go on Snapchat – I don’t understand it. It’s the first app I felt – ‘Oh no, I’m out of touch with burgeoning technology. I’m not 16!’ Now, at 34, I’m shaking my fist [old-man voice]: ‘Stick to Instagram, you dirty hippies!’ ”

The creators of “Silicon Valley” fashioned Richard with you in mind. Why did they think you were perfect for it?

It’s not like I’m not nerdy; I like some nerdy stuff, but I’m not as intensely nerdy as he is. I’m way more chill than Richard. He’s got that tunnel vision. … He does have an ego. But he also has a strong moral conviction. Whether that’s good for the company or just good for him and his friends is kind of the crux of a lot of the things he gets into.

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People who know me from improv are like, ‘Thomas Middleditch? Oh, you mean that total ham, that poor man’s Jim Carrey?’

Thomas Middleditch

That first episode, he was just this programmer who had this cool thing wrapped up in a [bad] user interface … “Do I sell out or make this thing myself?” So that sort of underdog, American spirit of “Let’s go for a grand slam instead of just a base hit” … those were the identifying markers I thought were important. He’s the guy who’s like, “Guys, we need to focus, this is my life.” Because of that, he divulges secrets to a blogger or face-plants on a desk. People who know me from improv are like, “Thomas Middleditch? Oh, you mean that total ham, that poor man’s Jim Carrey?” Richard is understated for me. So when those [physical comedy] bits started coming my way, I was like, “Great! Nice.”

Is he an engineer first or a dreamer first?

I think that’s his journey. He started out as just an engineer. In that first episode, he didn’t even know what he had. I think when he realized … he dreamed of much loftier ambitions.

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I like that he’s not entirely benign. He is moving toward doing shady things to get what he wants.

Each time I read the episodes where that stuff kind of got proposed, I would be like, “Yes! Do it!” That’s what the “Breaking Bad” version would have done. From the stories the writers get from the actual Silicon Valley, it seems like these hippies came out of the ’60s and made this revolutionary tech, but it’s just as cutthroat and corporate as Wall Street. Sadly for a lot of guys, they have their baby ripped away from them. [touches his fingertips together, becomes Montgomery Burns] Granted, they’re paid handsomely for their baby … in a much more lucrative Rumpelstiltskin metaphor.

You’re in that HBO Sunday night Murderer’s Row. But when “Game of Thrones” ends, you’ll have to pick up the banner …

Season 4 is going to be just like, nudity and blood. A lot of people tweet at me after some incredibly stressful “Game of Thrones” episode, “I was looking forward to your show to relax, but I ended up just being equally stressed.” But I think that’s one of the show’s strengths – something pay cable allows is a strong narrative, even in a half-hour comedy. There can even be cliffhangers.

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Maybe that Walter White arc could happen.

I would love it. Richard has come so close to losing everything on the show, and if that ever happens, I hope he has the [guts] to, “Hackers”-style, take down the man. Like the last shot is him in handcuffs, or, like, he’s in Moscow, chilling with [Edward] Snowden.

calendar@latimes.com


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