It doesn’t take a computer genius to know that Silicon Valley—the name bestowed upon the Santa Clara Valley thanks to its bounty of tech companies—is a happening place. It’s where nerds become billionaires, sweatshirts pass for formal wear and inventing an app can make you the most important guy in the room.
In HBO’s new comedy Silicon Valley, Thomas Middleditch plays Richard, a young coder who’s pet project, a program called Pied Piper, becomes one of the hottest properties around. Suddenly Richard, up until now just another under-the-radar geek, is being wooed by tech’s most impressive titans and has the opportunity to make his fortune, although doing so could come at a cost.
Middleditch spoke with DuJour about what makes Silicon Valley such an interesting spot and how he’s spent a lifetime (indoors) preparing for his role.
The Bay Area is a seriously hot topic these days. What makes it such an interesting place and why do we need another TV show about it?
You can go from a guy eating Ramen to being a billionaire. If you spend time in the Bay Area, you can see that everywhere. What’s exciting about San Francisco right now is potential.
Was there much research involved in playing Richard? Did you spend a day taking notes in the Google cafeteria?
Sadly, there’s a lot of built-in nerd research in my own life. I can draw a lot from my own experiences. I haven’t done much coding, but I was pretty much an indoor kid growing up and I’ve been known to play video games or perhaps Dungeons and Dragons.
What was the most surprising thing you learned about Silicon Valley culture?
My focus was on my own character, so I just looked at who Richard was. He might not be the smoothest guy in the world—his forte is, after all, complex algorhythms—but as the series goes on, he begins to feel the weight of the world on his shoulders. That’s a lot of what drives this guy, that he’s part of a world he’s not used to.
Right, even in the first episode you can see Richard go from being a meek guy to something of a boss.
That’s what a lot of these guys have to do to. They’re creating things that could change the world, and while some have delusions of grandeur, some want to just do something cool. If they do end up finding success they’re not equipped for that.
The guys on the show can seem to be speaking a different language. How much of the techy stuff Richard says do you really understand?
Some. We’ve got a guy on set correcting us and making sure everything we say works. I’ve gotten a few questions that are very tech heavy and I have to remind people I’m not a tech genius, I just play one on TV. And if the legion of nerds has any issues, they can take them up with Mike Judge.
Your character lives in an incubator, a sort of geek commune, where a bunch of guys live and work together. Is being on set with so many funny people a similarly weird set-up?
This show is special because most of us were friends beforehand. A lot of it is goofing around and making headaches for the assistant director; you’ve got four working comedians on set, people who constantly perform live, so it’s a lot of fun.
What’s your own favorite website?
My kneejerk reaction is to say something porn-y but I won’t. Really, pretty much anything that will show a viral video. I’m a big fan of that stuff. Nothing beats something embarrassing happening to someone else.
The most famous tech-world garment is the hooded sweatshirt. Was costuming for the show as simple as tossing one on?
Strangely enough, the hoodie is also a staple of the comedy world, so a lot of the time they’ll dress me in some nerdy outfit and then I’ll go home and notice that my own clothes are awfully similar.
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