As HBO’s smash political satire Veep kicks off its fifth season, Chicago native and three-time Emmy nominee Anna Chlumsky cements her spot as one of television’s most talented comedy players.
West Side native—and former child star—Anna Chlumsky is back playing politics in the fifth season of the HBO smash Veep.
Anna Chlumsky may have shot to fame at age 10 with a starring role opposite Macaulay Culkin in the hit ’91 movie My Girl, but hers is no typical child-star story. The whip-smart West Side native took a hiatus from acting to study international relations at the University of Chicago, and for the past five years she has put her hilarious stamp on HBO’s Veep as the über-intense Amy Brookheimer, campaign manager for (and comic foil to) Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s ambitious politician Selina Meyer.
With season five ready to premiere, Chlumsky connected with costar Sam Richardson in an exclusive interview for Michigan Avenue, with the pair dishing on politics, pizza, and the joys of growing up a Bulls fan in Jordan-era Chicago.
Sam Richardson: Hello, Anna, this is Sam from the show Veep.
Anna Chlumsky: Hi, Sam. It’s nice to hear your voice. Thanks for doing this.
SR: I love you dearly, so of course I’d do it.
AC: God only knows why.
SR: There’s a plethora of reasons, which I won’t get into in this interview.
AC: It’s an embarrassment of riches already.
SR: So Anna, Veep is celebrating its season-five premiere. I don’t know if you’re aware of this.
AC: Oh, man.
SR: Did you imagine five years ago that the show would be such a hit?
AC: Actually, no. The greatest thing about that first season was that we were just having such a blast that I personally didn’t even concern myself with the response because we loved it so much and it was excellent satire. To me, that was all that mattered, so any audience was gravy.
SR: Why do you think Veep has had so much success?
AC: It’s funny, and it’s smart, and it has the perfect home. HBO is a very smart place, and it attracts smart viewers. Also, they’re known for letting the creators fly, and we needed that. And we can’t forget that Julia [Louis-Dreyfus] is such a force. People just can’t stop: They want more of her.
SR: There is an appetite for Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
AC: Yes, the insatiable appetite for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, exactly. That can’t have hurt.
SR: Has being on the show made you more interested in politics?
AC: I was on a huge diet of politics before I started this show. I studied international relations. My dad’s a political junkie, so I grew up around that. I will say that being on this show makes you have to be aware on a cultural level about DC. But the beauty of this is that we don’t have to really draw on the actual politics of today because we’re satirizing the system. I’m aware of it, and I can hold my own in a conversation. I have my own views, and I use my power, which is a vote, but that’s where I stick. I don’t like to treat it as a sport, because it exhausts me.
With three supporting-actress Emmy nominations under her belt, Veep star and West Side native Anna Chlumsky has settled comfortably into life in the spotlight.
SR: What’s your favorite thing about doing the show?
AC: The thing I value most is that I get to act with the best of the best and the smartest of the smartest: actors, comedians, writers, directors. To take a phrase from academia, we have a marketplace of ideas, and you want to fill that marketplace with really top-notch and intelligent people. I really feel that we’re lucky enough to say we do.
SR: Who makes you laugh the most on set?
SR: Thank you. I—
AC: It’s not even a thank you. That’s actually true. I don’t want to pigeonhole you at all, because you are a very multifaceted individual and we’ve had many intellectual conversations, but Jesus, there was a dearth of people who could get my musical theater references before you showed up. Now it’s a breath of fresh air.
SR: Happy to be there. So which is cooler: your three consecutive Emmy nominations for supporting actress for Veep or the 1991 MTV Movie Award for best kiss that you won for My Girl with Macaulay Culkin?
AC: Emmys, Emmys.
AC: Emmys, Emmys, Emmys, Emmys. Much cooler.
SR: What was that time of your life like, that child actor life?
AC: There are two ways to answer that. One is from the point of view back then: That was just my life. I still went to normal school when I wasn’t working. I didn’t know any different, so I was going through normal 10-year-old things. The second way to answer that question is in retrospect as an adult looking back and you go, “Oh my gosh, that probably was a huge, enormous shift.” I think it did teach me to not trust people very well because you just don’t know people’s intentions.
SR: Sure. So you grew up completely in Chicago.
AC: It was really important to us that we kept our support system around us and that we kept a certain amount of our lives as normal and as familiar as possible. We didn’t have a problem with Chicago, so why leave?
SR: Exactly. What did you enjoy most about growing up in Chicago?
AC: The Bulls, because it was the ’90s, man. It was heaven to a Bulls fan. Oh my God, it was so great.
SR: I’m a ’90s Pistons fan, so we weren’t friends.
AC: No, we weren’t. At least you weren’t a Knicks fan or a Lakers fan, ay yi yi. I had a lot of fun being a Bulls fan and living on the West Side of Chicago—it was a hot time in the city. [Laughs]. I’m so cheesy. What else did I like about growing up in Chicago? I really liked that I could just take a trip on the Eisenhower for 10 minutes and be in a John Hughes movie. It sounds ridiculous to think of it that way. At that time, everything that was “cool” took place there, like The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Even The Fugitive. You just felt like you were in the coolest freaking “City of Big Shoulders” Carl Sandburg city.
SR: What was your experience like at the University of Chicago?
AC: It was great. I look back on the walls of academia so fondly. When I go back or when I think on it, a weight just lifts, and I think that that’s how I felt while I was there. It was the first time that I was able to just be myself and not have to prove anything other than whether or not I could write a paper and make an argument, which is great. I felt really supported and happy there.
SR: Do you make it to Chicago often?
AC: Not as often as it should be, but I do. If we can’t make it for Christmas, then we make it for summer, which, by the way, is nicer weather.
SR: Chicago in the winter is beautiful, but that lake wind can really knock you up—I mean knock you out.
AC: I’m sure some people got knocked up because of the lake effect since they just didn’t leave their house.
SR: Exactly. You have to keep warm.
Last year on Broadway, Chlumsky showed her theater chops—and indulged her passion for opera—by performing opposite Douglas Sills (pictured) and star soprano Renée Fleming in the comedic opera tribute Living on Love.
SR: When you’re back, are there any places that are a must to visit?
AC: We always end up at Café Iberico—best tapas. I always need a Johnnie’s Beef, on North Avenue. In my first pregnancy, I craved—it’s not Chicago-style pizza; it’s what people don’t realize is Chicago-style pizza, which they call tavern-style pizza, which is the thin, thin crust that they do in squares. We get it from a place called Villa Nova Pizzeria. I believe it’s in Stickney. I’m showing off my West Side Chicago [now].
SR: You’re a West Side Chicago pro. You and [husband] Shaun have a daughter, Penelope. How has being a mother changed your perspective towards your career?
AC: Oh God, how hasn’t it? It’s just really made priorities clear, which has been a gift. Also I’m really blessed and fortunate to be in a place in my career where I can prioritize my kid. It’s a hard habit to break as an actor to not think you have to say yes to everything.
SR: Are there any particular causes that you’re passionate about?
AC: I’m not an enormous activist—you’re not going to see me on every PSA—but the things that do matter to me are certainly LGBTQ issues and rights, and youth especially, and veterans’ affairs—and we could all use a cure for Alzheimer’s.
SR: Are there any dream projects that you’d like to pursue or are there actors out there who blow you away?
AC: Well, that’s many questions in one... dream projects? I’ve always been dying to do a really legit period piece in the vein of Amadeus, John Adams, or even Lonesome Dove. I’m drawn someday to play a military character. I know that’s in me. And I have this obsession with opera. I do feel like if you ever see me with a director credit, it’s going to be for an opera. Actors that I’d die for? Tom Hardy and Idris Elba. I will see them in anything not just because they’re gorgeous; because they are phenomenal actors. I love Rooney Mara. I think she’s fantastic. Let’s see, what other… I mean, come on, Robert Duvall in anything, right?
SR: Of course.
AC: Frances McDormand. These are the icons for me.
SR: Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Directing a period piece?
AC: Wouldn’t that be nice? That’d be nice to have one or two under my belt by then. Shall we say several? Why not? It’s an abundance of life. Well, I want to be in a bigger apartment. I really do.
AC: At least three bedrooms would be great.
SR: This is going out to every realtor in Chicago.
AC: I really want to stay in New York.
SR: Well, maybe they’ve got connections.
AC: Yeah, I’m sorry—I really don’t need to live in Arlington Heights right now. Nothing against all of my friends who just moved to Arlington Heights. I love you, but my God. Where do I see myself? This is the best possible scenario: My kids are being educated in a school that enriches, nourishes, challenges, and engages them. I’m pursuing and doing fantastic work. Ten years... I’ll be happy. I read that article in The Atlantic about [happiness in] your 40s, so I think I can make it through. [Laughs]
SR: I believe it.
AC: It’ll be a victory. And I mean that with the best possible intentions.
PhotograPhy by tom Schirmacher/aUgUSt