Interview

Anna Chlumsky of ‘VEEP’ Talks Potty Mouths and PG Curse Words

The actress shares a few toned-down expletives she uses at home and explains how a chat with singer Roberta Flack led her back into acting.

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At age 10, Anna Chlumsky became one of the most beloved child stars in America when she starred in the sweet coming-of-age flick “My Girl,” alongside Macaulay Culkin. But these days she’s perhaps better known for her multiple-Emmy-nominated performance on a show few would describe as “sweet.” That would be “Veep,” the foul-mouthed HBO comedy about a Vice President, who — spoiler alert — becomes the first female President.

Anna plays Amy, the uptight, workaholic former Chief of Staff. And here’s an infamous clip of the character in action. This is from last season, when in the midst of a fraught re-election campaign, Amy finally explodes in rage and quits… in the process telling President Selina Meyer — played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus — exactly what she thinks of her.

We talked to Anna about the show’s influence on her potty mouth, how singer Roberta Flack changed her life, and more.

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Rico Gagliano: What has been the impact, perhaps, of your personal life of basically being around cursing all the live long day?

Anna Chlumsky: I do find that I have more of a potty mouth when we’re filming. I have a 2-and-a-half-year-old, so I’ve learned all of my euphemisms. You know, I say, “fudge,” and like, “bull shrimp,” and you know, “Jiminy Christmas,” and things like that.

Photo Courtesy of WAMU
Photo Courtesy of WAMU

Rico Gagliano: There was a point in time where you didn’t, you were not acting. And you were taking a number of odd jobs we understand, including like a fact checker at Zagat or something?

Anna Chlumsky: That was my entry level position after college. I was a fact checker at Zagat. We didn’t have a freak out like [on “VEEP”], but we did… it was three of us doing this fact checking job, which was really a step above telemarketing because we had like a 15-minute questionnaire, and we would just cold call every property in the book that was about to be reprinted.

And so, sometimes, people were happy to talk to us because they gotten good ratings. Some people were really unhappy to talk to us because they had gotten bad ratings and it was like “Well, it’s not our fault. You know, make better food. Sorry!”

Brendan Francis Newnam: So you were away from acting but then apparently the soul singer, Roberta Flack, got you sort of back into acting.

Anna Chlumsky: It was a chance meeting. We were at the same nail salon and I had already kind of been going through you know, that pre-life crisis of “Oh I, you know, deep down I wanted to try acting again.” But you know, full, so much fear of rejection.

And I had already kind of had the proverbial bee planted in my bonnet from a wonderful theater that I had been seeing and I had friends who you know would say things like, “You know, your problem is you have to act again.” And I’m like, “No, I can’t, don’t say it.”

Photo Courtesy of WAMU
Photo Courtesy of WAMU

But, meeting Roberta Flack kind of happened in that time period and the woman who was giving me my pedicure said, “Oh, Roberta Flack is over there!” And I was like, “Wow, that’s amazing!” And she’s like, “Oh, she knows who you are. She wants to meet you.”

And I thought that… I mean that’s bizarre to me. I’m like, “Really?!?” But I went over to meet her and of course and she asked me what I was doing and I said, “Oh, I’m, at the time I was an editorial assistant at HarperCollins Publishing.”

So she said, “You’re not in show business anymore?” And I was like, “No, I’m done with that.” You know, “Screw that!” And she just looked at me like I was crazy and was like, “Really? Oh, well, all right.”

And, it struck a nerve with me. And I went home and I was like, “Who am I to tell Roberta Flack that she’s wrong about staying in show business?” Because she was like, “You should keep up with it.” And I’m like, “No, I’m done. I’m done.”

Rico Gagliano: But were you afraid of? What, like why did you need Roberta Flack to get you into it? If you had the bee in your bonnet, you had done it as a young lady.

Anna Chlumsky: I had had some modicum of success as a kid. But then you go through puberty and different things happen to your body or whatever and you’re still trying to get a job. And I think as an adolescent, rejection is hard for anybody and everybody goes through that as an adolescent.

And for me, having kind of an entire industry head up that rejection, just was not fun. I didn’t want to go through that again. I just didn’t want to go through it. But thankfully, as an adult, once I did unpack all this stuff, all these little signs that were being sent me in New York. And, like Roberta Flack.

I was able to realize that it didn’t matter what the industry thought of me or if I ended up on covers of magazines or if people thought I was pretty or whatever. I wanted to tell stories and be the bridge of great text to an audience. So all of the fear of rejection just became much smaller than the desire to pursue this craft.

[This interview has been edited and condensed.]