8 Questions with: Silicon Valley star and real-life geek Thomas Middleditch

Self-deprecating Thomas Middleditch has hints of the head nerd he plays in Silicon Valley

Thomas Middleditch (centre) with (from left) Zach Woods, T.J. Miller, Kumail Nanjiani and Martin Starr in Silicon Valley. -- PHOTO: HBO ASIA
Thomas Middleditch (centre) with (from left) Zach Woods, T.J. Miller, Kumail Nanjiani and Martin Starr in Silicon Valley. -- PHOTO: HBO ASIA

It turns out that Thomas Middle- ditch, the head nerd in the HBO TV series Silicon Valley, is quite the geek in real life.

While the actor admits he "cannot necessarily code as well as his character" - that is, he cannot write computer software code - he is certainly geeky in other aspects.

"I play Dungeons & Dragons and I go to Renaissance fairs. I don't know if they have that in Asia, but they are these events where people go and dress up in mediaeval clothing. So yes, I am a bit nerdy," he confesses to Life! and other regional reporters over the telephone from his home in Los Angeles.

The 33-year-old was fielding media questions to promote the second season of the critically acclaimed show, in which he plays the extremely introverted and gawky computer programmer Richard Hendricks.

Along with a team of super tech nerds, Hendricks attempts to get a start-up business going for a revolutionary compression algorithm that he has written, but stumbles as a jealous CEO of a major company tries to stop him.

The show has been well reviewed since its premiere last year and has been renewed for a third season.

Despite the actor's self-professed nerd quotient, he is quick to point out that he is probably far cooler than his onscreen alter ego.

"I'd like to think I'm a lot less socially awkward than he is. A lot of people are surprised about this when they meet me, when they find out that I'm not him."

During the 30- minute telephone interview, at least, the Canadian native certainly proves to be a charmer.

Self- deprecating and hilariously deadpan, his comic talents were evident throughout, perhaps unsurprising given that he used to be heavily involved in improvisational comedy.

Before getting his gig on Silicon Valley, he worked at renowned improv studios such as Chicago's iO Theater and The Second City.

Before ending the telephone, he suddenly blurts out the fact that he knows people

can call others

"aunties" and "uncles" in parts of Asia out of politeness and affection.

The bachelor then proceeds to say with enthusiasm: "Bye, aunties. Thank you, aunties, for your time."

The six journalists on the call burst out laughing, especially since every one is relatively young.

When told, he replies quickly in mock confusion: "Oh, then should I call you all my nieces? Well, I tried my best."

1 You said you do not know much about coding. How do you deal with technical jargon on the show?

We have a guy on set that is kind of our consultant. He makes sure that whenever there is technical stuff in the script, it's plausible and that when the actors say it, we don't trip up until it doesn't make sense. Sometimes, I feel like I'm in those medical procedural dramas where I'm saying something without knowing what I'm saying. Most of this coding stuff is alien to me.

2 Silicon Valley has been widely praised by tech executives. How does the show get away with lampooning them, but also getting their seal of approval at the same time?

There's a great attention to detail to that world we're setting the show in, from the characters to the technical maths that we use. I don't want to be so bold as to speak on behalf of nerds everywhere, but on TV and film, we're often portrayed like Steve Urkel, a geeky character on the sitcom Family Matters, with suspenders and catchphrases and thick glasses.

Silicon Valley is on the side of the nerd. Its world is ridiculous, but it just happens that every part of life is ridiculous in some way.

3 There are signs of a potential romance between your character Richard and a personal assistant named Monica (played by Amanda Crew). Will that romance blossom?

I certainly wouldn't mind it. Amanda Crew is a beautiful girl. But I don't think the writers set out to make it about that - the show is about the rise and fall of a corporate start-up. So with that being the focus, I wouldn't hold my breath.

4 You have been friends with your Silicon Valley co-star T.J. Miller for years. What are the pros and cons of working with a close friend?

I've known co-star Kumail Nanjiani for about 10 years as well and I would say that there are a lot more pros than cons. The only con is that you get too smart with each other, like how you treat your family. So there are times when you get mad at them for no reason, such as how you get mad at a brother. But it's a rare treat and it's not often in this industry that you get to work with best friends.

5 You and Miller attended TechCrunch Disrupt New York last year, an annual conference where start-ups pitch their ideas for funding. What was that like?

A couple of guys came to pitch us apps. One pitched an app that prayed for you, which is ridiculous. It takes away the point of praying and to pitch it to me and T.J., who are atheists, we were just like, "Oh... okay." But I thought that was funny because at TechCrunch, people are just scrambling for something to work.

6 Have you learnt anything new about the filming world after joining Silicon Valley?

You know how in movies or TV, people vomit? I've always wondered what is the stuff they use to portray vomit. And since my character has to do some vomiting, I found out it's a fruit smoothie with banana chunks. It's delicious.

7 How has your life changed after starring in Silicon Valley?

Career-wise, it has opened up opportunities for me and getting me projects that I wouldn't necessarily have been able to get before the show. In college, Kumail and I would do stand-up in a bar and go for drinks afterwards. Now, people would corner us after the show to take selfies with us. So things have changed in that respect, but it's all positive.

8 How would you like to be remembered?

Hopefully, someone will say something nice and simple like: "He was funny and he was kind." I don't necessarily have a desire to change the world.


Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

Silicon Valley 2 airs on HBO (StarHub TV Channel 601) today at 10am, with an encore at 10pm.

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