Actor Matt Walsh may live in Los Angeles now, but his roots in the area run deep.
Local influences pop up in everything from the Hinsdale South grad’s now-defunct Spike TV series Players, loosely based on Westmont sports bar Papa Passero’s, to his Chicago sports-focused comedy web series, Bear Down Podcast.
Walsh, who co-founded the Upright Citizens Brigade and now stars in the HBO series Veep, is back in his hometown of Darien this weekend for a slate of family graduations. He’ll be taking a timeout from the festivities to produce an episode of Bear Down Podcast at 7 p.m. Friday at The Frugal Muse, 7511 Lemont Rd. in Darien.
Patch chatted with Walsh about his role on Veep, a pivotal performance in a Hinsdale South variety show and his fondness for Chicago’s famous Italian beef sandwiches.
Patch: What kind of student were you at Hinsdale South?
Walsh: Not a great one. Underachiever. I did not focus on grades. I got in trouble for clowning around in classes. I could have done much better because it was a really good school. I think I was more concerned with making my friends laugh than learning. I was probably more of a B student, B-minus. Decent intelligence but no discipline. But certain teachers there did inspire me. I did well in those classes.
Patch: Were you involved with the school’s theater program?
Walsh: Unfortunately I wasn’t. I think I might have been a coward about it or maybe I just didn’t jump into it. I was doing sports and stuff and probably didn’t know anybody. Had I had friends in it, I might have jumped in. The only thing I did at Hinsdale South was the variety show at the end of the year. That was my first taste of an audience laughing at you, and I really enjoyed that. And I was really amazed you could write something and get a roomful of people to laugh at you. That was a real kind of life-changing moment for me to get a taste of that. I did, like, one acting class during college, and then I started doing improv my senior year. I would drive into Chicago. After college it was all improv.
Patch: Do you do a lot of improv on the Veep set?
Walsh: You know, we do. It’s a very integral part of the process. We spend several weeks rehearsing through the season, and then oftentimes (the writers) just give us a loose description of a scene they want, and then we’ll improvise how we would perform that or behave in that scene, and then they’ll walk away with notes and write up a first draft of that scene. And other times they’ll give us a complete draft of the script and we’ll sort of put the script down and paraphrase what they say. Some of the improv from those scenes in the rehearsal room ends up in the script. And then the final day of shooting we always get one or two takes where we really get to improvise. We can do whatever we want as long as we stick to the beats of the scene. The scripts are excellent. I think because the writers are all British, they want to see how Americans would sort of phrase what they’ve written. It’s a very collaborative show.
Patch: In Veep, you play the communications director for the vice-president (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus). What kind of research did you do to prepare for your role?
Walsh: We got a nice tour of the White House and the West Wing and the Eisenhower Building where the vice president works. We got to go in (Joe) Biden’s office. We met a lot of congressmen and staffers and chiefs of staff in communications. I had a few connections of my own through people here in Chicago who hooked me up with people who are assistants to congressmen. We would go out for drinks late at night, and then you get the real story. Then you get the real gossip, so that was really helpful, too.
Patch: Did you find out any good dirt?
Walsh: Oddly enough, I think the conservatives tend to party more. The liberals are a little more proper. That was my take. That was only over two nights of drinks. The other thing that surprised me was how much time they spend raising money. They literally spend half their day off campus on a phone that’s not government issue calling constituents for their re-election, like day one they’re in it. That was sort of disheartening.
Patch: What do you like about coming back to the area?
Matt Walsh: Beef sandwiches with sweet peppers. I love those. I went to Papa Passero’s, one of my old haunts. Like the pizza. (The area) is just fun and friendly. We’re at a water park today with the kids and it’s really easy to get around. I still have a lot of old friends here, lot of old Hinsdale South guys, so we hang out, get drinks, catch up.
Patch: Who do you think makes the best Italian beef sandwiches?
Patch: I hear you used to work at Papa Passero’s.
Walsh: I worked there for five summers when I was going to Northern Illinois University. It was the first sports bar in the western suburbs. In our area, Westmont, Downers Grove, Darien, it was a revolution. Everybody discovered that you could watch any game on television on a gigantic TV and get pitchers of beer, and it was like cocaine. (Those were) great summers. I actually created a TV show loosely based on my experiences there. It was on Spike TV a couple of years ago. It was loosely based on the Passero brothers, Bill and Andy. Not totally realistic, but it was inspired by them.
Patch: Anything else you want to add?
Walsh: If you could, just tell Frank Zimmerman in the Hinsdale South Hall of Fame I’m coming for him.
Matt Walsh will be presenting Bear Down Podcast at 7 p.m. Friday at The Frugal Muse. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.frugalmusebooks.com.