Anna Chlumsky, From Vada to Veep


Those born in the ’80s, or with children born in the ’80s, will know who Anna Chlumsky is. They might not recognize her name, but they’ll recognize her face and toothy smile. At age 11, Chlumsky played the role of the precocious child with a peculiar name, Vada Sultenfuss, in the 1991 film My Girl, alongside Dan Aykroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, and an itty-bitty, pre-Home Alone Macaulay Culkin. She resumed this role for My Girl 2 in 1994 and subsequently disappeared from the public eye, as child actors are wont to do.

Two decades later, Brooklyn-based Anna has the enviable role of Amy Brookheimer on HBO’s Veep. As the Vice-President’s remarkably capable Chief of Staff, Anna stars alongside Julia Lewis-Dreyfus (the titular VP), and Tony Hale (who played Byron “Buster” Bluth on Arrested Development). She’s also in the odd off-Broadway theater production and independent films such as The Pill [2011], and the upcoming Bert and Arnie’s Guide to Friendship [2012].

As fans of Veep—it’s wonderful to see a humorous female politician who is not based on Sarah Palin, and we have a weakness for anything featuring former cast members of Arrested Development—we recently gave the chipper and cheery Anna a call.

EMMA BROWN: Hi Anna, I hear you have to go to rehearsal after this.

ANNA CHLUMSKY: Yes ma’am. I’m going to midtown to rehearse for my new show, which will open in June at the Rattlestick downtown on Waverly. It’s called 3C. It’s awesome.

BROWN: What’s your role in the show?

CHLUMSKY: My role is named Connie. Basically it’s about three roommates in a swinging 1970s apartment in Santa Monica, California. It’s kind of inspired by ‘70s sitcoms and Ionesco and Chekhov, and just a whole bunch of craziness. [laughs]

BROWN: Do you wear lots of polyester clothing?

CHLUMSKY: I haven’t even seen the official sketches yet, but I get to wear a teddy and a bikini at one point, so there’s gonna be plenty of skin for this show. [laughs]

BROWN: You started acting very young, but then took time off to go to university. Was it difficult to get back into acting after a six-year break?

CHLUMSKY: It was in the sense that it was a complete shift—going from a kid to an adult is a big difference. [But] I got some good advice to get some training—and I did get training. It’s [also] difficult because you don’t make money right away; it’s a lot about paying your dues at first and a lot of beating the pavement, so that really does test your mettle. There are definitely really scary days where you’re like, “Holy crap, am I even going to get to pay rent?” But I also was so completely enamored with the profession once I got back into it that, even when I don’t know how I’m going to [pay my rent], I still would rather be doing this, and have it be this scary, than doing anything else. Emotionally, it was taxing, but it still always felt right and always felt good.

BROWN: When you started your professional training, did you feel like you had more to prove because of your child-acting past?

CHLUMSKY: Maybe for a split second, but it was a really supportive group of people. Everybody had whatever stuff they were bringing with them before they got in the room. Whatever specificity anybody might have wanted to put on me before that kind of evened out with everybody else’s pasts. If it ever was a nerve of mine, it really dissipated almost immediately.

BROWN: I hear you also worked at a publishing house after college.

CHLUMSKY: For a year, I did.  I worked at HarperCollins. I was an editorial assistant for their science fiction and fantasy imprint. [laughs]

BROWN: Did you get to choose which imprint you worked for, or did you just want a job in publishing?

CHLUMSKY: Kind of. I entered the company as a rotational associate—one of those entry jobs. It’s kind of like an in-house temp where if anybody is gone or needs to be gone, then you can go and work in that person’s job, [but] when then position opened up in science fiction I was thrilled, because that’s what I was into at the time. [laughs]

BROWN: Are you an avid sci-fi and fantasy reader?

CHLUMSKY: [laughs] I certainly was, I just haven’t gotten to read a bunch lately. Back then it was all about Lord of the
and Mary Stewart [books] and the Merlin trilogy. All that good stuff.

BROWN: How did you get cast on Veep?

CHLUMSKY: I had done a film that came out in ’09 called In the Loop, which [Veep creator] Armando Iannucci, Simon Blackwell, Tony Roche, and a bunch of their other writers from [the British TV show] The Thick of It had written, directed and produced, along with two other producers, Adam Tandy and Kevin Loader.  I had done that film and just kind of fallen in love with Arm’s process, his vision, his brand of satire, and the way that he just led the crew and the cast. I had really hoped to work with him again. When it was announced that Veep was coming out, it all kind of fell into place. Arm and Simon had thought of me for Amy. I read the pilot and the here we are.

BROWN: Amy’s quite a nice character to be thought of as. She seems to be by far the most together person on the show.

CHLUMSKY: [laughs] Yeah, she’s not half-bad. She’s pretty smart, and she’s got a lot going her for at the beginning of the series.

BROWN: If you could play anyone else on the show, regardless of age and gender, whom would you want to play? If Amy were possessed, for example.

CHLUMSKY: Gosh, I never thought of something like that. I don’t know that I would actually want to play Dan [Egan, the “Deputy Director of Communications for the Office of the Vice-President”], but it is kind of nice to be ruthless every once in a while. Amy gets to be ruthless every once in a while, so I guess that’s a little taste of Dan’s personality. But Amy wears such great skirts and suits; I wouldn’t want to dabble in anything else [laughs].

BROWN: Yes, power dressing is the best part of having an office job.

CHLUMSKY: [laughs] Yeah, especially in our case, when we get to have someone else do it for us.

BROWN: Had you ever been a regular on a TV show before?

CHLUMSKY: No. I’ve been a regular on pilots, but pilots that haven’t [been picked up]. This is the first time and, blessedly, it’s a show that I truly adore. When you sign up for something that’s going be a big commitment, you keep all [your] fingers crossed that it’s gonna be something that you want to be involved with for a long time. But [this] is all new for me—having people watch my show, having my friends quote my series back to me.

BROWN: So you won’t be trying to get out of your contract by setting yourself on fire, like Johnny Depp allegedly did to get out of 21 Jump Street?

CHLUMSKY: [laughs] Oh no, definitely not. It’s a terrific gig.

BROWN: Do people still approach you about My Girl?

CHLUMSKY: Oh, yeah, they always do.

BROWN: Has that started to change with Veep?

CHLUMSKY: It depends. A lot of the time people will mention both; they watch the show, but they also want to mention that they’ve paid attention [to me] since 20 years ago. Now that the show is gaining its audience, I think people are speaking to me more in terms of my body of work, as opposed to just one thing that I did when I was 10. It is kind of nice for all parties in a conversation like that, to be able to connect it all to the present.

BROWN: Did you, as an adult, have to make your peace with having been so famous for something that you did when you were young?

CHLUMSKY: Yeah. It’s almost like when someone says to you, “Your brother’s growing up so fast!” And it’s like, “Well, I see him every day, so I really didn’t notice.” You’re aware of it, and you’re aware of having to revisit who you are in the context of how everybody else views you, but at the same time, it’s been your life every day. I don’t really know what it is [like] not to have had that resonance with people. In the great count of things, it’s a good movie and it really meant a lot to a lot of people—some just because they liked the movie, and others because they could really identify with it. There are a lot worse things to have your childhood connected to than a good film that resonates with people.

BROWN: Do you ever run into the other cast members?

CHLUMSKY: I ran into Dan Aykroyd a few years ago after the 30 Rock first season wrap party. There was also an SNL party that everyone was going to, and I ran into Dan there! I hadn’t seen him since I was 13. [laughs]

BROWN: Did he recognize you?

CHLUMSKY: Yeah, after a blip. You go, “Hey, do you remember? I played your daughter.”