Halt and Catch Fire‘s latest hire is well versed in troubleshooting a presidential campaign, but maintaining a team of web surfers is a whole different ballgame.
Anna Chlumsky, a five-time Emmy nominee for her role as Amy Brookheimer on HBO’s Veep, kicks off a five-episode arc on the AMC tech drama, beginning with Saturday’s “Tonya and Nancy.” She plays Dr. Katie Herman, Comet’s chief ontologist who is tasked with overseeing a team of “obsessives” helping Joe, Gordon and Haley index the World Wide Web. She is also a potential love interest for Gordon.
The episode implies that Cameron — who, as suspected, isn’t cut out for life in an airstream — helps Bosworth out with Rover after he confesses to her his financial woes. She singlehandedly saves Comet’s competitor by fixing a flawed algorithm, and allows Boz to credit one of the team’s less skilled coders. Donna, of course, seems to sense that something’s up, while Cameron ends the episode with a terrified look in her eyes. It’s only as Joe vents about Rover’s newfound success that she appears to recognize that she just betrayed her boyfriend, as well as Gordon and Haley.
Cameron is also pretty much the only character who isn’t obsessing over the 1994 Winter Olympics. Gordon, Katie and the rest of the Comet team gather at Joe’s to watch Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan compete in the figure-skating competition. Donna, Haley and Joanie do the same.
Below, Chlumsky discusses Katie’s memorable introduction, her chemistry with Gordon, as well as her own memories of geeking out over the ’94 Winter Games.
TVLINE | Be honest: Before reading that first script, did you have any idea what being a “chief ontologist” entailed? Because I sure didn’t before this episode explained it to me.
Nope! Definitely not. [Laughs] I had to Google it.
TVLINE | Halt and Catch Fire and Veep are such different shows. What drew you to this role?
I always want to do things between seasons of Veep that are a bit different. This offer came my way, [and] they sent me the scripts for the first two episodes that Katie is in. I could see right away how good these writers were, [but] I couldn’t really see what Katie was going to turn into without having a deeper talk with [creators Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers]. After speaking to them, I felt like this would be a worthy [project]. It’s such a good show and the cast is so amazing.
TVLINE | Katie makes quite the impression with that long-winded explanation of how she organized her brother’s CD collection. Was that first scene as intimidating on the page as one might suspect?
I’ve done six-page monologues, so I know I’m capable, but it doesn’t make it any less intimidating, especially when you’re guesting on a show that you’re in love with. The gift of that scene is that you can kind of disappear into her head for a bit. She does get off on organizing and finding order in chaos, and I can identify with that. I’ve got my own ridiculous system for organizing my books. Everyone has there funny little behaviors, and she’s managed to make a job out of it, so she gets to actually be proud of it and talk about it.
TVLINE | There’s an obvious spark between Katie and Gordon during the initial job interview, then Katie goes and wipes the whipped cream off of Gordon’s ear back at Joe’s apartment. What exactly is the relationship there, and how will we see it evolve?
I mean, certainly everything you see is on purpose and not accidental. They’ll continue to blossom, and it’s a real connection. That was one of the things I spoke to the [Cantwell and Rogers] about when we had that phone call. This can’t just be some chick who comes in for the heck of it. This needs to be real, and it needs to be earned, so these first episodes are about earning that thing. It came very naturally as we did it, and [Scoot McNairy] is a great scene partner.
TVLINE | We don’t see Katie interact much with Joe or Haley in this first episode. What are those dynamics like moving forward?
I think she has a very good, respectful working relationship with Joe. She understands that dynamic pretty quickly because she’s good at reading people. She’s open to the way that people behave and she is fascinated by it. She’s a no-judgment zone, which is really great for all of the characters, but especially for a teenage girl like Haley. One of my favorite things about shooting this was how Katie and Haley really connect in their own way, independent of Gordon and independent of work. We glom on these influences when we’re teenagers, and Katie winds up being a really lovely part of Haley’s life.
TVLINE | Thinking back to 1994, were you as obsessed with that Harding/Kerrigan rivalry as Katie, Gordon and the rest of the Comet team?
Oh, completely! I’m a really big figure-skating fan. I remember every second of that. More so, I remember [Ukrainian gold medalist] Oksana Baiul. When she came out, she was wearing that fabulous swan headpiece, and her layback spin was the most flexible, contortionist freaking thing I’ve ever seen. I remember my mother and I going, “Oh, forgot this Tonya and Nancy thing. Look at this one!” My eighth grade teacher the next day was so mad about Baiul winning and I was like, “Are you kidding me? She was phenomenal!” [Laughs]
Your thoughts on Anna Chlumsky’s Halt and Catch Fire debut (and Episode 4 overall)? Drop a comment below.