It’s no wonder that, less than a week before its seventh and final season premiere this past Sunday, Sarah Sutherland had already begun mourning the loss of Veep, the HBO series on which, she said, she “started so young, and [has] changed and grown up with.” After all, when she joined the cast, “I was 11,” Sutherland deadpanned.
Actually, Sutherland was 22. And though she’s now 31, she insists she is still nothing like her character, Catherine Meyer, the daughter (and human punching bag) of the show’s star blundering politico, Selina Meyer, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus. However, having played Catherine for seven years, and abstained from any social media presence whatsoever, Sutherland has grown accustomed to the surprise people show at how different she is IRL than she is on Veep.
But like Catherine, Sutherland has come a long way over the past seven years. That’s thanks in large part to her on-screen mother, to whom Sutherland unequivocally attributes the early success of her career. Veep was her very first job out of college, and one that she landed after discovering an almost immediate connection with Louis-Dreyfus during a chemistry read. (Sutherland’s father, the actor Kiefer Sutherland, had offered her two roles before that, which she declined, determined to do things on her own.)
It’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that every single one of Veep’s characters is a terrible person, from narcissists to callous politicians incapable of self-reflection or change. The exception, of course, is Catherine, whose role was originally intended to be a cameo on season one. While the rest remain unchanged, Catherine evolves from a miserable, meek 18-year-old to a woman confident enough to get together, and have a child, with her mother’s Secret Service agent, Marjorie, played by Clea DuVall. She makes decency interesting and actually funny, on a show that celebrates indecency.
Still, the stream of humiliation Selina subjects her daughter to is unending. It got brutal enough that, occasionally, Louis-Dreyfus and Sutherland wonder if they’re going too far. Since Selina’s only real concern for her daughter is how it looks for her political ambitions, their moments of bonding tend to consist of, for example, Selina teaching Catherine how to fake smile. And Catherine, stuck in a pattern of trying and failing to connect with her mother, puts up with it.
But offscreen, Sutherland insisted, “Julia’s and my relationship couldn’t be more different.” Unlike Selina, Louis-Dreyfus is maternal and would go out of her way to make Sutherland comfortable on set. (Sutherland was so nervous on the first day of filming that she went the entire day without peeing.) In turn, Sutherland and the rest of the cast did their best to make Louis-Dreyfus feel at ease after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, in September of 2017, halting production until her recovery a year later.
Even while Louis-Dreyfus was receiving treatment, the cast and crew still held their usual table reads. (Which, as usual, included a hang after, “because no one wanted to leave each other.”) “It wasn’t something we ever really talked about directly,” Sutherland said of Louis-Dreyfus’s diagnosis and treatment. “But I think that just having the opportunity to stay connected to those characters and to the sense of family was really important to all of us, and to her.”
There were other moments over the course of the show when they all came together. When Donald Trump hit the campaign trail, they would regularly gape at the news, which of course felt all too close to the satire they’d just been filming. (At one point, Catherine even pursues a very Melania-like anti-bullying campaign.) The “tons” of parallels between the show and reality just kept coming, Sutherland said—the main one being “a person in power that’s a petulant, power-hungry, and relatively self-interested but ill-informed person.”
But, Sutherland continued, “for the most part, Selina’s surrounding cast is just a gaggle of goons, whereas in our actual country, they’re a lot more sinister…. I think it’s devastating that this show ended up being a lot more prophetic than people probably saw coming. Especially this season in particular—the volatility and the callousness and the meanness get dialed up even more.”
As does the chaos. The final season finds not only Selina and Co. back on the campaign trail but also Catherine attempting to care for her newborn baby, which can be as unpredictable on set as on the show. “All of your preparation goes out the window because suddenly this child is not supposed to be wailing, or their heartbeat is speeding up and you just want to take care of them,” Sutherland said. (Though she’s not sure of how much of that chaos made it into the final cut—the baby had to be written out of at least one scene because the child actors wouldn’t stop crying.)
As for what’s next for Sutherland, she’s currently on the lookout for a character who’s nothing like Catherine. For the moment, though, she’s still processing the end of Veep—just like the rest of her castmates, who toward the end of our interview burst into the room to collect her. (It was their first reunion since shooting wrapped in December.) Sutherland apologized, then stormed out to greet DuVall, crying indignantly, “How dare you interrupt my moment?”