TJ Miller and Thomas Middleditch have achieved the ultimate dream: making work and play the same thing. The Silicon Valley duo have taken their love of vodka — or more specifically, Moscow mules — to a new level, partnering with Smirnoff to celebrate the first ever National Moscow Mule Day. But this isn't your ordinary celebrity/PR partnership. No, Miller and Middleditch brilliantly masterminded the marketing campaign so that all they had to do was throw a party, honoring themselves, immediately after wrapping filming of Season 4 of their critically-acclaimed HBO comedy. Every other actor in Hollywood should take notes, this is how you run a successful marketing campaign ... you make it work for you instead of the other way around (#lifegoals).
"I actually am a vodka man. I like vodka sodas. That's my jam. But I don't mind a Mule," Middleditch says, sitting across the table from me inside The Study at The Bungalow in Santa Monica.
"I mean, it's Smirnoff. I love the vodka and they know how to throw a party," Miller tells me, cracking a smile as the sounds of their party rage on in the background.
Just days after the actors finished working on the next season of Silicon Valley, Smirnoff tasked them with coming up with their own versions of the classic Moscow Mule drink. But they let me in on a little secret. Both the Miller Mule (a classic Mule with a hint of jalapeño and mint) and the Middleditch Mule (a classic with muddled blackberries) didn't come from hours of mixing and taste-testing possible spins on the original drink.
"We kind of just thought of it," Middleditch says with a laugh. "We kind of just had to come up with something and I just said 'blackberry.' I thought that would go well."
"And then jalapeños keep it spicy," Miller adds. "You know, with enough lime and ginger beer, the jalapeños disappear on your palate."
After Middleditch ribbed him a little for sounding like such a foodie, it was clear from their vibe that the two were close, sharing a long history working together as colleagues and friends.
"I think he's the best comedian alive, or one of them," Miller says after I remark on how much they've worked together.
"We've worked together for almost 12 years now," Middleditch adds. "It's nice because you kind of can predict where the other person is going to go, if you serve something up they're going to spike the ball. And I think in something that's as forced as a marketing campaign, it's nice to have something natural, playful and fun and hopefully we brought it to this whole Smirnoff deal as well."
The conversation then takes a random turn into what kind of pizzas are sitting in front of them — both Miller and Middleditch can't stop laughing about how one has potatoes as a topping — and I realize this riffing is the norm for these guys. Their improv skills serve them well both in real life and on set, and Miller thinks that's why they've been able to make four seasons of Silicon Valley so far, while Middleditch believes their comedy has captured something that is usually reserved for dramas.
"It's a serialized comedy. At the end of each episode, you've hopefully laughed or at the very least chuckled, but usually most episodes end with, 'I wonder what's going to happen next,'" Middleditch says. "Our writers have done a very good job of weaving an intricate underdog story of these 'dare-to-dreamers,' and it's all about their many failures and probably only a handful of successes along the way. That's engaging."
Miller agrees, adding, "Serialized is a good word because you've got a thick enough narrative that you're constantly coming back to, 'OK, what are these guys going to do next?' You just care about these characters more. They've figured that out in the hour-long space but in the half-hour comedy, people are just starting to really understand that there has to be a narrative. It has to continue. Just like how every night has a narrative: it starts off with Smirnoff and ends with a great story."
Another reason why Miller and Middleditch are the guys to go to for a marketing promotion? They somehow bring every answer back to their product. Even questions about Silicon Valley Season 4, premiering April 23 on HBO, ultimately circle back to drinking Smirnoff. But I steer them towards talking about how the Season 3 finale, "The Uptick," ended on a hopeful and joyful note, which was pretty unusual for the show.
"Well, it was real and I liked it," Miller says. "It was a moment of happiness, indeed. But these guys just get beaten around in Silicon Valley throughout the series, so I don't think that's going to change a ton [moving forward]."
But Middleditch interjects with, "You'll find that in Season 4 there is satisfaction still remaining for certain characters."
As for what excited them most about where they were able to take their characters next season, Miller, who plays abrasive, hard-partying, tech incubator owner with questionable facial hair Erlich Bachman, had to pause to think.
"That's a good question, I don't know if I've ever been asked that," he says, before turning to Middleditch, who plays introverted, anxiety-ridden start-up genius Richard. "Have you?"
"Well, there's certain dramatic moments that occur that I think, now that people are accustomed to the characters and know the stakes so inherently because people have been with it for three seasons so far, when those 'dramatic moments' come up, you can kind of lean into them a little bit more," Middleditch says. "Whereas when you're first introducing a comedy, you kind of have to be like, 'Eh, don't worry about those. We're just here to make people laugh.'"
He pauses, then laughs, realizing what he just implied. "Not to say in any way that season four is like ultra-dramatic in any way," he says, "but it gives you all that much more time to play with the three-dimensionality as it were of your character, which is kind of neat."
"I continue to see them give people more to do," Miller says, before pointing to Middleditch. "His physical comedy, he's had more opportunities to do that. Zach Woods continues to get opportunities to just improvise and get deeper and darker into the background of that character, and that's pretty fun stuff. As far as my character, he's just slammed around."
"It's the sad thing of, like, the other guys don't necessarily, nobody really wants to hang out with him. He's starting to realize that and he's making it harder and harder to justify being a part of the company. But he gets different opportunities so that was interesting to then be on top, like Erlich does in this coming season get to be on top. It's going to be a good season."
Middleditch gets a serious look on his face, then says, "But in the end, really the end result of playing these characters is the very successful Smirnoff campaign."
Miller laughs, then goes along with Middleditch's joke. "It's a great show to have a Moscow Mule while watching, and drink responsibly," he says.
"Every time I watch Silicon Valley, I enjoy it with a nice Smirnoff Moscow Mule," Middleditch says, while Miller adds, "I have to kick it back in a copper can."
Erlich Bachman would be so proud.