In addressing T.J. Miller’s exit, the creators of Silicon Valley have insisted the show will be fine because the actor “wasn’t LeBron.” That said, Miller’s Erlich Bachman was undoubtedly the HBO comedy’s MVP, whereas Jimmy O. Yang’s Jian-Yang has been his trusty sidekick and friend — his Dwyane Wade, if you will. And with Yang being so tied to his former costar, he admits that he was concerned about his own future on the show.
“At first I was worried,” Yang tells EW, “because I didn’t think there would be a Jian-Yang without Erlich.”
Think of a memorable Jian-Yang moment — there are many; the man loves to make prank calls! — and it most likely involves Miller’s character. Knowing how central that relationship was to Yang’s standing on Silicon Valley, Miller made sure to call Yang ahead of his departure and assure him that this would be a positive development.
“Jimmy was the first guy I called,” Miller previously told EW. “I said, ‘I’m the Hardy to your Laurel. I’m the heavy-set frustrated one to your hilarious deadpan delivery.’’’
With the post-Miller era set to begin when season 5 debuts on March 25, Yang talked to EW about what to expect from his character, why the loss of Miller worried him, and what they discussed in that “emotional” phone call.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The trailer for season 5 teases, let’s say, a tougher Jian-Yang. What can you say about his new role?
JIMMY O. YANG: When you said tough, that’s a very nice word to describe Jian-Yang. He’s an a—hole. And he becomes more of an a—hole. But in a way, it’s kind of earned because he’s not been bullied… but he’s ran into difficult characters like Erlich, so it feels earned, and I think that’s why the audience likes seeing him be a dick. It’s going to be a very fun season this year. I was very sad that T.J. was gone; we had such great chemistry going between the two of us. But this season it became like a blessing in disguise. I think I took over some of Erlich’s a—holeness. And also I get to interact with other people, and I think fans can look forward to Jian-Yang vs. Gavin Belson [played by Matt Ross] and other characters — it’s not just me and Erlich.
What was the adjustment like without T.J.? He was by far your No. 1 scene partner.
At first I was worried, because I didn’t think there would be a Jian-Yang without Erlich. T.J. is amazing and his improv was able to bring out the best in me. But you start working with the other guys and they’re just as good. Everyone is an amazing actor and improviser. And the writers and directors are incredible, like Mike [Judge], Alec [Berg], and Clay [Tarver] — all those guys are so great that it’s always my goal to try and make them laugh when they’re sitting in video village, and if I hear some chuckles, then I know I’ve done my job right. That’s always my gauge as a comedian. I think they’re the most genius creative team in TV right now, and whenever you get a script, you’re just like, “Yes, I know this is going to be great and I can kill this.” You just trust them after working together for five years. It’s really incredible to get to work with these masterminds.
You say you were nervous; I know T.J. said he called to tell you first and reassure you that this would be a positive for you and your character. What was that conversation like?
It was a pretty emotional call. It was midnight, I randomly got a call from T.J., and I’m like, “Oh, he’s probably in jail.” I really didn’t know what it was. Like, why would he call me at midnight? I was half asleep and I was like, “Hey, what’s up?” He asked if I had a minute and said I was the first person he called, which I definitely feel honored. And he was like, “You’re the first person I called and I just want to tell you that I’m not coming back to the show next year.” And I know with T.J., his mind is made up, but I felt like I still needed to try and convince him to stay, or else I would regret it. So I was like, “Look, man, of course I’d love for you to come back; we’ve got such a good thing going. But I get it, you’ve got to go be a movie star. But I love you, man, and I want you to come back.” He was like, “I love you too, man. It was so much fun working together.” But his mind was made up. He did say one thing that was pretty cool: He was like, “This is not the end of Jimmy and T.J. — it’s the beginning.” We talked about writing like a Chinese action-comedy together or something like that, so we’ll see what holds in the future with us two. I’m hoping to work with him more. We had so much respect and trust in each other that I knew whenever I threw out something good, he’d throw out something great, and whenever he threw out something great, I could bounce off of that. That kind of chemistry doesn’t happen all the time. We found something special, and I hope to keep it going in other mediums.
Silicon Valley returns to HBO on March 25 at 10 p.m. ET.