From creators Brian Koppelman and David Levien (Billions) and based on a true story, the Showtime series Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber follows Travis Kalanick (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who launched one of Silicon Valley’s most successful companies in Uber, but was also eventually kicked out of his own boardroom. The new transport company shook up the business world as Travis’ win-at-all-costs approach fueled his meteoric rise into a multi-billion dollar machine while also being responsible for his downfall.
During this one-on-one interview with Collider, Kyle Chandler (who plays venture capitalist Bob Gurley, a man who went all-in with Uber only to quickly learn that it also had dire consequences) explained how he knew it would be a fun story to tell, having no prior knowledge of Uber beyond the app , finding out where Bill Gurley fits into the bigger picture and the effect Travis Kalanick has had on those around him. He also spoke about the recent announcement of a First edition reboot and what it meant to him to do this series.
Collider: This is such a fascinating and interesting character study to watch. When the opportunity to play this guy presented itself to you, was it an immediate yes? Was it something you wanted to dig into yourself a little bit first? How did you react to this story?
KYLE CHANDLER: Because of the story, I knew it was going to be fun because it’s so weird. Looking back, I probably thought, “I play a guy who’s going to get eggs all over his face quite often, and that’s a fun place.” He has no control and he cannot control what is happening around him. How it all started for me was that after reading the book, I knew the answer was yes. When I read the book, I realized that I had never heard anything about it. I had no idea where Uber came from. I didn’t know Travis Kalanick. I didn’t know Bill Gurley. I didn’t know any of this. I knew how to press the buttons on my phone. But after reading the story it was so amazing that I didn’t know the story and I assumed a lot of people didn’t know it so I wanted to be part of it. It’s a great American true story that hasn’t been told. From a company and actor perspective, you find out who puts it together, who does it, who does it, who writes it, and this and that, and I was like, ‘That’s something thing that I can’t say no. With my pro list and my con list, everything is on the good side.
Where did you start with Bill Gurley? How did you find out who he is and how did you understand him? I don’t even really know what it’s like to be a venture capitalist.
CHANDLER: Me neither. I knew the role he was playing and I knew how he had to function in this world with Travis. I first started watching it on YouTube. He talks a lot and he has a blog, so I read a lot of it. He’s from Texas and he’s a sniper when he talks. He can explain how fusion is different from fission, and go into detail in a short five-minute talk and you’ll understand. He’s just good at making things simple. I like this. It made sense to me. And then you have to take this guy who is smart himself, and set him up in Silicon Valley and make him do business with Travis Kalanick’s character. Bill Gurley has four children and a happy marriage. He’s been around the block many times before, but all of a sudden he has to deal with Travis Kalanick. That’s what I liked. After their handshake and they agree to work together, the seed money is there and Uber kicks in and kicks off, so what could go wrong? But that’s where it’s at.
Travis is such an interesting character because he’s an asshole and he even seems to know he’s an asshole and embrace that he’s an asshole, while Bill looks like that good guy in a world that doesn’t really have lots of good ones. How do you think being in Travis’ orbit has changed him?
CHANDLER: I can’t speak for real life. What it’s changed for me is that throughout the show I have to look at all the things you just talked about, who’s sick with, and make them wonder why they’re doing all of this, and what reasons are worthy of him and which reasons are not. He needs to recalibrate who he is. It’s a little moral game in progress. There’s smoke. Am I going to see the smoke, or am I not going to see the smoke? Am I going to close my eyes because this brings me to my motivations, or am I going to have to give up now and say, âI can’t take this. It’s forbidden. It’s a game in that sense, and it’s fun. As an actor, you face these decisions and it’s moral trauma. You’re dealing with these things, and that’s where the fun comes from.
It was fun doing those scenes working with Joe [Gordon-Levitt] like Travis. He is quite tricky. As soon as you sit down with him, you wonder what’s going on behind those eyes. What is he really thinking? What is he really saying? There must be a bubble above his head with what he really thinks. It’s fun, as an actor, to act. In the real world, I don’t know how it changed him, but I think he was worn down. It must have carried him. I don’t think it’s him. I think he was different, that’s a good point. I think it came out different, that’s for sure. At the very end of the show, there is a scene where they say goodbye. The feeling I have at the very end of the show â and I don’t know if Bill felt that â but there’s the question of how much it was really worth. There’s this feeling of, “Okay, next.” It must have been a tough race.
It was just announced that CBS is going to restart First edition with a female lead in the center of it. Are you surprised it took someone so long to bring this show back? What does this show and this moment in your career mean to you?
CHANDLER: First of all, when I saw it, someone sent it to me. I think it was a DP friend of mine on the street here, from Friday night lights. He sent it to me and I started laughing. If anything was to pop up on my phone, it wouldn’t have been that. I start laughing. It’s a strange world. It didn’t really surprise me or anything. I’ll tell you what the show has meant to my career. It was one of the first shows where we almost hit 100s. It was back when you were doing 22 episodes a year, and it was hard work, especially this show because it was winter. We were using all these bridges late at night. We would do a lot of Fraturdays. In business, it’s when you work from Friday evening to Saturday morning, but you still go back to work on Monday morning, early. My first daughter, Sydney, was just born when I got this job, so it was huge for me, as a young man and as a family man. It was really important. And it was a great experience.
The biggest thing I learned from this show was that I used to take the script and they allowed me to make changes. I would fax these changes to LA, and they would fax me back, or let me know what was or was not. That way it worked really well because I was able to learn how to work scripts and how to work scenes. In my mind, I was directing, editing, writing and performing, and I was involved. I was involved in the process and realized how important it is to bring everyone together in the process, so that they take ownership of the project. It was a great show.
Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber airs Sunday nights on Showtime.
The series will premiere on The Roku Channel in April.
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