Interview with actors from “Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber”

TV Interview!

The cast of "Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber"

Interview with actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Kyle Chandler and Uma Thurman; and EP/Writers Brian Koppelman, David Levien, and Beth Schacter of “Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber” on Showtime by Suzanne 2/23/22

It was great to speak to the actors from the show on this TCA press panel. I just love the episodes I saw in advance. I’m a huge fan of Kyle Chandler, so I was very happy to ask him a question. It really made my day.

Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Star (he/him)
Kyle Chandler, Star (he/him)
Uma Thurman, Star (she/her)
Brian Koppelman, Executive Producer/Writer (he/him)
David Levien, Executive Producer/Writer (he/him)
Beth Schacter, Executive Producer/Writer (she/her)

Virtual via ZoomFebruary 23, 2022
© 2022 Showtime Networks Inc. All rights reserved.

My question was to everyone, but only the actors answered (which is fine). I told them that I wanted to start with Kyle because I’ve been a big fan of his ever since his first show, “Homefront,” which aired from 1991-1993. I asked whether doing the series has “colored” their “perception of ride share” and whether they stopped taking Uber or Lyft (if they took it before). I thought it was a fairly unusual question, and those can go either way.

Kyle answered that he hasn’t “boycotted ride share. I like walking but not that much.” He noted that he was using Uber before he learned this story. We use these gadgets in our lives, and we don’t really think about where they come from, and Uber is an example of that sort of thing. He said, “I still don’t technically understand how a needle in a groove of a piece of vinyl puts that sound through let alone a lot of other things, but it’s all like magic.” What he finds interesting about the show is that they go into the company to see what makes it all work, including the “power plays,” the politics, and the personalities of the people involved, everything “from money and information and privacy and all of the other things that are involved in this show.” The book amazed him, so he wanted to be part of it for that reason, he reiterated.

Joe said that he hasn’t ridden in Uber in the US since the pandemic started, but he did admit that he’s used Postmates, which Uber owns. He admitted that he feels a bit guilty when he does it, too. However, he pointed out (which I should have mentioned, too, so I was kicking myself), that the Uber company has changed a lot in recent years, since this story happened. He said, “they’ve cleaned up their act,” but “unfortunately, their stock price and their growth has gone down. And, to me, that gets back to this larger problem” of rewarding companies for the wrong reasons. Uber has grown up and is “perhaps a bit less predatory,” yet “it hasn’t been rewarded by our economy. Why doesn’t our economy reward a company for doing that? It should.” I should have said, “Well, Joe, that’s capitalism for ya,” but I didn’t.

Brian joked to Joe that next time he gets into an Uber car, he should record with his phone the Uber driver seeing him getting into the car (to see if he recognizes him from the show). Joe replied that he will do that.

Uma admitted that after she read the book, she downloaded the Curb app, for use in getting a New York City yellow cab (instead of using Uber). She agreed with Joe’s point and said that since Uber’s value has gone down, they’re now charging more for rides. She pointed out that this is fine if the money is going to the drivers, but their business is “unregulated,” so we don’t know if that’s true or not.

Next, the panel was asked why they think we’re seeing more “true stories” now, especially those involving companies? Brian Koppelman answered for all of them that they weren’t thinking about what the latest trend was when they developed the show from “incredible book,” which he noted was written by Mike Isaac, a “journalist.” They read the book and decided that it’s an “incredibly important” and has characters that are “amazing and compelling.” The characters had lofty goals that led to them “often deciding that doing that thing justified all manners of behavior.” It’s coincidentally “set in the tech world” and is “about entrepreneurship,” which is intriguing.

The show was compared to their other show, “Billions,” which the reporter felt was very similar. David Levien and Brian were asked if writing that other show helped them with writing this new show, or if they felt that they just had a “natural affinity for writing” them. David pointed out that they’re the same people writing for both shows, so they just naturally had some similarities. He feels that both sets of wealthy characters act as if their jobs put them in a “life and death situation.” Their “stakes are high” because the success of their companies is “in the core of their” identities.

The reporter suggested that these characters seems to have a different “moral compass” than the rest of us, since their success is more “driven by money.” They care more about whether they’re successful than what effect it has on people. Brian acknowledged that they’re definitely interested in that aspect of the characters. The reporters also asked if the real-life Bob Gurley was advising them in any way, since he seems to be shown in a more positive aspect. Brian replied that he was not. David credits Kyle Chandler for the reason Gurley comes off so well. Kyle asked exactly what question was being asked of him (because it was a bit confusing at this point). The reporter re-phrased his question to ask whether Kyle was playing Gurley as “very level headed” on purpose, or whether it’s just the way the script is written. Kyle answered that he’s just following the way it’s written. He added that they did discuss how the characters act, and also did his own research about what Gurley has said in public, and he also asked tech friends of his about him, and people who knew him. He feels that the entire situation was stressful for Gurley.

Brian also illustrated for us how the original book really shows Gurley in this way, that he’s faced with a “moral choice” in his situation with Travis and Uber. His choice does “serve him,” but he believes that, based on their research, as well as the book, that it’s a “fairly accurate representation of what happened.” Kyle also chimed in again to say that reading the book made him want to be a part of this show. It does have a “fantastic story,” which makes the characters come alive “in a very fascinating way. It surprised him that he didn’t already know the story and that neither do a lot of people. He thinks that this is what will make it a “great success,” in part.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt put in his two cents about the reporters’ comments about “prioritizing money and profit over everything else” and how what a corporation does might have a negative impact on many people. In this case, it was the drivers and employees. He’s glad she asked these questions because it was the “most important about this story” for him. He feels that not only should they be looking at the moral compass of the characters, but also at that of our country and economy. He pointed out that a lot of entrepreneurs in startups are put in this position where, if they don’t grow a lot, they “lose the game.” Making money is not good enough to get “venture capital investment.” They’re not rewarded for regular success by the economy. Only “unicorns” are rewarded in that way, and usually you have be manipulative and “predatory.” He feels that many of these companies have good intentions but end up doing more harm than what they wanted to do, and Uber is “a really dramatic example of that. He added that there are many such examples in the tech and general business world. He spoke passionately about how we need to change the incentives so that companies can be successful when they do “the right thing” and are “kind and good to people” as well as considering “the long term future.” We’ll keep having companies causing harm until that’s changed. For him, the biggest issue is that this problem is larger than just what happened at Uber.

Beth answered the question about why the tech business seems a field that’s more “ripe” for this type of behavior (these cons), why it seems to be more “white men” who are behind it and why a second season might have more diversity behind it. He also asked Uma Thurman about how she went about perfecting Arianna Huffington’s voice.

Beth asserted that Travis was not a “con man” — He did achieve success with Uber. It’s the way he went about it that was wrong and that we want to change. She agrees with Joe that this should be a “global responsibility.” We use something in our phone for something, in our lives, and we don’t think about how it got there. She did mention that she loves a good con game story, but this isn’t it. She isn’t sure why Silicon Valley seems to have so many of these stories, but she’s glad they were able to make this show, which points out why it’s “such a bad idea” to achieve success in this way. She spoke as well about lack of diversity in the business world. She doesn’t know what has caused this, but she knows that “it leaves some of the most brilliant minds of any generation behind.” Their story shows that supporting companies like Uber devalues the brilliance of those who are left out.

Uma answered her question. She listened “endlessly” to the real Arianna Huffington in order get her voice right. She declared that “the pandemic is good for prep.” She found how Arianna “expresses herself verbally” to be really interesting.

Another reporter wondered whether “Super Pumped” will be used in future seasons, when they’re talking about different companies. Brian cracked that the “subtitle for the second season definitely won’t be ‘The Battle for Uber,’ I promise.” He discussed the marketing a little bit. He confirmed that they’ll probably keep “Super Pumped” for future seasons.

A journalist told Joe that he or she enjoyed that Travis had so many “different layer” and the chemistry that he had with Kyle. He/she asked him what it was like to portray Travis, who’s the villain of the series but was also able to accomplish a lot. Joe replied that he really worked hard to “achieve that complexity” and show that a real person made this happen. He believes that people are “complicated” – that “Nobody is a perfect saint or a perfect sinner.” Travis is a great combination of both. After reading the book and doing his research, he wanted to know what he was really like. He was surprised to learn that a lot of people spoke very highly of him and about all of the things he accomplished.

Uma was asked about portraying Arianna and all the different sides of her. Uma met Arianna and heard a lot about her from other people. She knows that Uma is very bold and had to do things in her own way.

Another reporter asks for the actors to relate what it’s like to play real people that they could run into any minute. Joe mentioned again that he wanted to portray Travis as a real person, so he hoped that he’ll like his portrayal. Uma doesn’t think most people would like to see themselves portrayed by others, regardless of how they’re shown to be. She just went by the script and made it work the best she could. Kyle doesn’t remember playing a real life character who’s still alive. He just realized that he couldn’t do a real portrayal, so he had to fill in his own gaps of what the person is like. Kyle made the joke that he hopes Bob Gurley isn’t too annoyed with him because he’s a very tall Texan, so he’s not sure he could outrun him. He also implied that there might be a fight.

Another journalist compared Travis to Cathcart of “Catch 22” and Bob Gurley to Yossarian. Kyle admitted that he hadn’t thought of them in that way. He was asked why he took the role. He liked the role and thought it was “an absolute incredible story, and I wanted to be part of it.” He referred to it as a “pure Americana story.” He was fascinated by the characters and that he hadn’t heard the story before.

A reporter pointed out that Uber is often thought of as a villain because they’ve ruined some people’s lives. David Levien agreed with that point. The next reporter asked about casting. David agreed that they were lucky to have many wonderful actors. Brian acknowledged that they were able to get their first choice on each part. It all happened very quickly. The reporter added that he liked seeing all of the “Billions” actors who appear in the series. Another journalist also enjoyed the similarities to “Billions,” citing the “rapid fire dialogue” and “pop culture references.” He also loved the music used in the show and asked how they keep the two separate.

Brian just replied that they’re not intentionally doing anything like “Billions.” It’s just that they write both, so both has their “voice” and it’s “recognizable.” He maintained that the actors are different in each show, so they have their own “timing” and “approach.” They’re not thinking about it at all as being similar to “Billions.” The same reporter also asked whether the second season will have a similar voice. Beth had a great answer: “We hope so. If not, then we’ve all really screwed up.”

Another reporter also asked about the soundtrack, which had many Pearl Jam songs. Pearl Jam doesn’t allow their music to be used a lot in projects, so he asked them to talk about their relationship with the group, and what music would they use if Pearl Jam decided not to let them use their music. Brian said they only wanted Pearl Jam and had no alternative. He gave a long answer about how they told Pearl Jam they wanted to use their music, and why. They gave them info about the show, the book, and some of the scripts. They’re thrilled to have Pearl Jam on their show. He added, “in this challenging environment, the pandemic environment of trying to make television, that was one of the easier parts of this and, I will say, brought us an amazing amount of joy and does each time.”

Joe was asked how he deals with people like Travis in real life, and how does he judge them before he plays them for a role. Joe answered that he doesn’t think you should judge a character you’re playing. He tries to “empathize” with them instead, even when he’s played some people that have done “far worse things than anything Travis ever did.” He loves acting because he can put himself in the shoes of “such a wide variety of people.” Also, he said that we all have the potential to be the villain. As he pointed out, “It’s a basic primal-animal thing to want to just take and get what you want, and who cares what that means to anybody else.” Travis acted that way more than most us do, so that was fun for him to play. He was indulging his “inner beast.” He thinks that’s fun to watch, too, because we all have that same beast potential within us, like when we’re watching mobster movies. He hastened to add that “it’s a good thing we don’t all act like that because our civilization would collapse, and that’s probably why our civilization is collapsing. We are all seeing that more and more.”

The reporter asked Joe if he tries to figure out what corrupts them. Joe mused that the “Super Pumped” story progresses in the seven episodes in a certain way. Travis starts out as “well meaning” and then, after he becomes successful, he hires people who won’t push back at him. He views people like Bob Gurley as an enemy, which he believes is “fascinating to see.” He thinks it’s hard to have people around us who might argue with us, “but it’s really important to keep your grasp on reality. You need to expose yourself to people who see the world differently than you, who might disagree with you, who might think you are wrong. And we could all probably use a little more of that in our lives. And watching Travis’s rise and then fall is, I think, watching someone who doesn’t have anyone around him anymore who will disagree with him.”

Another journalist also loves “Billions” and wonders if this show is just as challenging as that one. He also asks Joe if he watches “Billions” for fun, since he’s also an “entrepreneur.” Joe laughed that he watches “Billions” so that he can “figure out what not to do as a business person.”

Beth answered that with “Super Pumped,” they have the book to guide them. With “Billions,” they were able to create the whole thing from the start. As writers, they had to sit down and figure out which parts of the book “really hit us in the gut.” They’re using the same muscles as they do on “Billions” to try figure out what story “would be exciting for these characters.”

Joe was asked by a journalist why power often corrupts (this being a lot of the focus in the show). Joe gave a very interesting answer: “We all walk around with part of our brains that basically work the same as dogs, and then part of our brains that are something that dogs can’t do, meaning we’ve got our animal part of ourselves and then our more cerebral part of ourselves. And I think if a dog had the opportunity to be in charge of all of the dogs, it would be no matter what, and it would fight tooth and nail to keep that power.” And it takes the “more cerebral outlook” to think about it first, saying that if “I just get obsessed with power, this isn’t going to turn out well for all of these people or maybe even myself.” In conclusion, he said, “And, yeah, you see powerful people over and over again get seduced by their dog brains, and I guess it’s just a challenge to rise above it.”

Uma simply said, when asked, that she didn’t know the answer to the question. Kyle loved what Joe said about the dog heads. He conveyed that “watching the news and everything going on, to see the guys walking around the world with their dog heads on and the other people walking around, willing to give up something of themselves to keep things peaceful in the world. But I love that image, Joe. That’s great. I loved your explanation. I’ll stick with everything this guy says.” Uma also agreed with Joe as well. Then there was a lot of laughing from the panel.

The next journalist asked about the idea of “disruptors and disruption” being new to the tech world back when Uber started and asked how wary we should be of these type of buzz words that we see on social media – are they “a scam”, or from “a genuine attempt to progress things?”

Brian thinks that VC’s still use the word disruptors in this business context and it will continue to be used.

Since Joe has used social media and for a long time, he was asked how he thinks it was corrupted or whether the business model was changed. Joe seemed to really like his question. He still believes that there are “positive outcomes” “from using digital technology to bring people together.” There can be problems when someone gets rich from using “those connections through mass surveillance and advertising, which is what you are seeing from the biggest, most successful social media companies nowadays. I think we probably need to make laws against that kind of business, and I hope that’s something our generation can figure out.”

When asked if there really is any privacy, Joe replied that he thinks it’s “a personal choice.” He finds privacy to be important to his life. He loves performing, but he wants boundaries between that and his private life. He noted, “That’s really important for my sanity.” He worries a bit about how so many younger people put their lives out on the net so easily.

Another question was asked about whether it’s more difficult to play a real person or a made-up person. Kyle stated that he thinks there is “a lot less responsibility when you are creating a character.” They go about it in a different way. Also, if you’re playing someone who’s still alive, you “have to be creative and use your imagination” to fill in any blanks. He felt like someone was looking over his shoulder when he was playing Bob.

Uma added that, she believes “you have to have a little bit of humility” because sometimes you might be wrong. She pointed out that if someone has inspired drama or art about them, then they’re already “unique.” She thinks that it’s a “creative process” and that you just go forward and “hope for the best.”

Joe agreed with Kyle. When being an actor, you have to ask yourself how you would play it, and you have a real person, but you can’t ever really be that person. You can only interpret them the best you can.

The final question, believe it or not, was about “assholes.” In the TV show, Joe’s character, Travis, asks potential employees if they’re an asshole or not. He hires them if they admit to being an asshole. The journalist asks what the word means in “this tech space” but also, what does it mean to them?

David gave a very practical answer. They used the word to show that Travis is a “brash” person who does unexpected things. He’s using the word to ask whether the person is going to do what he needs to be done, and to make the company win, without worrying about being nice. He said, “it’s also a shorthand and reflective of the digital world of just cutting to the chase and finding out if this person is the right kind of person to do the job there.”

Joe wanted to remind us that the real Travis really did ask that question. It’s mentioned in the book.

To finish the panel, Brian told us that they’re still pinching themselves about getting this incredible group of actors. He gushed, “We are so excited. Every single one of them has delivered so incredibly well and so hard for us.” He thanked everyone.

Check out our other inferview with Noah Weisberg, who plays Quentin!


"Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber" poster

About The Series

SUPER PUMPED:THE BATTLE FOR UBER is the first installment of the SUPER PUMPED anthology series in which each season will explore a story that rocked the business world to its core and changed culture.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Joseph Gordon-Levitt most recently starred in the half-hour comedy-drama series Mr. Corman, which he also created and directed. He first became well-known to TV audiences for his role on 3rd Rock From the Sun. Gordon-Levitt founded and directs HitRecord, a creative collaboration platform that has led to his two Emmy Awards, for Creative Achievement in Interactive Media – Social TV Experience and Outstanding Innovation in Interactive Programming.

On the film side, Gordon-Levitt most recently starred in the Oscar® nominated The Trial of the Chicago 7 as well as Project Power and 7500. He has earned two Film Independent Spirit Award nominations: Best Male Lead for (500) Days of Summer and Best First Screenplay for Don Jon, which he also directed and starred in. His film credits also include Snowden, The Walk, The Night Before, The Wind Rises, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, Lincoln, Looper, The Dark Knight Rises, Premium Rush, 50/50, Inception, Hesher, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Miracle at St. Anna, Stop-Loss, The Lookout, Killshot, Shadowboxer, Brick, Mysterious Skin, Manic, A River Runs Through It, Angels in the Outfield, The Juror, Halloween H20 and 10 Things I Hate About You.

Kyle Chandler

Kyle Chandler won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his portrayal of Coach Eric Taylor in Friday Night Lights. His five Emmy nominations also include nods for his performances on Bloodline and Grey’s Anatomy. His other noteworthy television work features roles in Catch-22, The Lyons Den, Homefront, Early Edition, What About Joan, Starring Pancho Villa as Himself and China Beach. In films, Chandler has most recently been seen in Godzilla vs. Kong and The Midnight Sky. Among his many other credits are the Oscar®-nominated Manchester by the Sea, The Wolf of Wall Street and Zero Dark Thirty, along with Carol, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, First Man, Game Night, The Vanishing of Sidney Hall, Broken City, The Spectacular Now, Super 8, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Kingdom, King Kong, Mulholland Falls, Angel’s Dance, Pure Country and The Color of Evening. Looking ahead, Kyle is set to star in Slumberland alongside Jason Momoa and Chris O’Dowd.

Uma Thurman

Award-winning actress Uma Thurman has proven herself to be one of the industry’s most versatile performers, lending her talents to an array of revered films and television.

Thurman will next be seen on Apple TV+ series Suspicion, a high-paced thriller about the kidnapping of the son of a prominent American businesswoman. Thurman recently wrapped the sequel to Disney + series Stargirl. She will play Roxanne Martel, a musician Stargirl admires and encounters on her journey.

Thurman’s entrance into mainstream film began following her role as goddess Venus in Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. She went on to receive critical acclaim for her portrayal of Cecile in Stephen Frears’ Dangerous Liaisons opposite John Malkovich. Additional film credits include Beautiful Girls, Batman & Robin, Les Misérables, Prime, and The Producers.

Thurman received an Academy Award® nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Mia Wallace in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and, as Tarantino’s muse, Thurman garnered Golden Globe® Award nominations for her role in the Kill Bill film franchise.

Thurman earned a Golden Globe® Award for Hysterical Blindness, which she produced and starred in, and received her first Emmy® nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for her arc on NBC’s series Smash. In 2017, Thurman completed her Broadway debut as the star of The Parisian Woman.


BILLIONS® Executive Producers Brian Koppelman, David Levien and Beth Schacter To Serve as Executive Producers and Showrunners

SUPER PUMPED: THE BATTLE FOR UBER To Premiere on Sunday, February 27 on SHOWTIME

LOS ANGELES – February 15, 2022 – SHOWTIME has renewed the new anthology series SUPER PUMPED for a second season, to be based on Mike Isaac’s next book, a deep dive into Facebook’s transition from groundbreaking startup to the power it has become. The new season will focus on the relationship at the center of that metamorphosis –  between Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg –  and the world-changing forces unleashed, intentionally and unintentionally, as a result. The second season pickup comes ahead of the premiere of the first installment SUPER PUMPED: THE BATTLE FOR UBER, based on Isaac’s bestselling book, which is set to debut on Sunday, February 27 at 10 p.m. ET/PT. Each season of the SUPER PUMPED anthology series, featuring an entirely new cast of actors, will explore a story that rocked the business world to its core and changed culture. As in season one, Brian Koppelman and David Levien (BILLIONS, Rounders) and Beth Schacter (BILLIONS) will executive produce, write and serve as showrunners on the series. Paul Schiff will also serve as executive producer. The anthology series is produced by SHOWTIME and is part of Koppelman and Levien’s overall deal with the network.

The first installment, starring Emmy® winner Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Trial of the Chicago 7), Emmy winner Kyle Chandler (Bloodline, Friday Night Lights) and Oscar® and Emmy nominee Uma Thurman (Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction), SUPER PUMPED:THE BATTLE FOR UBER tells the story of one of Silicon Valley’s most successful and most destructive unicorns, Uber. The season pivots on Travis Kalanick (Gordon-Levitt), Uber’s hard-charging CEO who was ultimately ousted in a boardroom coup, and his sometimes tumultuous relationship with his mentor Bill Gurley (Chandler), the plainspoken, brilliant Texan venture capitalist who bets his sterling reputation on Uber’s success – and then has to live with the consequences. Thurman stars as Arianna Huffington, the savvy businesswoman and co-founder of The Huffington Post, who was an Uber board member. The SHOWTIME series will depict the roller-coaster ride of the upstart transportation company, embodying the highs and lows of Silicon Valley. Even amid the radical upheaval generated within the global tech capital, Uber stands out as both a marvel and a cautionary tale, featuring internal and external battles that ripple with unpredictable consequences. Academy Award® nominee Elisabeth Shue (Leaving Las Vegas), Kerry Bishé (Halt and Catch Fire, PENNY DREADFUL®: CITY OF ANGELS), Jon Bass (Miracle Workers), Bridget Gao Hollitt (Home and Away) and Babak Tafti (Succession) also star. In addition to Koppelman, Levien and Schacter, Paul Schiff, Stephen Schiff and Allyce Ozarski also executive produce the first installment.

Showtime Networks Inc. (SNI), a wholly owned subsidiary of Paramount, owns and operates the premium service SHOWTIME®, which features critically acclaimed original series, provocative documentaries, box-office hit films, comedy and music specials and hard-hitting sports. SHOWTIME is available as a stand-alone streaming service across all major streaming devices and, as well as via cable, DBS, telco and streaming video providers. SNI also operates the premium services THE MOVIE CHANNEL and FLIX®, as well as on demand versions of all three brands. SNI markets and distributes sports and entertainment events for exhibition to subscribers on a pay-per-view basis through SHOWTIME PPV®. For more information, go to

Proofread and Edited by Brenda

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt and other actors from "Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber"

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