Comedy world leader
Armando Iannucci is making waves in the States with his new political comedy Veep. The satirical Scotsman chats to Kate Whiting about the show's success so far
Like a modern-day Midas, everything Armando Iannucci touches turns to gold. Or, at least, the television equivalent.
From I'm Alan Partridge to The Thick Of It, and the film spin-off In The Loop, the multi-talented satirist/writer/director/performer has long had audiences in the UK in stitches. And now Iannucci, who is also a fa ther of three, is taking his particular brand of comedy across the pond.
After a successful pilot last year, Veep started running on US channel HBO in April, and has already been renewed for a second series.
Penned by 48-year-old Iannucci, it's set in the office of the Vice President of the United States and stars Seinfeld actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Vice President Selina Meyer.
Expect the same kind of cinema verite style as The Thick Of It, with some expertly crafted characters, but maybe a little less swearing without a Malcolm Tucker!
Iannucci lifts the lid on his new creation...
VEEP'S ALREADY GETTING AMAZING REVIEWS...
"When you're making it, all you can do is try and make sure you think it's funny and you're happy with it. Once it goes out [on air], it has a life of its own and how people react to it is their privilege. Obviously it's nice if it gets responses that you'd like to have!"
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN WASHINGTON AND WESTMINSTER?
"In the UK we don't have any money, and very little influence, therefore you get ministers who are controlled a bit more centrally by Number 10 and the Treasury. British politicians need to show that they can do things, whereas in fact they know they can't do as much, because there isn't any money. So they're very specific about how we should behave: we should be bringing our children up like this, going to bed at that time... In America, they know they have more influence and you just get a sense that there is more power, but they don't want to reveal that, because you make enemies. So they deal in abstracts and talk about hope and change and the American dream."
HOW DID YOU RESEARCH THE SHOW?
"Myself and some of the writers spent a bit of time in Washington meeting up with chiefs of staff and people who worked for Senators, the State Department in the West Wing, and the Pentagon. Also, we had three or four people who worked in Washington looking at the scripts, just saying, 'Well, in this office we would call it that' or, 'Actually, the procedure here would be...'.
"Then on set with the cast I'd say, 'Look, if there's a phrase there that you just wouldn't use in America...' We developed a kind of shorthand for when it was a British-ism; Julia would do this really gawky British accent!"
WERE YOU SURPRISED BY ANY AMERICANISMS?
"Just the whole use of 'Potus' for President of the United States, and then 'Flotus' is the First Lady. In the third episode, th e First Lady's going to get a dog, so Jonah from the White House calls it F-dotus, which is first dog. When we went round the West Wing we met the receptionist and she said she's known as 'Rotus', which is Receptionist of the United States."
HOW MUCH FREEDOM DID YOU HAVE?
"It can be that in the big networks everything has to go through a committee of execs but they said, 'We're asking you to make it because we like what you do', so they just left us alone. They like to see the scripts obviously, as a courtesy, and who I've chosen for the cast. But whenever it came to a difference in opinion about something they would say, 'It's your show', and that was just great."
TELL US ABOUT THE VICE PRESIDENT IN VEEP
"She's spent 20 years in Washington as a Congresswoman and then as a Senator so she knows how it works. B ut she feels she's slightly more in touch with people than she actually is. Her 20 years in DC have actually detached her from the public and that's always the danger of any politician - the longer they're in that role the more cocooned they are. She overreacts sometimes to criticism. She's actually quite thin-skinned."
WHAT DID JULIA BRING TO THE ROLE?
"She's a naturally gregarious person, so it's not difficult for her to be jolly. If you're tired, or just a bit fed up with something yet know you have to be all smiles and polite and look like you're listening to people, she knows how that works. She's able to bring that to the role of Selena."
WILL VEEP APPEAL MORE TO AMERICANS?
"You don't need a politics degree or American citizenship to watch. It boils down to relationships - it's basically half a dozen p eople put under intense pressure. I was a big fan of the West Wing, and sometimes I wouldn't know what it was they were talking about, but all I needed to know was that Josh liked the idea, CJ didn't like the idea, and that Bartlett was angry about something. And then the drama kind of played itself out."
DO YOU FEEL AN ADDED PRESSURE BECAUSE IT'S IN A REAL-LIFE SETTING?
"Absolutely, yes, which is why I want to get it right. And what's been kind of gratifying is that things are happening in real life and [the show is] being quoted in the press. They're saying, 'It was just like a scene from Veep', which is kind of nice to hear."
DID YOU HAVE THAT OVER HERE WITH THE THICK OF IT?
"The most recent thing has been 'omnishambles' which is a phrase of Malcolm Tucker's in the last series. But sometimes you write th ings just because you think they'd be a good story, and then a politician will come up afterwards and say, 'How did you find that out? I thought we'd kept that quiet'. And you think, 'You're not telling me that's true is it?'"
TELL US ABOUT THE NEW SERIES
"We've just finished filming, it's all in the can. There's a new Government, it's in coalition, our previous cast are in opposition and we go backwards and forwards between the two. There's more of a story arc to it now, even though each episode is self-contained, and in the last three episodes everything comes together."
YOU'RE BACK WITH STEVE COOGAN DOING MORE ALAN PARTRIDGE. WHY NOW?
"We thought it was the right time because we had been away for about nine years - I think 2002 was the last series. We liked the idea of it being very low-key, just creepi ng out of the internet, but making absolutely sure that we were proud of it. We didn't want it to feel like we were just treading water, we wanted a whole new generation of people to come across it. So I'm cool with my kids now because I've done stuff on YouTube."
IS THERE GOING TO BE A PARTRIDGE MOVIE?
"Oh yeah, we've got our financing and everything. We're still at the writing stage and we'll make sure we're happy with the script first before we do anything."
POLITICS ON SCREEN
- Yes Minister (1980-1984): The original satirical British sitcom was set within the confines of the private office of a government minister. The sequel Yes Prime Minister ran from 1986 to 1988 and was set at No 10.
- West Wing (1999-2006): Starring Martin Sheen as the US President and cr eated by Aaron Sorkin, the Oscar-winning writer of The Social Network, this slick drama delved into the fictitious lives of staffers within the White House's west wing.
- The Thick Of It (2005-present): Created by Armando Iannucci, the satirical comedy examines the inner workings of the British government, particularly the struggles faced by spin doctors (like Peter Capaldi's aggressive Malcolm Tucker) when dealing with bumbling ministers. It's led to spin-offs and a feature length film In The Loop.
- Party Animals (2007): A pre-Doctor Who Matt Smith appeared in this series which explored the stories of younger people involved in Parliament, from the researchers to lobbyists.
Veep starts on Sky Atlantic on Monday, June 25