Hot 100 2012: 1 - Armando Iannucci interview
Triumphant year that featured The Thick of It, Veep breaking the US and an OBE
With the The Thick of It bowing out in a blaze of glory, Veep delighting viewers Stateside and an OBE in the bag, Armando Iannucci has had a triumphant year. Brian Donaldson speaks to this year’s Hot 100 number one
Among the many requests made of Armando Iannucci throughout his career in showbusiness, one particular email from the BBC surely can’t be matched for oddness. ‘“Would you and Alastair Campbell like to go white water rafting together for Children in Need?” It’s a sort of vision of hell for both of us.’ While Iannucci admits to having had perfectly cordial encounters with New Labour’s legendary spinmeister at social functions down the years, on the face of it their relationship has appeared to be a little rockier.
Campbell is the well-publicised inspiration for the sweary Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It making him the natural go-to guy when the press needed someone to slag off the 2009 movie spin-off, In the Loop. And this summer, the pair went toe to brogue on twitter when news emerged that the satirical thorn in the British political side appeared to be spooning the establishment by accepting an OBE.
Campbell wasn’t the only commentator to express befuddlement at Iannucci’s acceptance of the regal-embossed gong (the two political analysts Andrews Rawnsley and Andrew Neil, were among those who raised their eyebrows), so was the wave of resentment a surprise to him? ‘No, not really, that was partly why I did it,’ he chuckles. ‘You know when sometimes you see a red button and everyone says “don’t push that button”, part of you just goes, “I wonder what will happen when I push that button?”’
While he was able to shrug off most of the so-called outrage, Iannucci did have a particular beef with Campbell’s critique. ‘He held Tucker up as this egalitarian social campaigning prophet of progressive thinking, whereas I think he’s a dangerous cunt who represents everything that’s bad with British politics. I can understand people’s arguments for and against the honours system, that’s fine, but I was just more annoyed that he had the temerity to associate my views with Malcolm Tucker as if they were the same thing.’
Whether we will ever be allowed to return to the dank soul of Malcolm Tucker is uncertain now that the final series of The Thick of It went out in a blaze of recriminations and desolation earlier this year. While Iannucci admits that having thought he had severed himself from Alan Partridge a decade ago (a feature film with North Norfolk Digital’s foremost DJ is due out this summer) he can’t say for certain that he will never bring Tucker, Nicola Murray, Glen Cullen and co back.
‘It was actually quite sad when the last couple of episodes went out, but it was the right point to draw a line under it. I just felt that with the phrases in The Thick of It being used by politicians themselves [Ed Milliband’s use of ‘omnishambles’ immediately springs to mind], there was a danger that if you didn’t stop, it would become too neat and cosy. So I thought stop now rather than carry on for another five years and have guest appearances from David Milliband and Michael Gove and then have a Christmas show with Alex Salmond.’
Other than saddening The Thick of It fans and upsetting his arch critics, Iannucci tested the waters of American opinion this year with his debut HBO series, Veep. Starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Vice President Selina Meyer, it showed the seeming impotency of the number two job (one running gag is that the President never calls her) while the social inadequacy and accident proneness which was prevalent within The Thick of It’s main cast is replicated here by Meyer and her entire inner circle. Louis-Dreyfus walked off with an Emmy for Best Leading Actress in a Comedy Series, the show was immediately commissioned for a second season and, after an uncertain start, US TV critics more than warmed to Iannucci’s skewed vision of the corridors of Stateside power.
‘Washington insiders said it was very accurate which was very gratifying,’ he purrs. ‘When we were writing the pilot, we thought let’s make it a woman Vice President because then people wouldn’t just say, “oh, it’s meant to be Dick Cheney” or “it’s meant to be Joe Biden” and so it feels like it’s looking forwards rather than backwards. With the success of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, it doesn’t seem that unusual a notion to have a female VP. And then we thought we needed a really funny actress to play this and Julia was our first choice. She had a relationship with HBO through Curb Your Enthusiasm and so we met up and hit it off instantly.’
While Iannucci and his team of writers were able to tap into the particularly universal aspects of the scenarios (a condolence card goes wrong, a misfiring joke in a speech causes a stooshie and a flu bug hits the office), they were able to use their cast as a compass for when things might have gone too Anglo. ‘Julia had a shorthand where she would do an impersonation of a thick, buck-toothed English aristocrat when she thought it went too British. So, she would do a “haw haw haw” and we’d reply by doing a redneck impersonation: “oh, so you want it a bit more ‘he-hang’!” It just became a series of noises that we’d do to each other.’
After a hectic and successful 2012 (he started the year fronting a BBC4 documentary about Charles Dickens), the next 12 months looks pretty jam-packed. ‘The Partridge film is all written and we’re filming that very soon and we’re about to start rehearsing the next Veep series. That’s pretty much my 2013.’ Iannucci and his longstanding co-writer Tony Roche are also discussing a comedy project with HBO about social media.
So, having been awarded an OBE and placed at numero uno in the Hot 100, what glittering prize could be heading his way in the future: Director General of the BBC, perhaps? ‘Oh right,’ he manages to blurt out. ‘Well, I’m thinking of some horrendous commission I could do at some point: a zombie Olympics maybe?’
The Thick of It series four is out now on DVD.