Interview with Armando Iannucci, director of "In the Loop"
Six years later after it started we can
appreciate a film about the Iraq War, or least one as masterful as Kathryn
Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker." But how about the deceits and manipulations that
made it all possible? That's where Armando Iannucci,
veteran funny man for BBC, comes in with his rapid fire, hilarious and
outrageous "In the Loop." It premiered at the Independent Film Festival of
Boston a couple of months back which is when I got an opportunity to chat with
An offshoot of his TV series "The Thick of It,"
"In the Loop" is about the hapless misadventures and ruthless prevarications of
members of the British government as they are waltzed by an unnamed American administration
into an unnamed conflict. Where was this movie six years ago? You might wonder.
But first I had to bring up a sad subject I learned about from Iannucci'sTwitter site.
PK: Sorry about your dog.
IA: [Laughs.] Oh, you've been following me,
PK: You shouldn't laugh about your dead dog!
IA: No, no, no! It's just always intriguing
as to who has read the [postings on Twitter].He was old. And we do have another
dog. We had two dogs.
PK: Not a replacement dog?
IA: No, we had two dogs, and Benji is the
youngest. He's about two years old. So he's now alone, his friend is gone.
PK: Yah, it's tough on everybody. What kind
of dog was he?
IA: He was a long-haired Dachshund.
PK: Oh, yeah, they live for a while.
IA: They do. They live till about 14 or 15.
PK: Do you have kids? Did you have to tell
them what it means for the dog to die?
IA: Well, interestingly, my youngest, who's 6
- actually we knew he was going to the vet, all of his functions were just
giving out, so we knew what was happening - and my youngest said she wanted to
come to the vet. So she came in and wanted to stay there, so it was
PK: This is the kind of thing you wouldn't
IA: No, no. [Laughs.] Kids and death.
PK: You had a TV show once that you were
looking years back at the current year?
IA: Oh, that's right. "Time Trumpet." [It
was] set in the future.
PK: And you had a show about a terrorist
IA: That's right.
PK: And then the terrorist attack actually
IA: Uh, no, this was made after the terrorist
PK: Did they ask you to pull the show?
IA: Nope. No, what happened is I think the
week it was going up there was another foiled terrorist attack. So they just
thought it might be slightly insensitive to air that. So they just moved it a
week. It wasn't a major thing.
PK: That indefinable thing called taste,
IA: Yes. When it's okay for us to do it six
days later, that's absolutely fine.
PK: Is it a tough transition for British film
comedies to American audiences? Is it a fallacy that they have two different
kinds of humor?
IA: Well, maybe, I don't know. Sometimes I
find that some British comedies fail because they are too aware of trying to
appeal to a wider audience, and therefore they water it down. I think audiences
anywhere can detect when something is very authentic and staying true to its
voice. When we were making ...we were offered some American funding and advance
in making the film, but we said no because I didn't even want to subconsciously
go through that process of thinking, ‘Oh, perhaps we ought to tame that a bit,'
or we want to try and appeal to as wide of an audience as possible. I kind of
wanted to make the film and hopefully if it was true to itself and then take it
to wherever, take it to America.
And that's what we did, so it was a UK-funded film and it came to Sundance, and
PK: It did well.
IA: Yeah, it did well.
PK: It was the first American audience.
IA: It was, yes. And I didn't really know
what to expect. I mean, I thought some of them might like it and some of them
might hate it, or some of them might not get it. But, it was really exciting to
see that. And I don't know if that kind of taps in to similar audiences wanting
to see it. There have been so many quite serious films, like with the war in Iraq
and stuff. The more you analyze the buildup, the more you realize.. all the
different factions were played off each other. So maybe comedy kind of releases your opinion about it.
PK: Was the premiere a stressful experience?
This is your first movie, right?
IA: Yeah. I mean, I've done lots of
television, and I don't know whether that kind of trains you to do it fast. The
film itself was shot in 30 days, and we got through a lot. The script was 200
pages long. I like to shoot fast, and I like to see the rushes and what's the
best stuff, rather than feel that you've got to go into it having every joke
nailed down. We do lots of improvisation. The first cut of the film was four
and half hours long.
PK: What's going to happen with all the extra
material? Special features on the DVD?
IA: Well, we mostly junked it, but the DVD
will have at least 40 minutes of extra stuff.
PK: Do you think this film would have found a
bigger audience or made more of an impact if it came out, if not in 2003, then
maybe when Bush and Blair were hashing the invasion out?
IA: I don't know. I mean people have
mentioned that and then gone to see the film and thought it's a bit - I don't
know. I deliberately didn't want it to be about Iraq. I didn't want it to mention
who the president was, the prime minister, what the country was. I'm kind of
looking at the underlings, the people who are always there in government. I
wanted to show how government generally works, as well as taking a specific
moment in time. And how actually, it's not just the big important people and
their decisions, it's the actions of everyone, whether they decided to pass on
something or stand up.
PK: Mostly pass, right?
IA: Mostly pass, yes. Well that's what I was
told, in Washington, if you were very much
against the Iraq thing, what
you would do is instead of resigning, you just ask to be moved to work on Central America. Kind of just quietly get out of the way.
And it's because everyone did that, the events keep rolling.
PK: You did some research to back this stuff
IA: Yes, I came out to Washington and met up with people who stayed
in the Pentagon, and gave their resignations ...and then the cast did their own
research as well. I mean James Gandolfini [who plays a dovish American general
in the film] talked to generals?
PK: And he's the kind that would get answers.
IA: He would get answers and he's great
because he knows he can pick the phone up and say "Can I come to the Pentagon?"
and they'll go "Oh yes!" They're quite excited.
PK: This is the first American movie star
that you've worked with, James Gandolfini, right?
IA: Yes. Well, I shot a commercial with
[actress] Kim Catrall (sp?) two or three years ago. And I only work with
people, well, who I admire, but also who want to take part in the process.
James was absolutely happy to do it, because we do lots of workshops and
rehearsals and improvisations prior to shooting.
PK: He was game for all of it.
IA: Yes, absolutely.
PK: You think that the American actors aren't
quite as into improvisation?
IA: Well, I've often felt it was the other
way around. A lot of British actors come up through the traditional theater
where everything was respected and you reverentially stick to the text. Whereas
I find a lot of American actors are happy in film to rough the script up a bit
to make it more conversational and play it down. When I was casting, part of
the casting process was asking them to improvise as well as just do the script.
And I was quite keen to find people with different backgrounds, some people
from comedy backgrounds, like Zach Woods, who plays Chad. He's from a comedy improv
troop in New York
called "Upright Citizens Brigade.
PK: And Anna Chlumsky?
IA: She was hilarious in the casting. I put
her and Zach together and you could just let it go for half an hour, with them
just insulting each other.
PK: She was great in "My Girl."
IA: [Laughs.] Well, different performance,
PK: She made that movie.
PK: This was made before the election?
PK: Do you think the new administration is
going to ruin political satire in America? If you look at "Saturday
Night Live," they can't really get a handle on ...
IA: Oh, I think things will come. What I find
is don't expect to be able to tell the same jokes. So the jokes this time won't
be about how illogical the president is and how he speaks. What I find with
Obama is he's almost over-articulate. He's very good at explaining things and I
find it very difficult to work out what he means.
PK: I think we're going to have eight years
of Joe Biden jokes.
IA: Well, Joe Biden is a sort of a droll guy
isn't he? But over time, what relationship could Obama and Clinton have?
PK: Yah you don't hear too much about her as
Secretary of State.
IA: No, that should be interesting once those
events take over.
PK: I read an interview where you said there
really are no evil politicians, that they're just people like you and I who in
some cases are able to meet the challenge.
IA: Well that's just it. I wanted to not show politics as good or evil, like
these are the good guys and these are the bad guys. I kind of wanted it to feel
much more real. Most people are quite nice.
PK: Two words: Dick Cheney.
IA: I said most people!
IA: And then events and the circumstances
force them, and at some point they make a decision as to which way they are
going to go, and I think it's quite interesting for the audience to see them in
the process of making that decision. In many ways, the most appealing character
is the elected politician Simon Foster (sp?). I want him to be the everyman
figure so the audience can put themselves in his position and ask themselves
the same questions, like if I was in his position what would I do? Would I
stand up or quietly wish it all away?
PK: He's kind of like the "Being There"
character, except he's like an anti-"Being There" character.
IA: He has negative capability.
Next: Steve Coogan and John Milton.