Armando Iannucci on 'In the Loop'

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'The Thick of It' creator, Armando Iannucci talks to Dave Calhoun about 'In the Loop', his new film in which the brilliant Peter Capaldi returns as vicious, foul-mouthed Whitehall spin doctor Malcolm Tucker

Armando Iannucci is one of the smartest operators in British screen comedy. In the 1990s he wrote and produced both ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge’ and ‘The Day Today’, prior to, earlier this decade, writing, directing and producing the satirical series ‘The Thick of It’. Now, Iannucci, 45, has transposed the world of ‘The Thick of It’ into a film, ‘In the Loop’, in which old hands Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison join new faces such as Tom Hollander and James Gandolfini as a gaggle of Whitehall wonks travel to Washington on the eve of a Middle Eastern war.

When I visited you on the set last summer, nobody was sure whether or not to sell this as ‘The Thick of It: The Movie’. Did you reconcile that?
‘Well, you don’t have to have heard of “The Thick of It” to get it. It’s set in a new government department, but I’ve drawn some cast from the series. I wouldn’t want anyone who hadn’t seen the series to think they have to do research.’

It’s full of wonderful political jargon. You don’t simplify it for the film.
‘I carried the experience of watching “The West Wing”, where I had no idea what they were getting het up about.’

It makes us feel like insiders.
‘We went to a lot of trouble to make it authentic. When researching the film, Americans told me each department, whether Pentagon or State, has its own jargon. In the lead up to a war, each makes sure meetings are brimming over with their jargon so the others don’t understand what’s going on but are too embarrassed to admit it.’

Half is set in Washington. How did you get the facts right?

‘I dug around and found a few bloggers and insiders who introduced me to staffers at the Pentagon, the CIA, the State and a few ex-White House people. I went there several times. I wanted to know the dull stuff: what time people get in, the office politics. You find that Washington is full of 23 year olds in charge of big budgets.’

There’s a great scene in which Malcolm meets with someone who looks 15 years old.

‘It’s true! A lot of congressmen get elected and bring with them whoever was working on their election team – students who are suddenly senior foreign policy advisers!’

You set a lot of the film in the Department for International Development (DFID), where Tom Hollander plays a new, naive minister. Why DFID?
‘It was partly after reading the Clare Short diaries. There’s a scene in the film and Tom Hollander asks, “Is it braver to do the wrong thing and not resign?” Clare Short said that! She writes about resigning if there was no UN vote on the war, but then, when there wasn’t, she decides it’s the braver thing not to resign! When I read that, I thought: There’s my punchline!’

When did you first become so obsessed with politics?
‘When I first performed comedy, I was always doing impressions of politicians. I’ve always been interested in the images, the scoreboards, the computers. It’s like being fascinated by cricket statistics when you’re rubbish at sport.’

Was there an election you first got excited about?
‘Yes. I grew up in the Glasgow Hillhead constituency and in 1982 Roy Jenkins stood at the by-election. You’d leave home and there would be Ted Heath canvassing. You’d turn the corner and there was Shirley Williams. It was like the Edinburgh festival – for politics!’

You make the corridors of power look so mundane. DFID looks like a second-rate call centre.
‘It’s true – but we also filmed outside the real Downing Street. We just asked.’

And they said yes?
‘Yeah, they normally say no. It was strange because the real “Malcolms” were all there with their cameras out.’

The swearing is hilarious.

‘I wanted everything to move towards a laugh and the swearing to be creative. I’m amazed by the attention to it. So many films have endless swearing.’

It’s striking because it’s supposed to be real. And it’s politics.
‘The more I investigated politics, the more I was told about the swearing.’

Have any politicians seen it?

‘In Glasgow, the Secretary of State for Scotland saw it and enjoyed it. We’ve got plans for a Westminster screening. I’ll show it to the Washington insiders who we met along the way.’
‘In the Loop’ opens on April 17.



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