Stephen Merchant and Armando Iannucci On How To Make It In America

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What's it like to be a Brit working in LA? We bashed together the heads of Armando Iannucci (In The Loop, Veep) and Stephen Merchant (The Office, Hello Ladies) to find out.


Stephen Merchant: There are endless executives whose jobs I am never entirely clear on. They are all called vice president and they all have interesting and important ideas on the one day they visit the set. On the American version of The Office, Steve Carell’s hair changed between series one and two. I assume there were lengthy conversations about that.

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Armando Iannucci: There was a change of VP and he wanted to turn everything around. 

SM: Do you find there’s a lot more crew? I’m sure it’s twice as large. It seemed to me that the people who make lunch are not the people who bring sandwiches in between lunch. 
AI: That’s like the difference between a manager and an agent. 
SM: Armando, I’m not going to lie to you, I’m driving a convertible. I am. I’m in Los Angeles, why wouldn't I?
AI: I wouldn't want to drive. I get quite tense when I drive, and not knowing where I am. 
SM: The other day I pulled up at some lights and there was an attractive woman in the car next to me. I had the top down and I smiled at her. And I realised that instead of having hip-hop blaring from the speakers, I was actually listening to the “In Our Time” podcast with Melvyn Bragg. 
AI: What was that about?
SM: I think it was something like Roman Britain. 

AI: I was going through the scanners at LA airport, and I had a poster for In the Loop and the guy on the scanning machine said “You’re involved in film” and I said yes. He asked what the film was and said “Oh, In the Loop! I went to your screenwriting event at the film school last week.” It turned out the guy who does the scanning machine at LA airport is a scriptwriter. 
SM: A waiter brought me room service once, and a script that he’d written on the same tray.
AI: Oh no! I overheard an agent in LA saying, “Hey Gary, sorry to call you out of a funeral. Was it family or friend?” 
AI: All the writers are English. So [lead actress] Julia Dreyfuss, instead of saying this feels a little too English, does this stereotype of an English buffoon with wonky teeth. That’s become shorthand for script rewrites.
SM: On network TV, they are obsessed with likeability. They have test dials where if people don't like a character they can turn the dial and that person is replaced by another actor. Which is brutal. Particularly as it seems to me if you are given a dial you will turn it.
AI: In the Loop got an adapted screenplay nomination at the Oscars. We were all laughing at being in a stretch limo, and then we realised we were doing what everyone in the world who hires a stretch limo is pretending to do — go on their way to the Oscars.
SM: On the way to the Golden Globes, Ricky [Gervais] hadn’t eaten and he forced the limousine to pull into a filling station where he bought a bag of cheesy Wotsits. As we approached the Globes he was covered in orange dust and I was helping him clean his teeth with ice from the ice tray. It was like a lottery winner. 

Hello Ladies and the second series of Veep both start on Sky Atlantic HD on 16 October

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