We can't say enough good things about Armando Iannucci's new film, In The Loop (read on for a Q&A with Ianucci himself), the big screen adaptation of BBC comedy The Thick Of It, which hits cinemas on Friday. So we''ll leave it to Malcolm Tucker (played by Peter Capaldi), the spin doctor from hell (or heaven, if you're the PM) to do some legendary swearing instead.
It's a pretty apt taster of the film, which follows what happens when an inept minister (Tom Hollander), accidentally describes a possible future war as "unforseeable". Cue trips to Washington with his equally useless aide (Chris Addison) and confused run-ins with some of the American political big-hitters (including James Gandolfini as a dove general). As usual, though Tucker - the only character to make the transition directly from The Thick Of It - steals it.
ESQUIRE: So let’s be clear. This isn’t a feature-length episode of The Thick Of It.
ARMANDO IANNUCCI: No. I didn’t want to make The Thick Of It: The Movie. I wanted to do something where the story would justify who the characters were, and its treatment as a film. The only character I wanted to keep on was Malcolm [Tucker], but I wanted Chris Addison to be in it playing a youngish guy, because when we went to Washington we found it run by the American equivalent of Chris really – people in their mid-twenties to early thirties.
ESQ: Did you expect Malcolm to be such a hit?
AI: It’s funny - people tell me that they sort of care about him, but you just think, “Isn’t he horrible?!” Maybe it’s the heart of Peter’s performance, I don’t know. But I’d always seen it as sort of an ensemble piece with Malcolm off to one side of the rest of the group, because in Malcolm’s head he’s got like 12 of these groups of idiots to deal with on a daily basis. We always say, before we do the scene, “What’s Malcolm’s motivation?” And Malcolm’s motivation is, he just wants to come in here and get this done in about 30 seconds and get home. He hates it when someone answers back or someone cocks up, because he doesn’t really want to be dealing with this shit all the time.
ESQ: Where did the feature film idea come from?
AI: I was just reading about the Anglo-American political relationship and the build-up to Iraq in terms of the little secretive groups within Washington. You can think, “That’s horrible,” or you can think, “That’s ridiculous.” My natural inclination is to try and make it funny. You could do a drama about the build-up to Iraq and it would be horrifying - it would be the same story line but just the tone would be completely opposite – but that’s the only way I can sort of deal with what happened.
ESQ: Is it a release of frustration?
AI: It’s a release but it’s also realising that people are human and people make mistakes. It’s not a big vast conspiracy, it’s just people, some of whom are out of their depth, some of whom are clueless, some of whom are just rude and therefore just don’t want anyone else to know what they’re doing. So it’s all that and the fact that no one at any point stood up and said, “I know this means the end of my career but I think this is all going to end terribly and I think we mustn’t do it.” Everyone quietly moved to one side if they didn’t agree with it.
ESQ: Do you believe Tony Blair’s stated intent?
AI: Yes I think he was just deluded. If you talk to people in the British Embassy who worked at the White House at the time, [Alastair] Campbell and Blair got a little bit star-struck when they went out to Washington and slightly lost their dignity. The story [in the film] is a minister [Tom Hollander] and his aide [Chris Addison] go out to Washington and think it’s just great. They go to a big War Committee meeting at the Senate, not realising that they’ve forgotten to do what it was they said they’d do, which was to say, “You can’t do this.” I was saying to Tom and to Chris, “Imagine a young British actor going out to Hollywood for the first time. They’ll go, “I’ll sign anything! This is fabulous! I want to tell all my friends that I’ve just seen Jack Nicholson!’”
ESQ: Are the nuances of American politics as readily accessible as those of British?
AI: I’ve always been fascinated by American politics so it was great going out to Washington. Our guy out there fixed us up with people from the White House and the State Department. I met a guy from the CIA who was telling us what was going on, and then James [Gandolfini] went out to the Pentagon and met a few generals. He had his hair cut at the Pentagon barbers. It’s just as shambolic, just as, a lot of office politics going on, except that, you know, it runs the world.
ESQ: What are your projects for the rest of the year?
AI: I’m working on a script for HBO through James’s company set in the world of young billionaires who start up an internet thing like Google and it just, in the space of a year, makes them the richest people in the world. I’d kind of like to do it in the style of The Thick Of It, very real and as it’s happening, rather than polished. And cheap! Cheap and cheerful.