In the Loop – Exclusive Cast Interview

April 16, 2009 by  
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In the Loop finally hits cinemas this week (click here for our exclusive 5 STAR review) and OTB’s Jez Sand’s was lucky enough to catch up with the entire cast at a recent press conference.

Considering it’s already holding claim as 2009’s funniest, wittiest and most shocking film (Bruno should be scared), it was no surprise that the interview was just as rib-ticklingly mirthful. Read on for more about spanking one out over shark documentaries, excessive expletives, Alistair Campbell and colonic irrigation…..

In attendance – Tom Hollander, Peter Capaldi, Armando Iannucci (Director and comic genius), Gina McKee, Chris Addison

As soon as Simon Foster’s line about spanking one out over shark documentaries came out, it got a spontaneous round of applause. Does this mean you’ve got your satire spot on or did you not go far enough?

Armando Iannucci – I dunno. Well you write all these things in advance, and sometimes you think, is this too silly? Will people believe this? And other times you think, oh this isn’t silly enough and you have to make a judgment on what you think is believable and then these events happen. I forgot to tell Tom that he was plastered all over The Sun with the word “Porn” next to him last week.

Tom Hollander – Is that right?

AI – It was in connection with the Jacqui Smith story and the fact that there’s a line in In The Loop. And Steve Coogan had a line in there about the fact that there’s a guy outside who wants to ban people talking in foreign languages in shops and all this was filmed last summer. And there was a court case last month when that happened. And then you start wondering whether the things we’d really made up, about the war, were actually going to happen and whether that’s a good or a bad thing. A lot of it is based on research and finding out what actually goes on in these enclosed government buildings and you worry whether it’s too silly and too unbelievable and then somebody from government comes up to you after a screening and says, “Oh it’s far, far worse…”

Tom, you were a new boy, but playing this particular character, did you draw on any politicians for inspiration and do you emerge from the process with some sympathy for the people that carry out these roles in real life?

Tom Hollander – I… didn’t research it particularly; it was a casting decision of Armando’s to cast somebody about the same age and generation as James Purnell, Andy Burnham, Nick Clegg generation of politicians. And given that, Simon Foster doesn’t really know anything. Every time he’s given the opportunity to speak, he has very little to say, so I thought it was carte blanche to not do too much research in case it got in the way of the performance.

I think Clare Short was the International Development Secretary when war was about to break out and she did resign on a point of principle. Do you admire her more, having walked a little in her shoes?

TH – You’d like to think. The one thing I did think was that anybody who goes into politics at some stage must have thought at the “I’d like to be a train driver” stage in their lives “I’d like to make the world a better place if possible”, so you have to think you have to believe that’s why they went into it. They didn’t go into it because they want to take over the world, unless they’re crazy people. So most of them go into it for good reasons and then presumably, you only have to read the paper a little bit to realise that they are absolutely beset by endless things stopping them to follow their natural inclination to do the right thing, so they’re constantly being forced to do the wrong thing and I did no more research than that.

Peter, when playing Malcolm in full flow, is it exhilarating or exhausting?

Peter Capaldi – It’s a combination of both. It’s great fun obviously because he’s much cleverer than I am. He’s got six writers coming up with lots of wonderful lines for him and he’s got a bigger vocabulary and is smarter than I am. But I inhabit him and I am the keeper of his black soul so it’s a great job to have and it’s nice to get that cauldron of bile boiling and let him loose.

Armando, can you tell us a little bit more about the improvisation process?

AI – With the script there were four writers. We spent a lot of time working out the plot. Once we’d nailed that down I get the writers to write the script very quickly because it’s still early stages and you still want to move stuff around. But they all swap, so they’re all working on each others’ scripts and by the end of that phase, no one can quite remember who wrote what. I keep saying to people, it’s not about trying to come up with 101 new funny things, it’s more just see what actually would happen under those circumstances and what mood would people be in and things emerge from that.

Tom, how was it for you? Because you improvised the line about “would you black up” if you were asked to in an interview.

TH – I did. I was always thinking “what would I say if I wasn’t so pathetic; what could I say back to him?”. And with Armando, you get the opportunity to do that. When I’m filming anything at all, I have a sort of exaggerated comical, grotesque version of the same scene running parallel in my head. And in this process, you get to let it out of the box. The truth is that this is a very very very good script, which is already there and funnier than the vast majority of comedy scripts I’ve ever read so it’s not that bad if you can’t think of anything to say – just play the scene and that’s supposed to be what you’re doing anyway.

Chris, I suppose people would assume given your background that improv would come dead easy to you, but does it?

CA – It’s easier to be funnier as yourself than it is to be funny in character; that’s where it’s hard. Standing on stage as a stand up comedian and responding to something that’s happening in the room is a completely different thing to standing there with a narrative point that you have to get to with a set of characteristics and working within that. Armando’s told this story many times, when we filmed the television series from which this sprang, that on the first day the five original members of the cast had come up to him and said “I think everyone else is really good, but I’m holding us all back” and that feeling never quite goes away.

Peter, to what extent is your character based on Alistair Campbell?

PC – What we’re seeing in the film is a point which we’ve arrived at with this character. And I think that when we started, none of us sat down and said “This is Alistair Campbell” so the idea that it is Alistair Campbell and this is how he behaves is some sort of strange melding of some concept of him and what we’ve done. Because I’ve never seen any film of him behaving like that, I’ve never heard of any verbatim reports of him behaving like that so I think people want Alistair to be Malcolm and I think he quite likes it to. So there was no great conscious effort to make him, but he’s sort of become that now but I think it’s time for us to move away from that and move in a slightly different direction to that.

Armando, you compared the editing process of the film to undergoing colonic irrigation. Were there any particular scenes that you felt particularly uncomfortable having to lose?

AI – It was a long long and increasingly painful process, the edit. With the first month of the edit, it was easy to get things down to about two hours ten. And the next month took me down to two hours. And the last two months to get rid of the last 15 minutes which I just knew had to be done because I just feel there’s a natural duration for a comedy film which is less than that. And there are various scenes that I really, really liked and I suppose in the back of my head knew that they would probably go because they kind of got in the way of the story but I held on to them until probably the final week and I then I finally took them out and the film felt better for it. But it’ll make a great DVD extra!

When you see politicians in action, does it make you angry or do you see it with a kind of comic detachment?

GM – Depends on the extent of the debacle, I guess.

AI – I feel that I’m genuinely not interested. It tells me nothing about what goes on in their private life and I’m more interested in that. There was a story about four weeks ago about a senior civil servant up before a select committee in the House of Commons saying that when they drew up that dossier they knew that some of the sources were very unreliable and it was all being a bit skewed. And MPs were saying, “why didn’t you say anything?” and he said that it was because it was made pretty clear that if he objected, his career would be over. And that was a tiny, tiny story on one broadsheet and that for me is just much more interesting that what Jacqui Smith’s husband watched because she’s away in London all year.

CA – Those stories are kind of the MacGuffin for the kind of stories which we’ve done in The Thick Of It, less so in the film. I heard John Humphreys and Jacqui Smith on the Today Programme and it just makes you angry because Humphreys is as guilty as the politicians are in perpetuating this obsession with the Westminster Village. What’s most interesting is what’s happening underneath it and the characters that have been built up are the ones who are obsessed by how they appear on that level to the detriment to all the things that they actually should be doing. I don’t think you get angry that a man might have watched a couple of porn films, I think you get annoyed by what the emphasis on that represents about the culture of how we perceive politics in this country. I’m leaving now.

Peter, did you ever in an idle moment in your trailer count up how many “f*cks” there were in the script?

PC – No, it just takes enough time learning them. All of the written material has been sweated over and really some of it is like restoration comedy. The writers really like you to put the f*cking f*ck right there.

To get the rhythm?

PC – Yeah, get the c*nt in the wrong place and the f*ck won’t come out properly.

AI – There’s our poster!

PC – They don’t like it when you f*ck it up, so you’ve got to try and learn them. The bad language is just sort of rocket fuel for all this other wonderful linguistic stuff that’s going on and it’s a conjuring trick to make it look natural. It’s not really natural; there are real mouthfuls in there. So you have to study it, you have to learn it properly. And hopefully in the next series, I will do that. For the moment, they’ll just have to live with surfing it. What was the f*cking question?

CA – It sells it short to just say that it’s swearing. It is profane, but the writing around those swear words. As Peter said, it provides a scaffolding for incredible writing, really beautiful , funny inventive ideas and that’s what allows it and makes it acceptable.

Jez Sands

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