In The Loop Interview: Jesse Armstrong
Mr. Jesse Armstrong has been providing us with top notch comedy for longer than you might realise. Before he was tickling us with the politically-charged delights of In the Loop and The Thick of It with Armando Iannucci, he co-wrote Peep Show with pal Sam Bain, and even penned an episode of CITV favourite My Parents Are Aliens.
As the DVD form of the lauded In the Loop flies into stores this week (win it here!), we caught up with him for the skinny on swearing consultants, James Gandolfini and the future of The Thick of It.
And a jolly nice chap he was too. Enjoy.
Firstly of all Jesse, congratulations on an excellent film. My favourite character was Downing Street fixer, Malcolm Tucker – where did the inspiration from that character come from?
When I first started writing I used to work in politics a bit and Armando (Iannucci, director and writer) gave me Peter O’Bournes biography of Alistair Campbell. On a personal level I also enjoyed the gossipy style of Andrew Rawnsely’s writing on Blair and Brown. Because I used to work in the Labour party I met a backroom fixer called Pat McFadden, who was a charming and skilled backroom fixer. Obviously there is a lot of Alastair Campbell in Tucker, and much credit has to go to Peter Capaldi – he’s what made it into something totally new. It was maybe a bit of alchemy between Armando’s idea for the character, what we actually wrote and Peter himself.
He must have been a good character to write. What is your favourite scene of his in the movie?
I love it when he’s at his lowest ebb in the meditation room at the end and there’s a nice close up of his eyes and you feel like he can hardly deal with it any more. I think that was very well captured.
How closely were you involved with the filming process?
It was very much Armando’s thing, but one of the writers is there everyday on set, that’s how Armando likes to work. We’re often there doing rewrites of the scenes for the next day, or if we’re doing well a couple of days hence. We’ll look at the bits that can be fixed, fitting in a couple of extra gags in case the ones planned in the script don’t come off. Sometimes we’ll go down and watch a bit of filming with Armando, it’s a pleasure to be around the set.
I’ve been reading about someone called Ian Martin, I believe he’s your swearing consultant…?
He’s given that label but I think that’s unfair on him as he does more than that. It’s also unfair on Simon, Tony, myself and the other writers, we like to think we can swear. I like swearing! Ian was someone who Armando had spotted when we were first doing the series. For a while he was a bit of a shadowy character who Armando would send our versions of the scripts for him to add to.
He’s very good at coming up with weird images and expletives. Now he’s more integrated into the team and I think he’s writing an episode for the new series of The Thick of It. So he’s not totally the swearing consultant but I can see why it would be quite appealing to call him that.
There are quite a few rich characters in the film and indeed in Peep Show. Do you maybe see yourself in any of those characters?
Maybe Chris Addison’s character in The Thick of It, as I was once a researcher for a Labour MP but a crap one. It would be pretty awful to be Mark or Jeremy from Peep Show. I’m probably more like a Mark… I hope I’m nobody, actually.
You’re not a Super Hans then?
What can you tell us about the new series of The Thick of It?
Rebecca Front is the new minister – she’s brilliant, and it’s a great new dynamic between her and Peter Capaldi which has been the new exciting thing for us. Apart from that you see some of the opposition again, and all your favourite characters will return. Armando’s steered it in such a way that there are parallels with the current administration, but I hope it isn’t so close you feel as though you have to be slavishly following it.
It’s been an interesting line to tread, watching a government that seems to be falling apart piece by piece, you want to mirror that but you don’t want to mirror that too closely. I think people will enjoy the material around an administration that can’t do anything but slip deeper into the quicksand.
The first series was more a cult show, though following the success of the film will you expect higher ratings for the second series?
I don’t know, TV ratings are a mystery to me. The Thick of It and Peep Show have always been minority shows and that doesn’t really bother me. I don’t think that In the Loop has been successful or gone that far beyond the audience of The Thick of It, it’s probably that everyone who might like the show went to see the movie. Maybe it’ll get a bit of a higher profile but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it carries on with a smallish, loyal family audience.
Did a lot of people want to be involved with In the Loop? There’s a lot of American actors in it and it must have been new to them…
I think although The Thick of It is quite a minority show, people in the industry clock anything new that’s interesting. I think James Gandolfini was aware of the show before, and although I’m not aware of all the contractual stuff he must have been willing to do it for a fee that was affordable for us. So while it is a small show I think people were relatively aware of it. We weren’t exactly inundated with offers from people who wanted to be in the film but it wasn’t a nightmare trying to get [the Americans] on board.
Are you going to be referencing the expenses scandal in the new series?
No. Not directly.
Oh, that’s a shame.
(Laughter) You know, those sorts of issues do come up, but if we were to do a show just about it I think it would feel a little tired.
What about the future of the show? Are you going to do an Office and quit on the second series?
That’s up to Armando, but he always seems quite keen and there’s room for more after the end of the next series. That’s Armando’s call really though and I imagine there’ll be a lot of demand for his time following the success of the movie. I think most of the writers and cast will be keen to continue with it so I think there’s a chance of it carrying on.
I’m glad to hear that. Thanks for your time, and congratulations on a really good movie.
You may have noticed we effing love this movie. Read our DVD review here, or skip back in time for our film review. We love it so much we even have an exciting cast interview from April for your pretty eyes.