Armando Iannucci Talks THE THICK OF IT, the Hulu Arrangement, and VEEP Season 2

     September 30, 2012

armando iannucci the thick of it

Currently in its fourth season, the hilarious British political comedy The Thick of It, set in the corridors of British government, can now be seen unedited on Hulu with new episodes every Sunday, along with the first three seasons. From executive producer/writer/director Armando Iannucci (In The Loop), the show stars Peter Capaldi, Roger Allam, Rebecca Front, Vincent Franklin, Geoffrey Streatfield, Will Smith, Olivia Poulet, James Smith, Joanna Scanlan, Ben Willbond, Chris Addison and Rebecca Gethings.

During this recent exclusive interview with Collider, show creator Armando Iannucci talked about how the arrangement with Hulu came about, how happy he is with the fact that the show can be viewed unedited (without all the bleeping for the often foul language) and the day after it airs on BBC, why politics are inherently comic, what originally inspired the series, how surprised he is with the hugely positive reaction, the transition and adjustments for his American television series Veep, which has already earned a second season on HBO, and how, as a writer, he’s always thinking ahead to the next thing. Check out what he had to say after the jump.

Collider: How did this arrangement with Hulu come about? Were you approached about it?

armando iannucci the thick of itARMANDO IANNUCCI: They approached us. I think they have a relationship with BBC Worldwide and have put on BBC shows in the past, so I think it was that relationship. But, it was their suggestion to approach The Thick of It and ask if they could acquire it, and also put some money into the next [season], so I was all for that. I’m all for us being able to get the program out in its original form, unbleeped, and on something that will get it to as wide an audience as possible. There were no downsides to it. It all happened very smoothly and very quickly, as well.

Was it frustrating for you to have it shown with all the bleeping in it?

IANNUCCI: I don’t know. I’ve never actually seen one bleeped. I have no idea what that experience is like. I feel sorry for the fact that BBC America can’t put it on in its original form. I know they’d like to, but because of the broadcasting guidelines that they have to adhere to, it has to be like that. I remember saying to them, “I’d rather it go out like that, then it didn’t go out.” But maybe, in a way, it’s made people more enticed by it because they’re intrigued as to what on earth must be being said to occupy that amount of space in the show. I’d love to get a bleeped version just to watch it and see what it does.

Was part of the appeal of Hulu the fact that the episodes would be available in the States almost immediately?

IANNUCCI: Yeah, they’re available the next day, which is great. Also, all the previous episodes are up there, from day one. You can watch them all and get up to speed.

Is there something about political satire that appeals to you, as a storytelling subject?

The Thick of It peter capaldiIANNUCCI: I don’t know. There’s something inherently comic about the fact that politicians make things worse by worrying too much about something. It’s not the little incident, in itself, that is funny. It’s the attempt to try to bury the little incident, or explain the little incident, or apologize for the little incident. Watching a tiny thing grow, in front of you, into this monster, is the funny side of it for me. Watching Mitt Romney’s travels around Europe, just leaving a trail of destruction and hostility wherever he went, was just extraordinary. It was beyond parody.

Do you have to stay current with what’s going on, in order to know what to make fun of?

IANNUCCI: I keep a general eye on it, but I’ve always been interested in politics, anyway. I’ve always been a bit of a geek, that way. If it’s given me the excuse of having to watch American political shows, then that’s great because I quite enjoy doing that.

Was there one thing that inspired The Thick of It?

IANNUCCI: I found comedy in the Blair government trying to control the agenda so much that it became uncontrollable. There was a certain amount of anger in the Iraq war and the fact that these decisions were made without any consultation, on the basis of evidence that turned out to be completely fictional. I thought that would be extremely funny, if it weren’t so tragic. It was those two things, really, that made me think, “I’d like to see how people arrive at that position, and how they get themselves into that situation, where they do something because they can’t back out, as they’ve already built it up so much.”

For viewers who love Veep and may just be discovering this show now, what would you say about what they can expect from it?

The Thick of ItIANNUCCI: Well, they’ll certainly be familiar with the dynamic of it. They won’t have come across anyone like Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) before. Maybe the difference with Veep is that she’s (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) in a very high-profile, high-pedestal position, whereas in The Thick of It, it’s a very junior, almost anonymous minister who hasn’t really got very much power, being manipulated by the puppet master. So, there will be a contrast there.

Are you surprised by how strongly people have responded to The Thick of It? Did you always feel like you could do something that was universally appealing?

IANNUCCI: We made it very low-key and very quickly for not much money, so we didn’t know what affect it was going to have. It started off very, very niche, and suddenly ballooned into this international project. It’s great. It’s taken me by surprise. When we made it, especially that first week, we all suspected that it was good and funny. It was making everyone laugh, on set. That’s a good sign. When you get that feedback from the cast and crew, you feel you’re onto something good, but you just don’t know how big it’s going to be.

What was it like to make that transition with Veep, and already have Emmy Awards recognition and a second season?

IANNUCCI: Again, it was an experiment for me. I’ve always admired HBO and their programs. I was a big fan of The Larry Sanders Show and Curb Your Enthusiasm, so it was very exciting to be given the chance to make something. But, there was no plan, as to how successful it would be. I just thought, “I’ll make it to the principles I want to make it to and we’ll try to make the best thing we can, and see what happens.” The Emmy nominations were a pleasant surprise.

Were there any adjustments you had to make, in doing an American television show?

veep-julia-louis-dreyfusIANNUCCI: The only thing they kept saying was, “Just remember she is the Vice President, so you have to believe. She can’t be incompetent, or fall over. We made her an ex-Senator, so she has been elected and there has to be that ability within her.” It’s that, with the frustrations of the office that she’s arrived at, that drives the comedy.

How soon after doing the first season of Veep did you do the fourth season of The Thick of It?

IANNUCCI: The time table was very tight. We shot Veep in November and December of 2011, I cut it up until March 2012, and it premiered in April. We started writing the latest season of The Thick of It in February and March of this year, and started shooting it in April and May.

Did the process of making Veep affect how you approach The Thick of It?

IANNUCCI: HBO are very keen that every season has its own arc or storyline that works its way from episode to episode and carries you along, through the whole season, and I actually brought that to this last season of The Thick of It. This season is very different from previous seasons. We have a new government, so there’s a whole new cast. The series actually flips backwards and forwards between these different pulls of power, in a storyline that gradually gathers momentum and takes you right through to the end.

Are you always thinking ahead to future seasons?

IANNUCCI: As I’m making a project, I’m always thinking, “What’s the next thing?” I like it to feel as different from the previous ones as possible.

The Thick of It has a new episode on Hulu on Sundays.