Armando Iannucci on In the Loop

It looks like British films are on the up and Armando Iannucci’s In the Loop is one film that everyone’s talking about. We catch up with the director, as well as actors Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison, to chat about the film and its impact.

Feature by Gail Tolley | 01 Apr 2009
  • In the Loop

“It’s not about politics, it’s really about people,” claims Armando Iannucci of In the Loop. This might seem like a surprising statement given that the film follows a group of politicians and civil servants in the build-up to an unspecified war in the Middle East. Yet, in the style of his hit TV series The Thick of It, this political satire uses humour and some fantastically hopeless characters to tell a story that feels very human. As Iannucci explains, it’s really about a bunch of “slightly fragile people” who “get giddy at going over to Washington” and end up making the wrong decisions. In the Loop is an intelligent film that shows the absurdity of the Bush era without trivialising the consequences which we are all too aware of. It is this that Iannucci believes to be the reason for the tremendous response the film received when it was first screened back in January.

“When we showed it in Sundance the reaction was unbelievable… I think the audience just wanted to get it out of their system. They wanted to get what had been going on in their head about the last 8 years out. I think they were just relieved to see it up in front of them and dealt with. But also there is that sense, and this is why I deliberately kept it away from being about Iraq and about Bush and made it more contemporary… that it could happen again. I think it’s quite important that we see how these things happen, it’s not to do with one person pushing a button, it’s to do with the collective atmosphere.”

But while the American reaction was very positive, Iannucci is keen to stress that they “didn’t make the film for an American market, it was a British-funded film for a UK audience”. Despite this, In the Loop has appealed to viewers on both sides of the pond. No doubt in part because of the US’ growing love affair with British satire – just think of the number of UK remakes in recent years. Another aspect that Iannucci believes is attractive to audiences is that the film is actually structured like a screwball comedy. “They were very fast, if you watch them just the pace of it is - woah! And I think people like that because it’s different to what they’re getting.”

Nowhere is the screwball element more evident than in the dialogue of the formidable spin doctor, Malcolm Tucker (the only character to be brought through from The Thick of It). Packing in the expletives and put-downs like there’s no tomorrow, Malcolm (played by the ever-talented Peter Capaldi) is one of the most riled characters ever to grace our cinema screens. The actor, who is rather unassuming in real life (although perhaps anyone would appear so in comparison to such a character as Tucker), had previously steered clear of the improvisational style of acting that was required for both The Thick of It and In the Loop. However, the experience turned out to be a world away from what he’d come into contact with in the past. “This method is quite different because the mechanics of it, the dynamics, the story, is very worked out so you know what has to happen. The hardest thing to do is to listen. You really have to listen to the other people and really believe and figure out what they’re saying and what the relationship is between what they’re saying and the story.”

Chris Addison on the other hand (who has previously established himself as a stand-up comic) was new to acting but more than used to the improvisational style. He recalls one scene with Tom Hollander (who plays the clueless politician Simon Foster) which was particularly enjoyable to shoot. “There was one whole day that Tom Hollander and I spent together on the set that had been built of the State Department. It was just the two of us goofing around more or less, looking ridiculous, simply from a height perspective. That was great.”

Both the British and American casts seemed to have been equally intimidated by each other at the start of shooting. “They thought we’d all been to Stratford,” jokes Capaldi. Addison recalls what he describes as “unbelievable” performances by the American actors who play Chad (Zach Woods) and Eliza (Anna Chlumsky). “There was this one occasion I can remember … where he [Zach] is just goading her in the Foreign Office and the shot was set up so we were all looking down from the balcony at this. And the scene itself took 20-30 minutes to film in a single take and was relentless, back and forth, it was unbelievable. He in particular was just astonishing and I just thought, is there no end to this?” In the film we just see a few seconds of this scene but it certainly stands as an example of the calibre of the cast, with top performances not just by Capaldi and Addison but also James Gandolfini as Army Major Miller and Steve Coogan as a particularly challenging constituent member.

With all the buzz and acclaim surrounding In the Loop, are future film projects in the pipeline? “We’re going to do another series of The Thick of It later in the year” says Iannucci, “but after that I’d like my next project to be another film. I’ve always wanted to do funny films and I’ve just been waiting for the right opportunity and the right story, so I’m very pleased that that’s come together for this one.” And it looks like Armando Iannucci won’t be the only one who’s pleased, if early screenings are anything to go by, it’s audiences who’ll be thankful too.

In the Loop is on general release from 17 April.