It’s good to be famous sometimes. Just ask Julia Louis-Dreyfus. When she was researching how to play a frustrated Vice President of the United States in her new HBO series “Veep,” she got to talk to the real thing, asking more than one former VP about their jobs. But she wouldn’t tell the critics gathered at the TCA tour which VPs she talked to, mainly because she wanted to “keep the lines of communication open.”
Perhaps that’s because the portrait of the office that’s painted in the show may be realistic, but it’s less than flattering. Louis-Dreyfus plays Selina Meyer, a former powerhouse senator who is finding that life a heartbeat away from the White House is a marginalized and ignored one. She wanted to know more about the minutiae of the job rather than the big moments, which are usually public knowledge.
“What was most interesting to hear was what was it like living at vice president’s residence. What’s the reality of that? It’s surprisingly small. Where does the secret service go? What happens if you have to get up mid night to go to bathroom? I was interested not in the grandeur of it, but the real nitty gritty of it. Certain questions were not answered directly and I thought that was interesting.”
Executive producer Armando Iannucci, who wrote the 2009 comedy “In The Loop,” has always been fascinated by American politics as well as politics in his native UK. But in writing “Veep,” he said he was less interested in policy and more interested in process; we won’t know Selina’s political party or who the president is. He’s fascinated with the role of the vice president. “You’re so near but yet so far; you’re close to power but removed. Your identity is at the whim of president; if he likes you he’ll give you power if not he’ll take it away.”
HBO screened the first episode for critics last night, and let’s just say it made us feel bad for (most) of the vice presidents of recent times. But the show is pretty darned funny, with comedic veterans like Tony Hale and Matt Walsh being part of the VP’s staff. Anna Chlumsky plays her chief of staff and manages to play funny as well as DC vicious. But the vibe is definitely realistic, which Ianucci thought was important to go for. “At this point, that portrayal of Washington as a clean and noble heartland (a la “The West Wing”) wouldn’t wash with the public. We know too much now.”
As we mentioned earlier, “Veep” premieres April 22 at 10 pm Eastern.
To whet your appetite, here’s Julia in “The New Adventures of Old Christine”: