The veteran “Veep” is launched towards an “absurd” future and a Dickensian past

The latest projects by writer Armando Iannucci, a comedy series set in the space called “Avenue 5” and a film by “David Copperfield” by Charles Dickens, take him back to his roots in two fields that are unlikely to mix: Comedy and literary studies. Before writing the political satires he is known for, including the television series “Veep,” he helped create Alan Partridge, Steve Coogan’s character from a satisfied television host. Prior to that, Mr. Iannucci was writing a dissertation at the University of Oxford on religious language in “Paradise Lost.” He retired when he realized that he can sing the first lines of “Paradise Lost” with the melody of the theme song “Flintstones”. “That’s the point where I thought, OK, I’m not taking this seriously,” he says. “You can’t hear that.”

Armando Iannucci says that in later episodes, the program “Avenue 5” begins to see things “such as what is true and what is not true.”


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In “Avenue 5” (premiere on HBO on January 19), Hugh Laurie plays Ryan Clark, captain of a spaceship that is the futuristic version of a luxury cruise. When the ship deviates from its course around Saturn, it has to deal with dissatisfied passengers and dead bodies that float outside the window. Iannucci directed and co-wrote “The Personal Story of David Copperfield” (opening May 8), which includes a multicultural cast directed by Dev Patel. Mr. Laurie plays the fantasy Mr. Dick, tormented by the thoughts of King Carlos I.

Mr. Iannucci spoke with The Wall Street Journal about establishing his new jobs in the future and the past. Edited Excerpts:

Why did you do a futuristic science fiction comedy?

I am a science fiction fan, so when I think of a subject, I think of “What is the science fiction version of that?” But also the spacecraft is just a bay for the topics I want to look at. in: leadership, power, wealth, how society works, what happens when it breaks. The science fiction element is minimal once we are there. It’s a cliché, but all science fiction is really about today.

It is a common assumption that today it is more difficult to satirize politics because reality surpasses it. Have you deliberately moved away from politics as a subject?

No. My first instinct is not necessarily political. I think it involuntarily seems that I am moving away from the present day, possibly because the current day is going to take a little time to evaluate how to respond.

There are a lot of social satires integrated in “Avenue 5”. What goals did he have in mind?

In later episodes we begin to see things like what is true and what is not true. If people believe something, is it as valid as things that are true? The series begins to move away from current issues, because things like social networks and the fact that we are all hooked on our devices are now having such a big impact on our lives as, for example, the president. I want to explore those elements of our daily lives, not just the things that become stories on our covers.

Hugh Laurie, center, Armando Iannucci, standing behind him, and Jessica St. Clair work on the set of “Avenue 5”.



Did the story take any surprising turn while you wrote it?

It was amazing how fast we took it to a very absurd and dark place. There may be a crowd howling outside as soon as you leave your room. The bridge looks like a spaceship bridge and Ryan looks like the captain of a ship. With each episode, the layers take off and in the end the real reality is very different from what we assume when we begin.

You’ve been a Dickens fan for a long time, and you even made a documentary about him in 2012. How has your comedy writing inspired?

He wants to do something entertaining that speaks to a wide audience. At the same time, he is not nervous about dealing with difficult issues, issues of loss and poverty, at all times making sure that we focus on humanity at the center of it.

In “David Copperfield,” was his goal to interpret characters like Mr. Micawber, who are often seen as cartoons, and show that humanity?

Absolutely. We have grown up with this idea that Micawber is a cheerful and rude figure, but in reality he is a man demonized by debt. He wanted Peter Capaldi to mention him in his performance. Mr. Dick is the first genuine representation in English that shows a mental illness, described as mental illness. With Hugh Laurie, we talked about being quite honest about it and not making Mr. Dick a fun figure for being eccentric. He is a fragile human being.

How is Dickens relevant today?

“David Copperfield” is about the perennial problem of state anxiety. Everyone goes through some point in their life where they think: Am I okay? Am i fitting? David goes through that in big changes.

What does multicultural casting bring you in the movie?

I wanted the movie to feel fresh and vibrant, not as if it were an old-fashioned and dusty story. Therefore, it is important that it reflects today’s society and the 1840 society.


NAME: Armando Iannucci

WHAT DOES: Writing and television and film direction.

HOW DO I ARRIVE: “I grew up passionately as a fan of radio comedy shows,” like “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” and began imitating his writings as a child in Glasgow. After making and writing comedy sketches at Oxford, he got a job as a radio comedy producer, which led to television writing.

YOUR GREAT REST: In 2005 he created the British satirical series “The Thick of It”, set in a government office full of effects and cynicism. His success stimulated his similar-themed film, “In the Loop,” and the American series “Veep.”

YOUR OBSESSION: “Music is my great passion. I can’t play an instrument. I have a lousy voice to sing. But I love listening to music. “By adding the score to” David Copperfield, “he says:” It’s been great to be able to sit there in the middle of a live orchestra, to hear them play in your movie. It’s the first time you have the feeling that the movie is complete. ”

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