If you’re a fan of smart television comedy, the chances are you’ll be a fan of the work of Armando Iannucci, the man behind Alan Partridge, Malcolm Tucker and Selina Meyer.
The Scottish satirist has gleefully made fun of both English and American politics and in his new film, The Death of Stalin, he turns his eye to Russian politics. Armando joined Ryan Tubridy to talk about it and his brilliant career in comedy. Ryan started by asking Armando about one of his most famous creations, Malcolm Tucker, the foul-mouthed star of The Thick of It, marvellously played by Peter Capaldi:
"Alistair Campbell says he’s based on him, but it’s not really… There’s a whole number of anonymous people in Number 10 Downing Street and they’re called enforcers, rather like the dementors in Harry Potter."
How much, Ryan wondered, of Malcolm Tucker is scripted and how much of it is improvisation by Peter Capaldi? It all has to be scripted, says Iannucci, because there are so many words that have to come out of the actor’s mouth so quickly that there’s no time to pause for thought. This involved a lot of preparation on Capaldi’s part:
"He would pace up and down, swearing and doing the long paragraph kind of curses again and again and again for hours and hours."
Tucker is such an iconic character that Ryan wonders how Armando and the crew manage to keep straight faces while filming. It is a happy set and it is a funny watch, he says. And brilliantly, Malcolm is such a fantastic character that everyone wants him to turn on them:
"A lot of the cast queue up and ask to be berated by Malcolm."
Armando’s glad that the series isn’t filming these days because satire seems to be part of everyday events, especially in Britain and the United States. Of Theresa May’s conference speech, he told Ryan:
"A script saying, the letters will fall off behind the Prime Minister during her speech, I would have rejected as just too stupid and unbelievable."
Similarly, the US president almost exists in a zone beyond satire:
"Donald Trump is kind of his own satirist… He is his own clown and clowns, you know, are both funny and frightening."
His new film The Death of Stalin allowed Armando blend a terrific cast and real historical events to great comic effect. He told Ryan about the fear that pervaded Stalin’s Russia. "If you said the wrong thing, you would be shot." And he shared what he said was an old story:
"Every time Stalin made a speech, people would applaud, but the first person to stop clapping would be taken out and shot."
Ryan confessed to having several Alan Partridge moments per day, or sometimes several per show. Armando’s not sure what part of his brain the character came from, but he was originally a television sports presenter, played, of course, by Steve Coogan, his performance aided by his almost complete lack of sporting knowledge. Partridge – another iconic Iannucci creation – is unexpectedly gifted:
"He’s incapable of not talking, which is a great gift for any radio presenter."
There’s loads more, including Armando’s tale of being shown around the White House by staff who kept referencing The West Wing, instead of, you know, their own positions as senior employees of the US government, the inherent sadness of being Vice President, and the sitcom race between Alan Partridge and Father Ted.
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The Death of Stalin is on general release now. You can hear the full discussion with Armando – and you really should – as well as the rest of The Ryan Tubridy Show here.
Photo credit: John Stillwell – WPA Pool/Getty Images