Armando Iannucci is the crown prince of the political sitcom, having created the Emmy-magnet Veep—and, before than in his native UK, The Thick Of It and In The Loop—dealing with the kind of farcical political bumbling of the modern era that, at one time at least, we might have optimistically found far-fetched. No longer.
His vérité style has been translated into the Toronto Film Festival-premiering The Death Of Stalin, based on a French graphic novel, and it’s the first time he’s applied his approach to past, true events, to deal with the Kremlin reaction to the Joseph Stalin’s passing. The cast might be amongst the finest ever assembled – Jeffrey Tambor, Steve Buscemi, Michael Palin, Simon Russell Beale, Jason Isaacs, Paddy Considine and Andrea Riseborough to name a few. Rupert Friend is its biggest revelation, nailing the role of Stalin’s misbehaved son Vasily.
The scenes in the film are all drawn from historical document, Iannucci said as he stopped by Deadline’s Toronto studio. Yes, Stalin was left to convalesce in a puddle of his own urine as the security officers stationed outside his chambers were too frightened to step in. Yes, Vasily did once accidentally send the national hockey team to their deaths once by insisting they fly through an ice storm, before hastily assembling a team of replacements in the hopes his father wouldn’t notice. And yes, the plan for succession was a never-ending cavalcade of political back-stabbings and shady, indiscriminate murders.
In the video above, Iannucci reflects on his process, which involves close collaboration and a long rehearsal period with his cast, and also on the recently-announced end of Veep. As well as the relevance of this kind of political comedy at a time in which, he says, the American administration seems to be beyond satire. Trump is “his own satirist,” says Iannucci, “and it’s both funny and alarming at the same time.”
Deadline Studio at TIFF 2017 is presented by Calii Love, Watford Group, Philosophy Canada, and Equinox. Special thanks to Dan Gunam at Calii Love for location and production assistance; and Ontario Camera for equipment assistance. Video producer: Meaghan Gable; lighting and camera: Neil Hansen; design: Dialla Kawar; sound recording: Ida Jokinen.