With Emmys under her belt as Elaine on Seinfeld and for The New Adventures of Old Christine, Julia Louis-Dreyfus could well make it triplets for her scathingly funny performance as Vice President of the United States Selina Meyer in HBO’s new comedy series Veep. Very few stars in the medium’s history have been able to pull off that hat trick but if anyone can, it’s Louis-Dreyfus who somehow manages to create completely original, but wildly different roles for herself each time she tackles a new series. As a producer of Veep she also knows exactly how to get what she wants and exerts control because, as she says herself, she’s been doing this a long time and knows a few things about comedy. Breaking into the television zeitgeist in 1982 on Saturday Night Live, Dreyfus remains one of the most talented and least predictable comic stars on television. And with Veep she is flying without a net for the first time as she is relieved of network constraints and restrictions.
AWARDSLINE: Republicans are obviously vetting for vice presidents for Mitt Romney and potential candidates keep saying ‘Oh not me! Not me! I don’t want it.’ But why did you want to play a vice president on TV?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: For the same reason everybody is saying ‘No, no, no, I don’t want it.’ That’s exactly why I wanted to do it, because it’s a comedy! I mean it’s a really divine area for comedy. And it’s been untapped. It’s kind of just lovely to tee up all sorts of things coming together. Let me just start by saying this: Anybody who is an ambitious politician would never ever aspire to a Vice Presidency. And yet, people find themselves in that position, and so, therein lies the rub.
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AWARDSLINE: That’s the comedy. She’s such a great character. Just her temperament, I imagine so much fun to play.
Louis-Dreyfus: Well it is fun to play. I mean the stress and the fury and the indignity — all of it is just a horrible ball of anxiety as the season progresses. We see aspects of her ability to manipulate the dynamics of political life and you can see why she is such a political animal. I love to play the sort of paralysis that she finds herself in and the fury that accompanies that. And I love being able to play somebody who just is so narcissistic. She cannot and will not accept blame for anything. She lays it on her staff, except if she isn’t laying it on her staff. Then she is filled with this self-loathing. There is no middle ground, it is one or the other and it’s a really fun gig for sure.
AWARDSLINE: Are you going to bring in real politics? We don’t know who the President is and we don’t even know what party Selina is affiliated with.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: We are never going to bring in real politics. I think it’s important that you never know this. At any moment she could be Republican or Democrat and it’s better to keep guessing or even not bother to guess and just watch the behavior of politics. Because that’s really what the show is all about. It’s not a show about ideology in any way.
AWARDSLINE: I am sure you get asked all the time, who is it based on? But I think if you brought in the ideology people would be guessing Sarah Palin, or Hillary Clinton or somebody like that?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Right, exactly. Also, think how limiting that would be? It is so much more freeing, to obviously create our own character, but also to not be bothered with sort of a political point of view, except to say, that she is an ambitious person who is desperate to stay alive politically. So that means straddling the aisle, which she thinks she does very effectively.
AWARDSLINE: You’re also one of the show’s producers which gives you a certain amount of control obviously. How are you using that and why is it important for you to be a producer on the show that you star in?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I am happy to point out that this is Armando [Iannucci’s] show. He really is the creator and the genius behind it. It’s important for me to be a part of the producing team because I bring a lot of experience to bear at this point on how to make a TV show. And I’m a perfectionist, to be honest, and so I like to add my two cents to casting, editing, script, sets, whatever it happens to be. I have spent a lot of time thinking hard about that. And you know, frankly, even if I wasn’t producing, I would still be producing. I think of this as a whole project and not just as me playing a part.
AWARDSLINE: How long do you want to do this? I know it’s HBO. How many episodes do you do in each? I know you’ve already been picked up for season 2.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I know, which is just glorious! We are going to do 10 episodes in season 2. And I don’t know. I want to keep doing this as long as it’s fun and I imagine it will stay fun for quite some time. I mean it’s a really, really good gig. I have to tell you, it’s a dream role for me. It’s incredibly creative and kind to the people I get to work with and how can you beat it? And, it’s not 22 or 24 episodes a year. That schedule can be a real drag, particularly if it’s single camera, so, I don’t know, it just feels nice and I really like working over at HBO. It’s from an artistic point of view. It sure is a respectful spot. I really like the culture over there.
AWARDSLINE: The New Adventures of Old Christine and Seinfeld were traditional network shows. Is there a certain amount of freedom you get in doing an HBO show that you didn’t have?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: There certainly is. Not to disparage network television, there’s plenty of good material out there on network television, a lot of which I was happy to be a part of for many years. But, there is a culture at HBO that is different. I mean, it’s the truth, they let you be artists, making whatever it is that you are making. There is an inherent respect for the people creating the material. And that doesn’t mean that they don’t have an opinion or anything. They allow the process to unfold in a natural way. A fine example of this is that Armando has a specific – you know, he comes from the UK – way of working. He likes weeks and weeks of rehearsal in Great Britain. So, we rehearsed the first season for six weeks before we shot a frame of film.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: It’s just amazing. First of all, it is such a gift to an actor, but beyond that, HBO understood that this was Armando’s process. And they understood that this is how he needed to work. And you know, as a result, I think, the show reaps the benefits of that experience. They just gave the space for it. The business model works in such a way that HBO can do this.
AWARDSLINE: Does the show have consultants from the political world?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Well, we have two different [types of] people that worked on the first season. One from one side of the aisle and one from the other who would edit every script. [They] made sure it sounded authentic, that this could actually happen; that under these circumstances you might negotiate filibuster reform or whatever it happens to be. So, we were constantly vetting the material they we were putting out there. We did, as a cast, and as a whole team, we did a lot of field trips to Capitol Hill … Behind the scenes meetings with lobbyists and Chiefs of Staff, and Senators. I did meet with a couple Vice Presidents before we began. It’s sort of an ongoing process. We had people come by from different walks of life on Capital Hill all the time.
AWARDSLINE: What kind of reactions have you received from the political world on Selina?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: George Stephanopoulos who, when I was back East and I was doing press, said to me ‘Wow, this is uncannily familiar.’ ‘And the tension,’ he said, ‘Is very much, the tension you feel when you are on the job.’ That was a tremendous compliment that I was really pleased to hear.