“Veep” is one of the most acerbic yet realistic comedies on television, which is grim considering it's about a version of the White House where the vice president frets that she's “in a national ass-kicking contest with no legs and a huge ass.”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus has picked up two Emmys for her role as the gaffe-prone Selina Meyer, a U.S. vice president who curses her fumbling staff before cursing herself for wanting one damn phone call from POTUS. At Thursday night's PaleyFest panel for “Veep,” attendees viewed the second episode of the HBO's series upcoming third season (premiering April 6) and dug a playful discussion with British creator Armando Iannucci and cast members Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tony Hale, Matt Walsh, Reid Scott, Timothy Simons, Sufe Bradshaw, Kevin Dunn, and Gary Cole. Here are the 10 biggest insights we got from the discussion and the episode sneak-peek. (The unofficial #11 is Iannucci's claim that the cast of “Veep” is more talented than the cast of “House of Cards” because “staring at cameras while you say your lines is a fundamental mistake”).
1. “Veep” will soon coin a new word: “Contraceptistas”
Selina's pre-campaigning will force her to become declarative about certain hot-button issues. It's a strange new turn for a show that never wants its heroine to come off as liberal or conservative, but I'm thrilled that the word “contraceptistas” — coined by a member of Selina's staff — may enter a real political discussion soon. I like picturing contraceptistas in green Starbucks aprons handing out Plan B pills in venti cups.
2. Get ready for Jonah at his most unhinged.
The strangest shift from season two to three is how much we see of certain supporting characters' private lives. Jonah (Timothy Simons) is a flippant nuisance with a stomach-churning grin in Selina's office, but outside the White House his asinine energy becomes weirder and more diabolical. In fact, his character depth is the scariest part of the series so far. For sure. Anticipate maniacal behavior.
3. Armando Iannucci has a dream casting choice for POTUS.
When moderator Stacey Wilson of The Hollywood Reporter asked the panel to pick out a dream actor for the role of the still-unseen president, Iannucci responded first and best: “Definitely Schwarzenegger.” Strangely, the cast almost unanimously didn't respond to the question. Makes you wonder if something specific is planned, even though it's hard to imagine any one actor being a satisfying enough choice. Imagine if Rebecca actually showed up at the end of “Rebecca.” The intrigue is gone!
4. JLD might not have been the first choice to play Selina Meyer.
Matt Walsh, an Upright Citizens Brigade veteran who plays the veep's director of communications Mike McLintock, joked that Julia Louis-Dreyfus wasn't the first pick for her role. Iannucci added, “Ms. Minnelli was unavailable.” This led to a staggering, gesture-heavy impression of the “Cabaret” star as Selina Meyer by Tony Hale, who should really be unleashing imitations of Judy Garland's family.
5. Julia Louis-Dreyfus doesn't have a problem remembering dialogue, and her explanation makes a lot of sense.
“The lines themselves I don't worry about that much, to tell you the truth — not because I don't know them,” Louis-Dreyfus said, answering a question about the show's frenetic pacing. “It's like doing scales on a piano. You need to do those very well, of course, but it's not really about the scales. It's about the piece you're about to perform. That sounds really hifalutin but it's actually kind of true. The challenge for me, because the process is very fluid and there is in fact a lot of material, is to say as relaxed as possible as we're doing it. Really. In so doing, stuff happens that you wouldn't anticipate, and it's usable. Even if — God forbid — you don't know the line exactly, you might fumble your way through it and in so doing, something comes up. You stay relaxed so you can be absolutely present in the work. Even though what's on the page is on the page, the story does come together in the edit. If there's a joke on the page, the punchline may not even be on you. It might be much funnier if it goes to anybody else, or if we don't hear the punchline, or if we only hear it peripherally, and see [another actor's] reaction. Then it's infinitely more funny and more interesting and less expected. To keep up with the unexpectedness of the show, you have to stay relaxed.”
6. Bill Clinton pointed out the best thing about JLD's role.
Louis-Dreyfus said she ran into Bill Clinton at a charity event some weeks ago, and he had nice things to say about her show's portrayal of his former residence. Recalling his appreciation, JLD said that Clinton told her, “You know what's great about your part? No term limit!'” Which reminds me: Can we crown Selina Meyer emperor for life yet?
7. JLD was interested in “Veep” because of a pitch that sounds totally different from what the show actually is.
Though “Veep” is based on Iannucci's movie “In the Loop” and his BBC series “The Thick of It,” apparently the original pitch to Louis-Dreyfus was darker than the show ended up being. According to Louis-Dreyfus, she was told “Veep” was about “an unhappy vice president.” Not saying that wouldn't be an interesting show, but I wouldn't characterize Selina Meyer as unhappy so much as frazzled, surprisingly smart, and surprisingly incompetent.
8. Turns out a lot of real DC politicos care about television depicting their city.
Reid Scott, who plays Selina's scheming director of communications Dan Egan, says he learned by hanging out with real politicos that TV about Washington is more influentia than you might think. “We talked to these DC staffers who worked for congressmen. We were interested in talking to them since they were sort of our counterparts,” Scott explained. “I was talking to a young woman… and she said, 'Like a lot of people my age here in DC, I got into politics because I grew up watching 'The West Wing.' How glossy and beautiful and Camelot they made the whole thing.” I like “The West Wing” as much as anyone, but it boggles the mind to think of that show's chaos as inspiration for a viewer's real-life career. Anyway: CJ Cregg for life.
9. There's a reason the show hasn't had on real-life politicians.
Iannucci says he routinely fields offers from actual politicians who'd like to make cameos on “Veep.” But if you think about the nature of “Veep” and the parallel universe of politics in which it exists, it doesn't make much sense to invite serious players into the mix. “Let's say we had a governor of a state on,” Iannucci said. “You then your ask yourself, 'Oh, he's a Democrat. So is Obama the president?'” It's uncomfortable enough wondering if “Veep” resembles something semi-realistic; inserting real politicians is a surefire way to endanger the show's playful remove from partisanship.
10. You guessed it: The UK is a more receptive place for political parody than the U.S.
With perhaps the most provocative statement of the evening, Iannucci explained that Americans venerate their leaders more than Britons do, and that's what leads to a dearth of realistic White House satire. :I suppose in America, because the office itself has a prestige and the president is also the head of state, there's a reverence about the office,” he said. “We detect more of a reluctance to be sort of comedic about the goings-on in the White House.” Now, great drama in the White House, or conspiracy, or alien attacks…” Wow. Bold move, attacking our beloved Will Smith action vehicles. Give “Enemy of the State” a chance, Armando.