Chris Addison on US politics, romcoms and working with Gandolfini
Your new series Trying Again is about a couple attempting to patch things up after an affair. Both you and writer Simon Blackwell worked on The Thick Of It – was this a conscious decision to do something different?
It wasn’t that we wanted to get away from The Thick Of It. We both do Veep, so we’ve certainly not been very successful at that [laughs]. I suppose we wanted to do something emotional and funny at the same time. I love romcoms; when they’re done properly, they’re incredible. When Harry Met Sally is an astonishingly brilliant film. Annie Hall, too – it’s a romantic comedy that’s not particularly happy. Trying Again is in that vein; very non-fluffy, not at all cosy – actually quite uncomfortable – but still romantic. It’s quite grown-up, I suppose.
How much of the show is based on real-life incidents? There’s a great scene where your character is embarrassingly robbed by some marauding teenagers…
Well, actually, that did happen to me. It’s never occurred to me until now, but the one time I was mugged they probably were about 13 [laughs]. A couple of lads jumped me from behind. It was the night of the US election in 2000, when George Bush became president. I always think of the mugging as the second worst thing to happen that evening.
As well as starring in Trying Again, you’re also directing episodes of Veep, and doing stand-up and TV panel shows. Which is your favourite?
It varies. I’ve built a career out of being distracted into doing something. After university, I wanted to be a director, but did stand-up out of boredom. Then Armando [Iannucci] saw me and said, “Come over here and say these words on The Thick Of It.” Then, after that, “Try telling other people to say these words on Veep.” It’s always been, “What next?”
How much influence do you think Veep is having on real-life US politics?
Politicians are keener to be involved. We had a set visit from the governor of Maryland, who’s one of the people very much looking at the presidential run either next time, or 2020.
So, he’s eager to be ‘on side’ with the people who might one day be sending him up?
Yeah, right. And we know it’s watched in the White House. That’s very strange.
Must be satisfying too, though?
Yeah, but the problem is, they [the politicians] love it. They’re in that class of people that love it when they’re being noticed. Obviously I’m in that class, too, but they’re way ahead [laughs]. Their careers literally are popularity contests, so they try to appear cool by liking the thing that mocks them. Armando tells a story about being shown round the White House by Obama’s aide, and this guy was saying, “...and this is where [West Wing character] Josh Lyman sits”, and thinking, “Josh Lyman is a fictional character! You’re the actual Josh Lyman!” So they love the idea they’re being paid attention to. Having said that, it’s one thing for Obama to say he likes Veep, it’s another for David Cameron to say he likes The Thick Of It. That’s less cool, isn’t it?
What’s it like directing Julia Louis-Dreyfus?
She’s so good. I remember directing one scene with her in a homeless centre, and she was sitting in front of a shelf full of toys and books, which included the Seinfeld board game. I was like, “Yes, let’s not have that in shot right behind her [laughs].”
Is The Thick Of It well and truly over now?
In a few years, if there’s a subject where we all feel like, “Wouldn’t it be great if we covered this?”, then maybe… But I don’t think you should imagine it will come back. Don’t live on that false hope [laughs]. The reality of Malcom [Tucker], too, is that he’d be long gone now. That character would probably not have survived as long as he did.
What do you think of Peter Capaldi’s move from Malcolm to Doctor Who?
I’ve said it for years – he’s the perfect Doctor. We’ve had terrific Doctors recently, but they’ve all been missing this note I loved when I was a kid: that you didn’t know if you were safe with the Doctor. He was this terrifying, mercurial figure, he could be an imp or an evil genie; it would turn on a sixpence. There were moments of darkness in Matt Smith’s and David Tennant’s Doctors, but Peter’s able to play that note of imperiousness. I think he’ll be this generation’s Tom Baker.
Finally, what are your memories of working with the late, great James Gandolfini on In The Loop?
He was so lovely. My principal memory is that, in the script, Toby [Addison’s character] is obsessed with General Miller [Gandolfini], and in the end there was this big scene between them, they have a bit of argy-bargy and eventually Miller tells him to f*ck off. On the day of shooting, I said to Armando, “Wouldn’t it just be funnier if I walked up to him and said, ‘General Miller?’, and he just goes, ‘F*ck you, Frodo’?” Armando said, “Yes, that’s funnier, we’ll do that instead.” Then it hit me – f*ck! I just talked myself out of a proper scene with James Gandolfini! The mark of the man, for me, was that on the final day of filming, we all went to this very snooty steak house in Brooklyn and they seated us in two different rooms – crew at one table, cast at another. Jim was like, “No, we all eat together.” He took the owner to one side and made him find one room for all of us. That was really lovely. Of course, it’s difficult to say no when Tony Soprano takes you aside and says, “Do you mind awfully…”
Trying Again begins on Sky Living on 24 April at 9pm