Julia Louis-Dreyfus finds out exactly how powerful the US vice president is not
Julia Louis-Dreyfus – best known as Elaine on the hugely successful American sitcom “Seinfeld” – is now the vice president of the United States. How she got there and the rude awakening that awaited her in high office is explained in the new HBO series “Veep”, premiering tomorrow.
Funny and satirical thanks to the rapier wit of scriptwriter Armando Iannucci, the show proves that you have to be careful what you wish for.
“Veep” focuses on the day-to-day life of rookie Vice President Selina Meyer, who still hasn’t got over losing her seat in the Senate before being tapped for the big ticket at the White House. Now she finds herself in one of the world’s most pointless political understudy roles.
Louis-Dreyfus, 51, displays her impeccable sense of comedic timing as she wades through the murk and the mayhem of Washington DC, wondering why everybody picks on her.
We had a chat with Julia recently in Pasadena, California, as the series was being unveiled.
Tell us about Selina Meyer.
She has one daughter who’s a freshman at Vassar. She’s divorced. She was senator from Maryland before becoming vice president. She ran for the presidential nomination but came in third in the primaries. She was a congressman. She’s been in politics for 20 years. And you’ll never know if she’s Republican or Democrat!
How did you prepare for the role?
I did a lot of research. I’m also interested in politics. I was meeting with people, not only vice presidents but also chiefs of staff, schedulers, speechwriters for vice presidents.
I was raised in Washington too, so the culture is very familiar to me. I knew political families and so on, so this universe is somewhat familiar.
Did you grill any women politicians?
Yes, and I noticed that they catch a lot of grief over their appearance, in a way that male politicians would never do. Why are we talking about Hillary’s pantsuits?
I think being a female politician has its own set of challenges, that being one of them. It’s not physics, but this is the reality of the universe.
How do you as an actress relate to politics?
There is kind of a crossover, and I don’t mean actors supporting causes or politicians being enamoured of Hollywood. I mean the idea of selling yourself is one that works in politics and in Hollywood. So that’s something that I can also do, as an actress, something to tap into to understand this role.
I don’t have a loftier thing. I’m not trying to change the world with this policy or that policy. I’m just trying to sell my television show and make people laugh, so it’s interesting that women politicians do come under that kind of scrutiny, given the significance of what they’re trying to do.
You worked mainly from Larry David’s scripts for “Seinfeld”. How does Armando Iannucci compare?
It’s very different, although they’re both brilliant, creative minds. For a start, Larry’s American – really American – and Armando is British – really British. The tone of how they approach things brings their countries with them, and it’s sort of fascinating.
Armando’s a soft-spoken, mild-mannered person, and Larry David is not that. Lucky me to be able to work with both these geniuses in my lifetime.
You still do a lot of ad lib on the show, though?
Absolute tons! The show is ripe for improvisation. We did weeks of rehearsals prior to shooting, which in American television is unheard of. Nobody ever does that. And that’s to Armand’s credit.
He’ll write a script, rewrite it or part of it, and we’ll gather and work on it for days on end. Sometimes the script is only partially written.
In addition to that, when we’re shooting, Armando is very fond of saying, “Well, what do you say we loosen it up a bit? And things happen that you wouldn’t expect, and what’s so extraordinary about this is that those things often become pivotal moments in the scene.
You’re doing that same thing with your hand that you always do on the show, the clasped hand with the thumb pressed down on top.
No way! It must have become part of my body!
You’ve explained before that you picked up the gesture from image-conscious politicians, like Bill Clinton, who don’t want to just wave their fist aggressively and they don’t want to point their finger accusingly.
Yeah, I didn’t come up with it but I’m the one who pointed it out. It’d be interesting, in fact, to do research to see when was the first time we saw this happen on camera. I’m not sure it began, but I can tell you that it’s absurd.
Is America ready yet for a woman president?
Absolutely! The question almost sounds surprising to me. I’m convinced that in my lifetime there’ll be a woman president and a vice president, or both.
“Veep” premieres on HBO tomorrow at 9pm.