At the Washington Premiere for 'In the Loop': When Moviemakers Meet Wonks
If power begets glamor, and Washington is a great seat of power, then the District of Columbia should be a most glamorous city. It is not.
So it is at a movie premiere in Washington that one finds oneself surrounded not by Jimmy Chooed starlets, but by flip-flop-shod interns, and men donning khakis and polo shirts. Which is not to say we're not starstruck, especially when we find the likes of ourselves portrayed by actors on the big screen. And, surprise, surprise, the movie folks are rather interested in us -- at least when the film at hand is about politics.
The politics of war, to be precise, are the fodder for the BBC farce, In the Loop, directed by Armando Iannucci, who also sits at the helm of a BBC television series (The Thick of It) that features some of the same characters who appear in the film. (View the trailer at the bottom of the article)
At the center of the action is Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), a foul-mouthed, ill-tempered Scotsman who serves as communications director to the British prime minister. The film examines, in uproariously bawdy language, how the relationships among individual people ultimately determine the path between war and peace.
In the Loop takes us into the not-quite-at-the-top shops in Washington and London where policies are hatched, zeroing in on the treachery of people who are ostensibly on the same team.
There are lots of bad guys in this film, and even the good guys and gals are brutal to each other, all in the service of their careers. A rush to war is in the making, and an inept and obscure British cabinet minister, Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) mucks it all up when he tells an interviewer that "war is unforeseeable."
Tucker, the PM's comm guy, descends on the hapless Foster with teeth bared, saying, "In the words of the late, great Nat King f**king Cole, 'Unforeseeable, that's what you are…' "
We're never told just where this war is supposed to happen, but it smells a lot like Iraq. There's a pot of cooked-up intel from a source named Iceman. (Anybody remember Curveball?) We never meet the prime minister or the U.S. president; the real policy gets hashed out in brutal power skirmishes between staffers in crowded conference rooms and via leaks to the media.
Everybody, British and American, swears like mad, sometimes invoking particular sexual acts and positions -- all except Linton Barwick (David Rasche), an undersecretary of state, who calls one adversary "a piece of S-star-star-T" (as in s**t). Rasche delivers the line with such a Donald Rumsfeldesque steeliness that it cuts deeper than if he'd said the actual word. (His character keeps a live grenade on his desk as a paperweight.)
But Mike's stardom could not make up for the fullness of the room as we arrived, and we wound up seated in the last row. Come Q&A time with the director, we found we both had the same question on our minds, and we politely quibbled over who would ask it. I won by default.
"Stand up, she'll never see you," Mike urged me. "Don't worry," I said, remaining seated. "I have the gift."
Granted the last question (I got lucky), I asked about the extreme level of gay-disparaging analogies spewed by the movie's potty-mouthed characters. "Call me naive," I said, "but do people really talk like that?"
Iannucci explained that James Gandolfini, who plays a general in the film, spent a few days at the Pentagon doing research. "That's really the way they talk," said Iannucci. "[Gandolfini] said there's a lot of talk about dicks -- 'We're gonna put our dicks on the table' and that sort of thing."
"In preparation," he went on, "I met with a guy from the CIA, and it was a similar thing. He talked about someone putting on the knee pads -- and we were having dinner at the time. Rather put me off my steak."
Mike and I took our khaki-clad selves over to the afterparty at a slick joint called Co Co, where we happened upon Rasche, who is as handsome and affable in person as he was scary and mean on-screen as Linton Barwick.
"I detected a bit of Rumsfeld in [your character]," I said.
"Damn right you did," he said with a grin. "The dirty bastards." Actually, he explained, for years, during periods when not studying scripts or filming, he would watch as much as five or six hours a day of cable news.
What could possibly move someone whose career didn't depend on it to put himself through such punishment, I wondered aloud.
"The mistaken belief that if you're watching [what's going on in the world], you're actually doing something about it," he said, laughing. But it all paid off in the end, in his In the Loop character, whom he fashioned not just on Rumsfeld, but on Dick Cheney aide David Addington, as well.
In the crowded back room, we stumbled upon Spencer Ackerman, the national security reporter for the Washington Independent, who served as an adviser on the film. Ackerman was the best-dressed man in the room, sporting a white shirt and a natty tie. But then again, he's a native New Yorker; he just can't help it.
The movie gig came his way quite by happenstance, he explained, when he wrote what he contends was his Worst.Piece.Ever for The Guardian, in which he referenced a character from another Iannucci TV show, Michael Partridge. Ackerman was about to go off to Iraq on an assignment when he got the call asking if he would like to show the director around the secret power rooms of our fair city. Would.He.Ever!
Together, with Farah Stockman of the Boston Globe, he cooked up schemes to get Iannucci into places where feature-film directors dare not go (including that steak dinner with the ex-CIA guy code-named "Kneepads"). Iannucci really wanted to attend a State Department briefing, but he had no press credentials. Well, he had a BBC ID, the pair suggested. Sure, but that's BBC entertainment. Don't worry about it, the journalists insisted. "Just tell them you're there for the 12:30," Stockman told him, Ackerman said.
It worked like a charm.
So, did he find glamor there?
"It was very boring," Iannucci said.
Trailer for "In the Loop":