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PK: What are your origins, I mean did you just start as a
funny kid? It seems like there's a tradition of British humor you draw on.
AI: I was always interested and there's a great radio comedy
tradition in the U.K.
and I loved radio comedy, I grew up listening to radio comedy. And when I was
at college I would get involved in performing comedy. And then I got a job as a
radio producer, a comedy producer, so I ended up producing some of the shows
that I used to listen to as a kid which was great. And then as a result of that
I made my own shows and they transferred to television. And then more recently
I made "The Thick of It" for television so this political comedy setting, Westminster and Downing
Street and so on.
PK: You did all the Steve Coogan shows...
AI Yeah Alan Partridge, yes. 'Cause he started one of the
radio shows as a sports announcer, who wants to be taken seriously as a
PK: I can't understand why he hasn't really made the big
crossover to American audiences.
AI: Well I don't know, I mean I was pleased that he was able
to do a cameo in this film. In the next film I want to do, we're talking about
doing a film where Steve plays about three or four different characters. 'Cause
I think that's his strength actually, he's more, in the U.K. he's more well
known for doing characters that aren't him. Alan Partridge is his big one in the U.K. and
that's, you know, it's a complete transformation. And it's extraordinary when
you watch him work how he just becomes... in fact he writes by being the
character. He doesn't sit down and, you know when you're writing with him he
paces around as the character and you fire questions at him and great
monologues come out.
PK:: There's medication for that.
AI Well, I know. And we want him to take it.
PK:: I thought "Hamlet 2" was a really funny movie...
AI: I hadn't seen that.
PK: It was supposed to be his big breakthrough
AI: Yeah. .
PK: You're making another movie now?
AI: I'm doing another series of "The Thick of It" and I want
to do a slapstick movie.
PK: Does it depend on how well this does?
AI: Uh, I don't know really. I mean, it's done well in the
UK and it opened last week in the UK and it's doing well, so...fingers crossed,
hope it does well here.
PK: So it opened a week ago today.
PK: And the first weekend...?
AI: It was good. It was only on selected release and it
still got in the top ten, and, you know, I'm really pleased with it. It's
opening wider now this weekend. So we'll see how it does.
PK: I heard that you're also going to be doing a similar TV
series to "The Thick of It" based in the United States?
AI: Uh, no, what that was...a pilot was made for ABC about
three years ago, but it was so unlike "The Thick of It because on ABC, you
can't swear, so it was very diluted. But I would really like to do, if not "The
Thick of It," then something set in Washington,
in that kind of style.
PK: Derived from the current administration?
AI: Well much more up to date, yeah. I think The Treasury is
the comedy department at the moment.
PK: Try to get laughs out of it.
AI: But that, and their relationship with congress is
interesting. They must hate each other.
PK: So you wanted to be priest when you grew up?
AI: Oh, briefly. You know, when you're a teenager you get
all sorts of weird ideas.
PK: And that lasted until you realized that you'd have to
take a vow of chastity,
AI: That's right, chastity and poverty. Poverty was alright,
but it's their belief in chastity.
PK: I heard you are teaching a comedy class at Oxford. Is that true?
AI: Oh, no, what it was was I had to just deliver four
lectures. It's an annual thing. Someone from broadcasting is always asked. You
have to do four lectures, and I did one on the sitcom. We find, and I think
this happened over here as well, the idea of the traditional audience sitcom,
in front of a studio audience, has gone through a bit of a, in the last three
or four years, has gone through a bit of a crisis as to whether that feels
old-fashioned or whether that should be single camera, no audience, like "The
Office" and "30 Rock" and so on. And I was just showing some of the classic
ones from the 70s and 80s, really, to students who haven't really seen them
PK: Like which ones?
AI: Well I think like "Steptoe and Son" and "Likely Lads" and
so on. It was interesting seeing the students seeing these for the first time,
because they were in stitches. They were laughing, laughing, laughing. And I
think there's something about hearing an audience laugh that is really, you
know, there's something uplifting about it. I mean, that's partly why I wanted
to make a comedy film. Just hearing the audience in the program laughing, I
think...for example, "Seinfield." I can't imagine that not with the laughter.
PK: And, like most people who direct a hit comedy, the next
thing you're going to do is a BBC documentary on Milton?
AI: Oh no, that's done now, that's done. I spent three years
as a student trying to do a PhD on Milton.
PK: "Paradise Lost."
AI: "Paradise Lost." I
never finished it. I So this was my chance for closure.
PK: Dr. Johnson said that nobody wished "Paradise Lost" any
longer. But you think it's relevant to today.
makes it all about freedom of choice. That is all about the necessity of having
individual freedom, but also the responsibilities that go with freedom -- that
freedom is not just a privilege. It's something that has consequences,
potentially catastrophic depending on what decisions you take. And it's really
about that. It's really about human nature as opposed to, you know, abstract
religious, mythic kind of stories.
PK: Lucifer is a good character.
AI: Lucifer is the most charismatic character. I think
that's deliberate. It's what we talked about earlier, and that's to say, you
know, you can't judge people by how they come across, like completely good or
completely evil. It's much more complicated than that.
PK: So Dick Cheney might be a nice guy.
AI: So Dick Cheney is either a nice guy, or Satan come to
earth, so it's up to us to try to work out which.
PK: Actually, the Malcolm Tucker, the Peter Capaldi
character, is very Luciferian.
AI: He is, yes. He's a sort of Lucifer and Machiavelli. And
yet there's a point in the film near the end when he's under quite a lot of
pressure and the audience, suddenly, finds itself on his side and willing him
on, and then realize that they're willing him on to do something, that they
actually don't want to happen.
PK: Yea. That confrontation between him and the Gandolfini
character -- it's hard to know where your allegiance goes. At least the Tucker
character remains true to his immorality, whereas the Gandolfini character...
AI: Yes, yes. Well Malcolm is one of the few people who has
a certain view, or some goal, at the start of the film that he kind of sticks
to, tries to achieve throughout. Whereas the others say one thing but then
maybe end up doing another. But I kind of like, you know, when we're writing
I'm not saying, you know, make him nasty, by the end I want people to really
hate him or really like her. We set up the characters, and as writers we're
kind of generally interested as we're writing as to what we might do and what
we might lead up to. And that's also why we do all the workshoping and
improvising(?)...I like to cast it
really early on so that the writers start writing for those voices, and those
shapes and looks, as well as having an abstract motion on the page as to what
these characters are.
PK: But there's really no role models in the characters?
AI: Linton Barwick, David Rasche's character, is an amalgam
of John Bolton.. But just all those people who have a theoretical view of what
the political, what the right thing to do is, and who would not contemplate any
deflection from that course are prepared to listen. Things like evidence and
fact -- they're all seen as annoyances.
PK: Do you think that's now part of the past now?
AI: Well part of the reason I set it in present day rather
than...I kind of like the audience to just ask themselves if they think it could
all happen again.
PK: You just mentioning those names makes me feel so relieved
that we won't be hearing about, you know, John Bolton, or Dick Cheney, or...well
we still hear from them.
AI: Well there might be the odd trial, you never know.