Hail to the Veep
As Vice President on a new HBO sitcom, Julia Louis-Dreyfus delivers the most cringes since Dan Quayle
Julia Louis-Dreyfus wants America to know that she's not making fun of Sarah Palin. True, on HBO's new, largely improvised comedy Veep she plays Selina Meyer, a former senator who ends up as vice president and finds that she's more than unprepared for the job, despite help from her chief of staff (Anna Chlumsky), spokesperson (Matt Walsh), and right-hand man (Tony Hale). But Louis-Dreyfus and Veep creator Armando Iannucci (In the Loop) both insist that any resemblance between Selina and real-life D.C. baby-kissers is purely incidental. ''Maybe people in Washington are nervous because they think we're going to make fun of specific people,'' says the actress, 51. ''But we're not.'' Nope, Veep doesn't make fun of specific people just large groups of people. And everyone from Democrats to Republicans is fair game. Melissa Maerz
What made you sign on for Veep?
I'd seen In the Loop and thought it was superb subtle and yet broad at the same time. And the concept of a vice president who is, shall we say, somewhat unfulfilled struck me as really ripe for comedy.
You endorsed Obama in 2008 and have been active in environmental causes. Did you bring any personal experience to the script?
Armando was telling me that Selina would try to ''green up'' Capitol Hill with cornstarch utensils. I'd just finished working on The New Adventures of Old Christine, and I'd brought cornstarch utensils to our craft services. So I said, ''The first day you try to stir your coffee, the [cornstarch] spoon becomes flaccid.'' Armando said, ''There's an incredible joke there...''
How much of each episode is improvised?
Tons. In the pilot I make a speech, and a lot of that was improvised. It starts with a joke that was written [''I have stepped into the president's shoes this evening and who knew he wore kitten heels?''], but the joke that followed it ''He's more of a stilettos kind of guy'' was improvised. The crowd is only kind of with me on the kitten-heels joke, and then I lose them completely. There's a lot of cringing. It's a very cringe-y show!
Has Joe Biden seen Veep?
Not yet, but we rebuilt the entire Eisenhower office space and the hallways on set, and people from the vice president's office have come to check it out. They feel like they haven't left work.
You joked on Facebook that you get to curse a lot on this show. There's something funny about politicians cursing.
Anytime you see one face in front of the camera and then you see a totally different face [off camera], it's always funny to see the fakery. Selina has a boyfriend for a few episodes, and they have a sexual way of speaking to each other that's overheard, and it's... very uncomfortable. [Laughs] Put the kids to bed!
Are there real-life current events that the show riffs on?
No. But in the pilot Selina says, ''Box me, Gary'' they carry around this stool for her to stand on because Selina is very short and evidently certain politicians do that too. And did you see all the stuff with Newt Gingrich crying in Iowa, and Mitt Romney crying or not crying? We did a whole thing about crying in front of the camera. We shot it last month, and the next thing I know, everyone's crying! It was almost as if the show was becoming real.