Julia Louis-Dreyfus spent much of her childhood in and around Washington, D.C. But when she returned last September to shoot HBO's new comedy "Veep," in which she plays Vice President Selina Meyer, decked out in a power bob and important-Washington-lady stockings, she got used to something new about the city: traveling by motorcade. She also noticed some curious overlaps between her life as a highly recognizable celebrity and the lives of highly recognizable politicians. Occasionally, for instance, a group of people on the street would see her emerging from the motorcade and react to her; she'd respond in character as Vice President Meyer, pantomiming the exaggerated greeting a famous actress might bestow upon fans. "It was worlds colliding in ways I hadn't anticipated," she says.
This interplay between politics and show business has grown increasingly strange and tangled. There has been a profusion lately of celebrities portraying real-life female politicians, from Tina Fey as Sarah Palin on "Saturday Night Live" to Julianne Moore's more sober (or, rather, sobering) treatment of Palin in "Game Change," to Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady." As for Louis-Dreyfus as Meyer, the pairing of her sex and her office might seem like yet another allusion to Palin. But Meyer is an entirely fictional, even chimerical, creation. The central joke of "Veep," in fact, is that Meyer, whose party affiliation is never revealed, is far from an ideologue; rather, she is a political animal struggling for survival in an alternately hostile and indifferent environment. Unlike Palin, who seemed to come out of nowhere, the very point of Meyer is that she’s a consummate insider. She knows exactly how the Washington sausage is made. She knows because she is the sausage.