Balding and unprepossessing, wearing a dress shirt and slacks over a pair of sandals, Armando Iannucci looks like he could be a teacher on sabbatical - an art professor, perhaps, or someone who teaches literature, in New York from London on holiday.
In fact, he's one of England's brightest TV-comedy lights. Iannucci was one of the talents behind a string of popular TV comedy series, including Steve Coogan's Alan Partridge efforts and The Thick of It, a dazzlingly sharp-edged show about political appointees who spent every day trying to salvage their own jobs.
Now he's directed and co-written In the Loop, a film that positively vibrated with Sundance buzz last January - and which reaches New York theaters Friday (after a successful London run in April). A spin-off from the world of The Thick of It, In the Loop overlaps a couple of characters but focuses on a new protagonist: a nondescript cabinet minister who accidentally triggers war talk as England and the U.S. are gearing up for a Middle East incursion.
The most visible link to The Thick of It is Malcolm Tucker, a scabrously insulting fix-it man for England's prime minister, played with obscenity-spewing vigor by Peter Capaldi. Tucker may just be the character of the summer, with his vicious sense of spin: "You may have heard him say that but he did not say that - and that's a fact," he barks to a reporter on the phone, before threatening to expose his affair to his wife.
"I didn't want to make an extended TV show, although I thought that character had potential," Iannucci says, sitting in a conference room in the offices of IFC, the film's distributor. "I wanted it to have a life of its own. I didn't want the audience to think they had to see the TV show first. So we had a new set of characters and were forced to start from scratch."
While trying to find a topic for his first film, Iannucci was also reading the various books about the planning - or lack thereof - in the run-up to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, and England's signing-on for regime change in Iraq.
"Either you throw your hands up in despair or you laugh because it's so farcical," he says. "I realized that was the story I wanted to tell. Comedy was the most incisive way to do it. I don't think it denigrates the topic; it allows you to explore it from unexpected angles. I wanted to take that style and apply it to an international story."
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