'Veep' Creator Talks Selina's Political Competition and Hugh Laurie's "Big Hitter"

Veep S04 Still - H 2015
Courtesy of HBO

Veep S04 Still - H 2015

[Editor's note: This interview was conducted before news of series creator Armando Iannucci's departure.] 

Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is back and better (and more presidential) than ever.

Along with medieval battles and tech geeks, the politicos of HBO’s caustic satire Veep, returned Sunday with the show’s fourth season premiere, which found Selina Meyer occupying a new office — one shaped like an Oval.

The season premiere found the newly minted commander-in-chief prepping for her first State of the Union address. However, in typical Veep fashion, everything hit the fan behind the scenes. Among the blunders? A teleprompter that stopped working, reading wrong drafts of the speech being and Selina promising to increase military spending on that very initiative she was trying to cut.

It’s a less than fortuitous start for the new POTUS, but is it only a preview of the challenges to come? Can Selina rise above and be a good president while still trying to run a campaign? The Hollywood Reporter talked with series creator Armando Iannucci to get all the answers on what to expect in season four.

In the premiere, Selina was again let down by members of her staff at the State of the Union address. Is it possible for her to be a good president if she’s being undermined by the competency of her staff?

She accidentally makes an announcement that she didn't expect to make that brings her applause and will probably improve her poll ratings. It makes you think about everything you think of as being a deciding moment of someone’s presidency — if you really examine what went on behind the scenes — you'd see how last-minute it was, how shambolic it was, how panicky it was. That part of the episode was based on a story about Bill Clinton’s first State of the Union address. They put the wrong draft of the speech and when it came up on the teleprompter, he improvised for 10 minutes, and it was the best 10 minutes of the whole evening. 

With so many mistakes and mix-ups by the members of the staff, it's hard to see them as capable enough to work for a president? Who would you say is the most competent and ready for the job?

Someone like Ben (Kevin Dunn), the chief of staff who gives of an air of being worn down and mentally pummeled by the job, but is someone who knows how to fix things. He knows when to threaten people, how knows how to shut things down, knows how to advise. He’s seen it all, and therefore he has a plan for every eventuality, even if he doesn’t give the air of someone who has a plan.

We saw some familiar faces in the episode but also a few new ones, including Patton Oswalt. How will the transition to the Oval Office expand the world and characters in it?

People come and go much more frequently. We actually see faces, and you don’t know how long they're going to last. But it is an opportunity to bring quite a few people in across the whole season. We love opening the world. Part of my plan season to season is to open the horizons further and make the world a bit bigger. We haven’t seen the money and the whole lobbying industry yet, and that comes under the microscope in a big, big way.

Speaking of guests, how did you lure Hugh Laurie (House) back to TV?

We wanted a major new character of his particular type for the show. I heard through the grapevine that he was a great fan of the show. We connected in the U.K. — the writers are all based in the U.K. — so we met for lunch, chatted with writers and we worked out the character and the storyline. It worked out really well, and he was a delight to work with. He'll have a significant impact on the show when he arrives. 

Any hints at who his character is?

He’s a big hitter, a big figure who vacated the public stage for about three or four years and is now back, and when Selina is compared to him, she may find him a bit overshadowing because he’s a good operator. He presents Selina — who’s feeling vulnerable as she closes in on the election — with different options, but difficulties as well.

Your previous series The Thick of It ran for four seasons in the U.K. Now that you’ve reached that same point, how long do you see Veep running?

As long as we can keep reinventing it. Look at season one; she was very much a powerless, marginalized figure, and then we gradually brought her closer to the central power, and then we made her campaign, and then we made her president. We’re constantly refreshing her and we can keep refreshing her dynamic within the show — well, obviously, constitutionally there’s a limit. Unless you slowed down time, she can only be president for so long. Any comedy writer or showrunner will tell you they’ll feel there’s a natural cycle and natural life to their show. Right now we’re very happy. There is certainly more room for this show to explore new areas without putting any definitive limits on it. There’s still loads of work to be done with this presidency.

Veep is one of a handful of political-themed shows on the air right now. Do you watch any of the other ones? Where doe you see Veep’s place in the world ?

I dip in and out of [them] but I really never want to be affected by what the other shows are like. We went into [Veep] thinking that the portrayal of Washington had either been really melodramatic in the dark arts and corruption or heroic and noble and the president is also a qualified jet pilot who can defend America from an alien invasion. (Laughs). I wanted to do something that was closer to the reality of it, the every day — sometimes exciting and sometimes humdrum and tedious. That was my starting point. I tried to get some sense of the authentic details of the day, not to make a statement about whether you should be feeling this noble or this is corrupt. I just let it feel like the everyday, [and allow you] put yourself in that position and ask yourself whether under the circumstances, you would do the same.

What can you say about the rest of the season?

There’s a trip to Iran! Also, little things that happen in the first three episodes will come back to dominate the second half of the season.

Thoughts on the premiere? Excited for Hugh Laurie to come back to TV? Sound off in the comments below. Veep airs Sundays at 10:30 p.m. on HBO.