How I'm Living Now: Armando Iannucci, 'Avenue 5' Creator

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Armando Iannucci

From his home in London, the creator of 'Veep' opens up about his new normal, which includes fewer deadlines, an unassembled telescope and a whole lot of Amaretti biscuits.

With production grinding to a halt in the face of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the entertainment industry has found itself navigating uncharted territory. To offer a better sense of how, The Hollywood Reporter is running a regular series that focuses on how Hollywood's writers, actors, directors, executives and others are living and working in these challenging times.

Writer and director Armando Iannucci had — coincidentally — been planning to take a couple of weeks off just as the pandemic hit, having come to the end of a prolonged and hectic schedule that saw him shoot his Charles Dickens adaptation The Personal History of David Copperfield (which Searchlight has now pulled from its initial May 8 domestic release)­ and move swiftly onto the debut season of the sci-fi comedy Avenue 5, which recently concluded on HBO. But any hope of enjoying trips to the cinema or theater were quickly banished, along with plans for practically anything else that involved braving the outside, as the U.K. was brought under an effective COVID-19 lockdown.

Thankfully, the Veep creator says he’s been able to work on Avenue 5 season two remotely using Zoom and virtual writers rooms, although he admits there’s “less urgency” and planned rehearsals in June are looking increasingly unlikely. Speaking from the London home he shares with his wife and 17-year-old son (he has two older children living elsewhere), Iannucci discusses his new normal, including scrapping to-do lists, eating plenty of Italian biscuits while toning down the news consumption, and — for reasons relating mostly to ironing — upping his wardrobe game.

Let's start easy: How are you?

It’s just reached the point where it’s stopped feeling like a week off. It’s now feeling a little bit like you're on holiday but it's in a resort where you're not really allowed to leave the grounds. There’s still enough to do, but you’ve had this meal three or four times before. And do you really want to do the pool aerobics one more time? I suspect by this time next week it will start feeling like an open prison, that’s the stage we’re at at the moment.

What does like a day look for you now? Do you have a schedule?

Well, I’m actually trying not to schedule it, because I think this is going to be a marathon and not a sprint. Therefore, If you start waking up going, "Right, 9 to 10 is a run, 10 to 11 is build another shed, 11 to 12 is read more Tolstoy," you're just going to be absolutely shattered by week three. And I'm kind of trying to do the reverse as much as possible, which is to do as little as possible. Just let the days shrink rather than expand. There’s stuff to do, but there isn’t that ticking clock that I’ve had. So now if somebody sends me something, there isn’t that ticking clock in my head saying, "Well, unless I get back to them with notes, they’re stuck. We’re all stuck." So yes, I will get back to you with notes. But I will also wash this cup and sit down and watch the final season of Breaking Bad that we never quite got round to watching.

What’s been the easiest adjustment? And the hardest?

The easiest adjustment is that thing of not getting up thinking, "Right, a to-do list." That was very easy to drop straightaway. And I think the hardest is trying to avoid thinking ahead and thinking just how long will we be doing this.

What’s been the most challenging decision you’ve had to make since this whole thing started?

Well, my wife has underlying conditions — that’s the phrase, isn't it? — so from early on, we decided to try and stay two or three steps ahead of what the official advice was. Pretty early on, we decided to stay home and be very careful and not go out, and that was something we had to decide a week or so before the official government line. So, that was the hard bit when we felt that we were kind of working this out for ourselves.

What have you learned about yourself?

Let's see. Well, I'm very good at clearing out-of-date food, to the point that it’s become almost an obsession. I’m not very good at ironing. I think I realized that things I used to do quite naturally, like cooking, I just got out of the habit of trying to be adventurous, so I’m trying to force that a bit.

What’s the best advice you’ve given or have received about staying sane?

I have no advice about staying sane. Do you? But the best advice I ever got was for any worry or any anxiety, just bury it really deep, deep, deep down. Don’t talk about it. (Laughs.)

What do you find is your go-to news source during this period?

If there is, it's probably The Guardian. But I also downloaded the Washington Post app, so I can read that every day. But it’s funny, the first week of it, we were devouring everything, but by about the third week of it, we’re just doing one bite of news a day because there's only so much you can take in. It’s terrible. It’s getting worse before it gets better. People are dying. That’s the constant thing you have to remind yourself.

Have you been dusting off any old hobbies or finding new ones?

Well, I really love astronomy and my wife got me a telescope. Someone was going to come round and set it up and get me going. But we’ve had to cancel that, so he’s now coming on December the 8th.

What have become your go-to comfort foods?

Mostly Italian biscuits, those Amaretti biscuits. I do quite a good Bolognese sauce. Inevitably you go back to your childhood. Cheese. We’re running low … but I know a guy.

Have you found yourself stockpiling anything?

No, not really. Initially we wondered, and then the moment we thought that maybe we should get some toilet paper, it was the point where nobody could get any toilet paper.

How would you describe your Corona-era wardrobe?

Strangely, I've gotten smarter. But it's only because the clothes I normally wear at home haven't been ironed. So, I'm talking to you wearing a three-piece suit. And a top hat and a morning jacket.

What cause is most important to you right now?

I've just done an appeal for The Big Issue [a street newspaper launched in the U.K. and sold by the homeless]. Because they've had to go completely off the streets, obviously, and for the sellers that's a big nightmare. So they're having to go subscription-based, temporarily, and are asking for people to subscribe to either the print edition and get it delivered, or the online edition, or just to make a donation. Because it's important that it still exists as an organization when everything starts opening up. And I think they’re prioritizing getting as much of the subscription money to the registered vendors as possible. I'm just about to write something for them. That’ll be my bit of work.

Once this is all over, what’s top of your to-do list?

Well, it’ll be to prep and shoot season two of Avenue 5. We’ve mapped out the first six episodes, and the final three we’ll probably map out next month. But it’s basically about people in isolation. So, we're just waiting to see what the mood might be as to how we pitch. Is it going to be bleak despair, or is it going to be very, very silly? Or maybe silly despair? I don’t know. We tried to make season one as silly as possible, but it seems to have strangely become a kind of documentary about present-day conditions.

What impact do you think this period will have on comedy?

Well, that, for a start. But also just the physical delivery of it, with people doing more online stuff and not feeling that you have to have a 30-minute TV slot. I think new forms will emerge as a result of this.

What’s it been like trying to make comedy while all this has been going on?

It's been good to try and think of things that make you laugh and make everyone else laugh. I think the hardest bit, though, is the open-ended nature now and because I'm so used to working to a deadline, we're inventing deadlines. So, that that's been the hardest bit — adjusting to that kind of uncertainty, and not knowing the environment in which it is then going to be made and broadcast. It's a challenge. It's an interesting challenge, but it is a huge factor in how we go about it.