[Editor’s note: This interview was conducted before news of series creator Armando Iannucci‘s departure.]
Veep‘s Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is the most powerful person in the country — for now at least.
Veep, HBO’s biting political comedy, returns for its fourth season Sunday to find the stakes have been raised even higher for Selina Meyer — namely, she’s now the first female president of the U.S.
At the end of last season, characters and viewers alike were shocked when the former president stepped down to aid his ailing wife, catapulting a struggling Selina into the position she’s been gunning for her entire life. Of course, her sweet, sweet victory was short-lived as public opinion numbers nose-dived and her campaign lagged.
As the former vice president is set to start her new
season legacy in the Oval Office — and hopefully try to outlast America’s shortest-serving president, William Henry Harrison, The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Veep creator Armando Iannucci to discuss what viewers can expect from this new leader of the free world.
So the big reveal last season was that the veep was suddenly going to be POTUS. Was that something you had always planned?
It wasn’t always the plan, but I don’t have a grand plan. I didn’t enter season one with a big map of where we would be by season 12. In the same way that each script evolves as we go into the process of making, there’s the season and overall story arc that evolved as we went on. As we went into season three, I thought, given that we were in an election campaign, given that there was this moment, and what’s going to happen, at some point, why not [shock] everyone by bringing it forward sooner than everyone expected? And also it’s putting pressure on us to keep redefining the environment that she’s in.
How has this huge transition affected the show? Did it change anything about how you approached writing this season compared to ones previous?
This season it was about preserving the basic DNA of the show. It should always feel like the show and you should always feel like it’s an episode of that show that you’ve been watching — it shouldn’t feel like tone has completely changed — but we just needed to make sure that now her actions have enormous consequence nationally and internationally. There’s a lot more pressure on her and we felt that her status has changed. People are going to behave differently to her even though they know her really well. They’re going to have to curtail how they talk to her. They can’t talk to her the way they used to talk to her unless she gives them permission. But other people, they’re going to be a bit nervous, or a bit excited in her presence, so that’s important. Some of her opponents are going to have to be a little bit more diplomatic with her.
How will we see Selina deal with this enormous amount of power she now has? Will it go to her head? Will it corrupt her?
As we enter the season, she relishes the new power. Who wouldn’t? It’s not like she has gotten a bigger opportunity to affect change. I wouldn’t say she’s corrupted by it. She’s not a corrupt person. She has a set of moral principles she wants to adhere to, a set of beliefs. But what you’ll see is her working out what the limitations are of that power, the frustrations. I think you can be a prisoner of the office and also be liberated by being president. Also, it’s the dynamic of working as president and facing an election only eight months away. That is her essential dilemma. The fact that she’s behind in the opinion polls and yet is the most powerful person in the country is a contradiction she has to live. So there must be in the back of her mind the dilemma about the decisions she makes — a voice that says, “It may be good for the country, but is it bad for me? What do I do about that?” So that’s something we will watch as the season progresses.
Of course, being president is all Selina has wanted since the first season. What would the Selina of season one think of where she is now? Will it live up to her expectations or ultimately end up underwhelming?
I don’t think it’s underwhelming. In her head, this has come as no surprise. The more we’ve gotten to know Selina, the more we knew that she herself felt she was entitled to this job. There was one scene we shot in season three — a line we ended up cutting — where she does end up saying to Ben, “It’s my turn, isn’t it?” This is when she was complaining how there are others campaigning against her, Danny Chung and so on, and she says, “But it was my turn.” And [Ben] said, “Yeah, but you can’t really put that on a poster. You can’t make that your campaign slogan.” (Laughs.) But I think there is a sense that she feels that this is the most natural transition in the world. She is not surprised that she is where she is.
Her team has also made this transition with her. How have the stakes also risen for them?
Well, several things. We worked out that because she’s president, they’ve all [turned] into Jonah in a way, in that he’s always going on about working in the West Wing. Now you find that Dan (Reid Scott) and Mike (Matt Walsh) and Amy (Anna Chlumsky) are doing that as well. They get their sense of who they are from the fact that they work for the president, and they can’t help but tell people and remind people of that all the time. So that enhances their [identity] in a very Jonah-esque way.
The other thing you find is that when somebody becomes president, a relationship with staff members that may have seemed very solid for many years, suddenly becomes much more fluid. When Bill Clinton became president, various people who campaigned with him and had been with him since his Arkansas days — he just thought they weren’t up to [the level] of working for the president. As the season progresses, you will get the sense that no one is safe. There’s a vulnerability and an unpredictably as to who is going to rise to the occasion and who isn’t. It gives us something else to play with.
You mentioned vulnerability and this idea that no one is safe. Who’s at the greatest risk going into the season? Who’s the most likely to have, if not a heart attack, a potential breakdown from the pressure?
The most vulnerable people are the people with the highest profile because they’re the most exposed. In the press, let’s say, anyone who has a public persona or a public profile could potentially harm the president. Ben (Kevin Dunn), the chief of staff, Amy, the campaign manager, or Mike, the press secretary — they’re all high-profile. The other thing you find is that president has to be protected at all times. So if the president makes a mistake, it’s not eventually the president’s fault. The president cannot be blamed or take the blame. Somebody has to be that guy. The last four or five presidents have always lost close allies and associates as a way of preserving themselves. I’m not saying all of those are going to happen, but all those elements are possible. There’s so much at stake there.
Excited for the return of Veep? Curious about Selina’s presidency? Have a favorite line or Jonah insult? Hit the comments below with your thoughts.
Veep airs Sundays at 10:30 p.m. on HBO.