Interview with Armando Iannucci

Armando Iannucci can't get enough of political satire. The brain behind The Thick of ItVeep and, not to forget, Alan Partridge, takes aim at Joseph Stalin and his cronies with his new film The Death of Stalin. The closing film at IFFR gives a new meaning to the expression dying with laughter.

A comedy about Stalin, was it a tough sell?
“It came together very quickly; we did the script, we went to Gaumont and they fully funded it. We got the cast really quickly, we shot it really quickly and it's done very well in the UK. I assume it is the sort of thing people might think would be difficult to sell. The film got good word of mouth... it seems to generate a lot of enthusiasm from the audience.”

It might have something to with the fact that it's quite original.
“The reason I have only done two movies is that I just want to do movies I can't imagine other people making, or if nothing similar has already been made. Otherwise there is really no need for me to make it. Especially with a film, that takes up two years of your career, there's got to be a special reason for making it. So, I'm kind of pleased that it's an awkward movie.”

The Death of Stalin is only your second feature film. In that sense, you’re a young upcoming director.
[Laughing] “Yes! Which is why I'm traveling to Sundance and IFFR. I'm hoping to be discovered. Can't wait! Maybe they call to offer me a Marvel film. As a kid, I spent all my money on Marvel comics. Hmmm, maybe I should change my picture on IMDb to one of me at 25. Me from 30 years ago. I think it might be in black and white.”

  • Still: The Death of Stalin

  • Still: The Death of Stalin

All kidding aside, it must be different being a director than being a show runner, writer or producer.
"Yes, except that a lot of the stuff I've done for television I've directed myself, like various episodes of Veep. What does make it different are the choices. I'm still old fashioned enough to hope that it will be seen on the big screen – so I tend to think more about the composition and what is shown on that big screen. Doing a TV show is anonymous: you never meet your audience, they watch it in groups of ones, twos and threes. When you are making a movie, you meet your audience all the time! You do Q&A's with them, you hear from them. That's important, otherwise you become isolated and withdraw. There are stories where I will think: this is a good TV project and with others I think they are more suited to film. I like the fact that with film you can create this whole world... and end it! You don't have to make another 20 or 30. The tricky thing is though, that you only have one go. With a TV show, you make the pilot to see what works and what doesn’t, and with each episode you try out something new. By the time you are in your third of fourth season, you think you have the hang of it. With a film, there is a lot more consideration and preparation."

Any parallels between a dictator and a director?
"Considerably. When you are on set, you have the final say on everything. My wife always tells me when I stop directing it always takes me two weeks to switch off. When I'm home I'm still ordering people around: let's go for a walk. You, get the dog. Bring me a cup of tea. On the set, you sort of become a God, and later on in the editing room a dictator again, who holds the power of life and death. I would say, in my defence, that I haven't been responsible for the death of millions.”

Big Talk: Armando Iannucci

During his talk, Iannucci will discuss the art of producing satire. His latest film, The Death of Stalin, will be the closing film of IFFR.

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Photo in header: Photo: Armando Iannucci | Interview: Anton Damen