Winning laughs

Winning laughs

In conversation

Winning laughs

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who plays President Selina Meyer on the HBO comedy ‘Veep,’ speaks to Dave Itzkoff about the real-world campaign and how politics increasingly imitates art

A female politician in the fight of her life as she strives to make White House history. A nation in the balance as its officials contend with an arcane electoral system that varies from state to state.

A proud republic debased by a presidential campaign fixated on minor gaffes and riddled with filthy language. So begins a new year of Veep, the HBO comedy that offers satirical refuge from governmental gridlock and democratic despair with its depiction of a fictional if familiarly dysfunctional Washington, led by President Selina Meyer, the ambitious and vulgar former vice president, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

As Veep, which with eerie prescience has anticipated real-life political embarrassments in the US and around the world, begins its 5th season April 24, it finds President Meyer in ever more farcically frustrating territory: Stuck in an Electoral College tie with a rival candidate, she must continue to govern while she and her Oval Office colleagues try to steer a Byzantine recount process in her favour.

Veep has been a career pinnacle for Louis-Dreyfus, who last year won her 4th consecutive Emmy Award for playing Meyer. These achievements are a testament to the enduring popularity of the actress, who starred previously on Seinfeld and The New Adventures of Old Christine.

Here is an excerpt from the interview:

This will be the second season of Veep in which Meyer has actually been the president of the US. Where can the show possibly go from here?

Originally, when Armando Iannucci, the Veep creator said, “What do you think? Let’s make her president,” I was like, yeah, sure, that sounds cool. And then after we’d done it, we were like, we just painted ourselves into this corner. But what’s good about this situation, comedically, is that even though she becomes president, it’s eluding her.

She has not a moment to revel in this so-called accomplishment, which she got by default. She has to immediately campaign for the position. She has to quickly figure out some sort of legacy that she can create for herself. So it seems as if everything is just a grab away for this poor, ridiculous woman.

So her holding the highest office in the land hasn’t changed the show’s basic premise?

Well, nothing is as it seems, right? Frankly, look at Obama and his Supreme Court nominee. He’s ostensibly the most powerful person in the world and look how he’s being stymied. And that’s a grand and noble (duty). We don’t do that kind of thing on our show. We’re anti-grand and anti-noble.

Do you think Selina has any positive qualities?

I think that SHE thinks she does. She is somebody who believes, very much, that she has something to offer. I identify with her as a woman thwarted. Who she was thwarted by remains to be seen.

Has her poetically obscene vocabulary infiltrated your own?

You mean, do I swear myself? I can’t say that I, myself, am a big swearer. I’m not an eloquent swearer. I don’t have that flowery, yummy language right at my fingertips. Let’s say I’m much quicker to go to words that I dare not say in this interview. I say them with abandon now.

As you watch Hillary Clinton run for president, do you see her contend with plights that are similar to Selina’s?

Yes, of course, but I see it all over the place. With all female officials. Be it Pelosi, be it Barbara Boxer. Warren. Be it Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I watch these ladies with an eye — just thinking about this show. But not in a sense of parody. It’s just interesting to watch behaviour, people’s reactions to women in power. A stern, decisive man is appealing. There are those who would say a stern, decisive woman is unappealing. Need you know any more than that?

What did you gain from your experience on Saturday Night Live?

I was on it for three years, and when I left, I made this conscious decision that I would not take any jobs that didn’t seem as if they would be really fun. That’s simplistic and Pollyannaish sounding, but really, I noted that. I’m not doing this unless I can have a deep sense of happiness while doing it. I’ve applied that, moving forward, and it’s worked. So in that sense, I have SNL to thank.

You’ve been a TV comedy star for more than 25 years, across 3 different shows. Do you feel that you’ve been a pioneer for other women?

I don’t think of myself as a pioneer. I’m not sure that I am. Opportunity for women in television has increased. It’s because the landscape has widened. More women got on the playing field. But opportunity for women in film has not increased. I just think it’s that simple. By the way, I’m certain that there’s more much more in television that can be done. And I’m trying to do it. But I’ve certainly seen it change in my lifetime.

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