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In The Loop - Peter Capaldi interview

Peter Capaldi in In The Loop

Interview by Rob Carnevale

PETER Capaldi gives us an insight of how he gets into character for the foul-mouthed, mean-spirited portrayal of political spin doctor Malcolm Tucker in hit TV satire The Thick of It, and its subsequent movie incarnation, In The Loop.

He also reveals what it was like to go toe to toe with American actor James Gandolfini – aka Tony Soprano – and why it’s important to get your f**ks in the right place to bring out the best in the brilliant screenwriting.

Q. When you’re playing Malcolm in full flow, is it exhilarating or exhausting?
Peter Capaldi: It’s a combination of both. It’s great fun, obviously, because he’s much cleverer than I am, and he’s got six writers who come up with lots of wonderful lines, so he’s got a bigger vocabulary. But I inhabit him and I’m the keeper of his black soul, so that’s a great job to have and it’s nice to get that cauldron of bile boiling and let it loose.

Q. Did the cauldron ever go into simmer mode when you’re nose to nose with James Gandolfini?
Peter Capaldi: First of all, I’m a huge fan of James, so it was an enormous thrill for me when he walked into the rehearsal room. Then we had to have a go at facing off each other, which was tough, because I was inches away from Tony Soprano, and he’s a big guy. But he was brilliant and we both went for it. When you’re filming stuff like that, you can’t feel intimidated by how you feel. You have to just get into Malcolm mode and let him take over. I wish we had more time. I’d have been happy to go at him for another two hours, and I would have sorted him out!

Q. How was working with the American actors in general?
Peter Capaldi: I found them quite scary because they’re brilliant actors and brilliantly funny, and they never stopped once you wound them up… off they went and they just deliver fantastic stuff. So, I thought they were quite a tough team to take on. But we had our British background of traditional theatre behind us, and they were a bit intimated by that. They don’t really know very much about it, so you can lie to them and say you’d been at the RSC and they buy it.

Q. To what extent is your character based on Alastair Campbell, and playing such an outspoken and aggressive character did that rub off on you?
Peter Capaldi: Well, what we’re seeing in the film is the point that we’ve arrived at with this character. When we started, none of us sat down and said: “This is Alastair Campbell.” So, the idea that this is Alastair Campbell, and that’s how he behaves, is some kind of strange melding of some concept of him and what we’ve done. I’ve never seen any film of him behaving like that, I’ve never heard any verbatim reports of him behaving like that, so I think people kind of want Alastair to be Malcolm – and I think he quite likes it too!

But there was no great conscious effort to make him Alastair, but he’s sort of become that now – and I think it’s time for us to push away from that to some extent, and move in a different direction.

Q. And does it rub off?
Peter Capaldi: Yes, it does rub off, because you have to get into this zone of general impatience and nastiness. It usually happens in my kitchen, when I’m learning my lines and my daughter hasn’t done her homework, and I suddenly tear into her. Or I scream at her, asking [imitating Malcolm: “Where the f**k is the remote control? Don’t f**king leave it there! Who’s doing the school run in the morning? Not me – don’t f**king come to me with that guff! You listen to me right now! Gte those toys and take them upstairs!” My family has to be very patient living with that [laughs]. Of course, that was just a comic version of it but it does go on if you’re playing a part that’s not you. You have to get it right.

Q. Did you ever count up just how many F-words there are in the script?
Peter Capaldi: No, because it takes enough time just learning them. The truth is, all of the written material has been sweated over and really some of it is like Restoration comedy…

Q. So, it has to have a rhythm?
Peter Capaldi: Absolutely, if you put the c**t in the wrong place then the f**k won’t come out properly [laughs]! So you’ve got to do it right. They don’t like it when you f**k it up. The bad language is kind of rocket fuel for all this other wonderful linguistic stuff that’s going on, and it’s a conjuring trick to make it look natural. It’s not really natural. There are real mouthfuls in there, so you have to study it and learn it properly – and hopefully in the next series I will do that. But for the moment, I just have to live with surfing it. Sorry, what was the f**king question?