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In The Loop - Tom Hollander and Gina McKee interview

Tom Hollander in In The Loop

Interview by Rob Carnevale

TOM Hollander and Gina McKee talk about the challenge of appearing in political satire In The Loop, coping with first-day nerves as newcomers, and any research they did into politics.

Q. Did you draw on any real politicians for inspiration and emerge from the process with any more sympathy for the type of character you play?
Tom Hollander: I didn’t research it particularly. It was a casting decision of Armando’s [Iannucci, writer and director] to cast somebody who was about the same age and generation as the sort of James Purnell, Andy Burnham, Nick Clegg generation of politicians. And also given that Simon Foster doesn’t really know anything… anytime he’s given the opportunity to speak he has very little to say… that I thought was carte blanche to not do too much research in case I got in the way of the performance. So, I muddled through. In terms of having sympathy with the character, you’re always supposed to have sympathy for the person you’re playing. You should be the one person who does.

Q. I think Claire Short was the International Development Secretary when war was about to break out and she did resign on a point of principle. Do you have more respect for her now?
Tom Hollander: The one thing I did think was that anybody who was a politician at one stage – when they were at the “I’d like to be a train driver” stage of their lives – must also have thought: “I’d like to make the world a better place if possible.” So, I think that’s why most politicians go into it. They don’t want to take over the world and most go into it for good reasons and then, presumably, are beset by endless things stopping them from following their natural inclination to do the right thing.

Q. Gina, even for an actress as experienced as you, was it still somewhat daunting joining a largely established team?
Gina McKee: Yes… affirmative. I really did have the new girl vibe on my first day. We were doing rehearsal and I was very nervous. But it was good because everybody was very welcoming and ultimately you’ve got the best safety net. But you just need to have a bit of courage. It’s certainly a shot in the arm.

Q. Did it take you a while to be able to bring your own stuff to the improv and so on?
Gina McKee: Well, I couldn’t really speak very much for about the first hour. But by day two, I kind of kicked in.

Q. Does it help to have a cast who are well versed in the improv technique?
Gina McKee: It does one of two things. It either makes you raise your game, or retreat into a corner and decide to find a new career. But you do feel like you want to match and develop things.

Q. How did you cope with the improv, Tom? Because you improvised the line: “Would you black up if you were asked to do so in an interview?”
Tom Hollander: I did. I was always thinking what would I say if I wasn’t so pathetic. What could I say back? With Armando, you do get that opportunity. But generally when I’m filming something, I have a sort of exaggerated, comical, sort of grotesque version of the same scene running parallel in my head. With this process, you get to let it out of the box a little bit. So I had a version that if Simon talks back to Malcolm, what would he say? But the truth is, there is a script that’s already there, which is funnier than the vast majority of comedy scripts I’ve ever read. So, if you can’t think of anything to say, you just play the scene. It wasn’t: “Come up with something funny or not be in the film.” It was more that the opportunity for greatness was there if you felt able to grasp it.

Read our review of In The Loop

Read our interview with Armando Iannucci