The Queen's English takes a drubbing in Armando Iannucci's "In the Loop," and her government workers don't fare much better. The film is a scathing political satire. It's also somewhat of an extension of "The Thick of It," Iannucci's BBC program that has aired six episodes and two specials over the last four years. A new season is running now.
The film raises the stakes, and even crosses the pond, when a hapless government minister (Tom Hollander) makes an offhand on-air comment that suddenly fuels the case for backing a U.S. war in the Middle East. The chaos that ensues is as funny as it is horrifying, and the most hilarious monster of them all is Malcolm Tucker, played by Peter Capaldi. As chief press officer for the British government, Tucker bends journalists and colleagues to his will with words so creatively foul none of them can be repeated here.
The film has earned six British Independent Film Award nominations, including one for Capaldi. He also won a Scottish BAFTA award for his performance. In 1995, he also won an Oscar -- but not for acting. He wrote and directed "Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life," which tied for live-action short film.
Until now, the actor has perhaps been best known in the U.S. for his first role, the sweet-natured Danny Oldsen in Bill Forsyth's 1983 film "Local Hero." Forsyth discovered Capaldi playing in a punk band (his drummer was talk show host Craig Ferguson) in his native Scotland. He's been acting ever since, but nothing -- and everything -- prepared him for Malcolm.
Do people still recognize you from "Local Hero"?
All the time. I find it absolutely extraordinary. I'm stopped in the street in New York, and here. It must be something about that particular movie, that if you do like it, you like it very deeply.
And since then you've had a steady career of theater, film and television.
Which has been terrific. You get to a point where you're sort of the reliable guy who shows up on episodic television to be the psychiatrist or the doctor with the bad news, all this stuff. Then I met Armando and everything changed. Because this part -- I don't know where he got this from. I don't know why he decided I was the guy to do this, because there was nothing in my career before that signaled that.
And yet it seems so organic to you.
Obviously I'm a much more tightly wound guy than I think I am.
How did you develop the character?
I think it's a kind of American quality that Malcolm has. Because, although in Britain people often say it's based upon Alistair Campbell, who was Tony Blair's chief of press, I'd never heard his voice, I'd never heard him swear, I had no idea what he sounded like or how vigorous he was. So when we started, the people I had in my head were a couple of agents I'd seen at ICM here in Los Angeles, screaming at people on the phone, who were the only people I'd heard with that aggression and verbosity, and who were still able to carry on business with the same person the next day. And Harvey Weinstein, who I'd seen go for someone. Those were the kinds of characters I had in my head.
The film did very well in England. Do fans back home ask you to behave badly for them?
They have their cellphone and say, 'Can you phone someone and just bollock them?' -- that's the expression we use. Or go onto people's answerphones and leave obscene messages.
What was it like to win an Academy Award for your short film?
The most glorious time. We stayed at the Chateau Marmont. My daughter was 2 1/2 , and I made a little 8-millimeter film of her coming out of the Chateau, walking past the Marlboro Man, who's no longer there, and walking down Sunset Boulevard. This gorgeous little toddler with flowing locks. My career hasn't always gone the way I'd expect it to or hoped it to go. But that time, with that little girl walking down Sunset, and being at the Chateau Marmont, and people I'd never met giving me an Oscar for the first thing that I tried to write and direct. That would keep me going.