Chris Addison is a man of many talents. A stand up comedian at heart, he’s also a writer, a columnist, an actor and a really very pleasant chap to boot. He took some time out of his schedule to talk to us about his work on The Thick Of It and In The Loop, his upcoming tour, and the moment he sat next to Tom Baker in the Have I Got News For You studio…
First and foremost, congratulations on In The Loop. For a first film, that’s quite a project to be a part of. Has it, as your first film, whetted your appetite in any way to do any more?
Yeah, absolutely. For me partly because The Thick Of It was the very first acting I’d ever done – apart from the angel Gabriel in a nativity play as infants. And one part in a film for someone at university. I enjoyed it so much. It’s such a fun process the way that we make those shows and that film. And they’re very different from any other kind of acting. But since then I have, sort of, experienced other things. I’ve been put in a small part in the new series of Skins. It’s just the most fun. I love stand-up, obviously. That’s my first love and that’s my, you know, who I am. But, yeah. Yeah, definitely whetted my appetite for doing more.
Excellent. Out of interest, what did you bring to the role of the Angel Gabriel?
Well, I looked tremendous in a pink halo. No, I think I remember that – it was pink. It was a sort of cerise sort of silk? It was weird. It was weird
Would you consider writing a film? Is that something that would interest you?
Well, I love writing and if the right story occurred to me, then, yes, absolutely I would. Or if somebody asked me to. But there’s a lot of other writing that I do as well and you kind of have to carve out quite a space in your brain to do that sort of thing. It would have to be the right project and the right way of doing it. But, yeah I’d love to. I find myself – the more writing I do – I find myself sitting – when I get to watch films – almost looking at the structure of them as much as looking at them to enjoy the story and the experience of it. So, yeah, I would like to write something. But I don’t know what it would be yet.
And your experience of working with Armando Iannucci on the set of, obviously, The Thick Of It and In The Loop, has that shaped your thinking in any way? Because, obviously, his mechanic – what seems to come out from the interviews before – was he shot a lot of material and the first cut was, apparently, extremely long.
Incredibly long, yeah. That’s always happened – that’s always happened with The Thick Of It as well. It happened more with the film. I think… Armando’s…it’s really interesting in that kind of method of working that he has is that it’s not like everybody else’s way of doing it.
The most important thing to take away from Armando’s method, I think, is that it’s never too late to make it better. There’s no point at which the script is absolutely nailed down. There’s no point at which – if someone thinks of something better – that can’t be done, that can’t be thrown in. Quite often whenever things are made they’re so precise – there’s less room for manoeuvre and for changes. And also, because, you know, the writers aren’t always on set, there’s a different relationship between the writer and the director, but because Armando’s role in this is he’s the creator of it, the overseer of the whole thing. He’s the Keeper of The Vision, kind of. He’s specifically chosen people in the cast who can think on their feet and who can improvise. Because there are a big pool of people thinking all the time about how this can work best. And he’s the man who sort of gets to say what the best way of working is, but he’s never not open to ideas. Brilliant, really.
You’ve said yourself in interviews in the past that the biggest enemy of work is the words “that’s enough” or something of that ilk. Is that something…
The words “That’s good enough.” Yeah, they’re terrible.
Is that something you’ve taken from working with him [Armando Iannucci]? Or has that been with you since the Angel Gabriel days?
[Laughs] I think – I hope – it’s something that’s in me. It’s something I have to fight against in me. I’ve definitely taken that from Armando. He fits… I don’t know what it’s like in the writing these scenes in The Thick Of It, because I’ve never sat in those – but when he’s sitting behind the monitors as the director, it’s fascinating to see – you can see that he’s working all the time, he’s thinking, ‘Does that look right? If that doesn’t look right, how should it look right? How do I change it?’ Where most directors set up their shots first, know what the shot is, then ‘let’s do a take’, and then concentrate on the performance. But with Armando it’s everything that he’s looking at, at the same time. He kind of knows what it is, the feeling that he’s going for, and he’s prepared to try as many things as possible to make it right.
One of the ways of doing that, with The Thick of It is that we shoot, on average, about three to four times as much in the way of script pages as a normal production would in a day. Because it’s two cameras, everything’s universally lit, there are no marks – you can wander where you like, the camera’s job is to follow you. And that means that, instead of having to – say if there are four people in a scene – instead of having to give four different shots for close-ups and four different effects of lighting, and all that malarkey – it can be done really, really quickly. Which is absolutely the right kind of – it gives the most time available and the best atmosphere for creating things on the hoof.
You talk on the DVD in an interview you did with Gina McKee about there’s a moment when you just wondered how much of you would get left in the film as a result of that process. Is that a genuine worry, if you like?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I never enjoy watching the first The Thick Of It or In The Loop the first time I see them because I know that we do overshoot hugely. And Armando’s a genius for lots of reasons, but one particular genius that he has is the gift of editing. He’s an incredible editor. He can… he looks at the morass of material that he’s left with and teases a story out of it. And it could be that your story, when he looks at it, actually turns out to be not as important or there might not be enough room for it because other things need to be foregrounded and emphasised. So you just don’t know. You just don’t know what’s going to be in and what’s not going to be in it. It’s an incredible thing and there are lots of moments, when you first see it, you think, ‘Oh, that’s a shame that didn’t make it. Oh, that’s a shame that didn’t make it.’ But very quickly your memory of it becomes the show itself.
I remember when they released the DVD of Thick Of It specials a couple of months ago. I put it on to watch the deleted scenes and there were things in there that I was actually in that I literally couldn’t remember ever saying in my life [laughs] or doing. But I know that when I first saw those shows I would have been thinking, ‘Oh, that’s a shame that can’t be in it.’
One other thing you touch on in the DVD that I thought was quite interesting when you discuss how the mechanic of the set altered when the American actors came in and almost sounded like it was borderline seamless. But I’m curious because you’ve got… obviously, there’s an improvisational element to the work you did on The Thick Of It. How quickly did they adapt to that and did you find yourself having to temper your approach in any way while they bedded in?
No. People are… it’s a funny thing. I mean, actually, Tom and Peter and I, along with Armando and Tony Roche, one of the writers, and the producers had gone out to New York before we started principle photography to meet and rehearse with James Gandolfini and Mimi Kennedy and David Rasche and Anna Chlumsky and Zach Woods – the principle Americans in the film. So they were… the very beginning of Armando’s process for theses things is that rehearsal space where you read through scenes and you read through the script and then you put the script to one side and you improvise around the ideas of the scenes. That’s the beginning. That’s the terrifying bit. So, they were used to that by then. We were used to them and working with them and improv-ing with them.
Obviously, we hadn’t seen them for a few weeks and we didn’t know them very well and then they came over and it was weird because, obviously we felt where they were guests in our country and we had to kind of .. you know, there’s that aspect to it: ‘Oh, here’s a thing you should do.’ I remember there was one point – there’s a bit in the foreign office, big foreign office meeting at the beginning. We shot that just off Parliament Square. We had to stop because there was the sound of the band of the Coldstream Guards marching past. And when Mimi Kennedy, the brilliant, wonderful Mimi Kennedy who plays Karen, running to the window to see this unbelievably… we were sort of going, “You know, this doesn’t happen all the time. That’s not really an English thing,” but it was like a postcard passing by.
So, the dynamic did definitely change but that’s more because, up to that point, with the exceptions of Gina and Tom, it had been our little gang, really. From the telly. Not just the cast, but the crew as well. It’s the same director of photography, the same sound designer. It’s the same wardrobe. It’s people we know. We’ve been together for years. But they were brilliant. The thing about the Americans, they were all absolutely brilliant at that. Gandolfini is a master at it. Zach Woods, who plays Chad, who there’s not nearly enough of, is utterly brilliant. He and I spent the morning improvising a sort of snitty conversation between our two characters and it was so much fun. He’s so good.
The process seems to be: when people come into doing The Thick Of It, or that world, at the beginning they think, ‘This is terrifying. I can’t possibly do it.’ And a couple of days in they think, ‘Oh, right. I get this now.’ By the end, they’re going, ‘This is wonderful. Please can we do it again? Why can’t I do everything like this?’
And is it easy to slip back to Ollie now? Now you’re working on the new Thick Of It still?
Yeah, it’s funny thinking about going back to Ollie because he’s… well, Ollie’s sort of changed because, of course, The Thick Of It – our world’s changed. When we first met Ollie it was four years ago. Well, by the time the show goes out, almost four-and-a-half years ago. So, Ollie’s kind of come on a bit and he’s seen a minister come and go and this is his second minister so he’s a bit more experienced now. He’s still incompetent. But I always felt Toby was like Ollie but with a bit more… a bit nastier.
Yeah, he wasn’t a nice character, was he?
No, he’s highly unpleasant, Toby. Yeah, he’s a nasty character and you don’t feel sorry for him in the way you feel like Ollie’s, probably, just a rabbit in the headlights. Yeah, it’s funny going back to him. But, of course, our world’s changed because we’ve got a new minister and we’re in a new building and everything’s different.
Stand-up, you’ve said, is very much your first love, but, presumably, now your stand-up is influenced by the world’s that you’ve been seeing over the last year or so and being in the midst of something like that.
Do you know what? We’ll have to see. Because I’m right at the beginning of it and when we finish filming The Thick Of It at the end of next month, that’s when I sit down start to write that show. So, that’s my job for the autumn is writing that show. So, we’ll see. Yeah, it’ll be intriguing. I’m interested and terrified in equal measure to see what comes out.
I have to ask as well, going horribly off-topic: you, of course, turned up in the Have I Got News For You episode sat next to Tom Baker, which would be a dream come true for half of us, to be fair. Was it really just as awe-inspiring as it appeared from our side of the screen?
He’s one of the very few people – usually when you meet people you realise that they’re just people – but Tom Baker is… he walks in his own world. It was quite awe-inspiring. He’s got some glow about him.
Apart from the tour, is there anything else you’re up to next? Are you doing more TV? Are you writing?
Well, the autumn is the tour writing and then it’s the tour. So, the new series of Thick Of It’s out in the autumn and Skins coming out – I think the beginning of next year – and the tour and that’ll do me for now quite frankly!
Chris Addison, thank you very much!
In The Loop is on DVD and Blu-ray now.