Interview: In The Loop screenwriter Tony Roche
â€œPeople think weâ€™re all amazing swearers,â€� explains In The Loop screenwriter Tony Roche, and given some of the language on display in the film, it would be easy to see why. â€œBut weâ€™re all polite in real lifeâ€� he insists, â€œweâ€™re fops and dandies.â€�
Given his string of successful comedies, including Radio 4 sitcom World of Pub (and later itsÂ BBC2 adaptation) and The Thick of It, one might think Roche had earned the right to turn the air blue from time to time. But for him In the Loop and The Thick of It are more about the politics than the swearing: â€œWe never set out to make a sweary thing, Armando [Iannucci, the filmâ€™s director] does a lot of research, and he said itâ€™s quite a sweary place.â€�
Despite the elegantly foul language, In The Loop remains a political animal at heart. The film tells the story of Minister Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), an incompetent government minister who intervenes in British and American plans for the middle east when he states that war is â€˜unforeseeableâ€™. However,Â it also reflects more recent political scandals, including a near miss for a minister who avoids putting a porn film on his expenses.
â€œI went to a screening just after the MP expenses scandal happened, and there was this sense from the audience of â€˜how did they know?â€™ It was perfect timing for us, but a massive collapse of faith for the political system.â€�
Roche says that the forthcoming second series of The Thick of It, due to arrive on BBC2 in October, is already drawing on the yearâ€™s political intrigues (the team have already filmed five of eight episodes) but he remains sceptical about the showâ€™s long term influence on the people that matter: â€œI donâ€™t know if satire really ever makes a difference, I donâ€™t think politicians are ever affected by what you say, maybe the audience are, but I think the public have already made up their minds about this government.â€�
Steve Coogan in In The Loop
After graduating from Warwick with a degree in English, Roche became a stand up comedian â€˜by accidentâ€™ after failing to sell copies of a humorous magazine he produced in his final year. Instead, a friend suggested turning the content into a routine where he was spotted by the BBC and asked to write jokes and topical sketches for radio, eventually leading to his radio show World of Pub.
After making his move to television, he joined the writing team for Armando Iannucciâ€™s Gash at Channel Four and was later asked to contribute to The Thick of It â€“ the television series upon which In The Loop was based.
It was decided early on in the pre-production process that the film would keep most of the original cast (with the exception of Chris Langham, who is serving a prison sentence) and that they would play new characters, to allow the writers to return to the television show, and keep In The Loop separate. â€œIf the tv show is a parallel universe for politics, then the film is a parallel, parallel universeâ€� explains Roche.
Roche, along with Jesse Wallace, Armando Iannucci and Simon Blackwell wrote the first draft in a week, but he insists that the writing process is in no way as glamorous as people think: â€œPeople always assume we sit in a room and laugh until we have sick coming out of our noses, I wish it was like that, except for the sick.â€�
Except for a few meetings to write a story treatment, the writers worked alone on their separate thirds of the script, with Iannucci e-mailing notes and suggestions to the team as they went along. â€œArmandoâ€™s a really good judge of funny things,â€� says Roche, â€œhe wanted us to write it as quickly as possible, so that it was more natural, and gave us the licence to try stuff out and write things you would never normally submit.â€�
Roche believes that 85-90% of the teamâ€™s script made the final film, and the other 10% was developed through improvisation, but he says itâ€™s hard to properly quantify. â€œDuring the rehearsal period actors are encouraged to try things out and improvise, and if itâ€™s good, weâ€™ll incorporate it. Sometimes youâ€™ll take lines, and sometimes youâ€™ll just take the jist and run with it more. Sometimes whole scenes come out of rehearsal, but thereâ€™s a part of you as a writer thatâ€™s a bit pissed off that they can be so funny off the top of their head.â€�
With the second series of The Thick of It almost complete, Roche is looking at other projects, including another collaboration with Armando Iannucci, a script for BBC4 and a drama for Channel 4 due out next year, but heâ€™s uncertain about the future of The Thick of It. â€œThere may be more episodes, I think it depends on the next election,â€� says Roche. â€œBut itâ€™d be great if I could just keep writing stuff, and people thought it was funny and liked it.â€�
In The Loop is out on DVD on 24th August via Optimum Releasing
By Philip Reynolds