Politics is just show business for ugly people, the joke goes, and Veep star Julia Louis-Dreyfus says her experience of both worlds has taught her that the similarities outweigh the differences.
The 55-year-old actress, a native New Yorker of French stock, has been one of America’s most popular and influential comedy actors since she found fame with cult sitcom Seinfeld in the 1990s.
But it is her role as hapless vice president and then President Selina Meyer in HBO’s Veep, recently renewed for a fifth season, which gives her a unique view over Capitol Hill from the Hollywood Hills.
“They’re very similar. You’re selling yourself, selling a brand, trying to stay vital as you try to sell yourself,” she said, adding that in Tinseltown, as in politics, you are only as good as your last project.
The new season of Veep is set to premiere on April 25 in Malaysia at 10.30am on HBO (Astro Ch 411/HD 431), with a repeat on the same day at 10.30pm.
Louis-Dreyfus says her multiple Emmy Award-winning role since 2012 in Scottish satirist Armando Iannucci’s comedy has made her an ardent observer of “political behaviour” and how it can be caricatured.
“Somebody standing in front of you making a speech and trying to sell you something – inevitably there’s a flip side to it and it’s funny,” she says with a wide grin.
Meyer is often compared to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who is vying to become the first woman president in US history, but Louis-Dreyfus believes the comparisons are tenuous.
“What they have in common is that they’re both women. What they don’t have in common is competence,” she told a roundtable of journalists ahead of the April 24 debut of the fifth season of Veep. “Hillary is highly competent and Selena is highly incompetent.”
Louis-Dreyfus added, however, that there was an attempt to give Meyer some sympathetic qualities, to the extent that “in a weird way, you find yourself rooting for her.”
Sexism in politics gives Veep much of its material, Louis-Dreyfus says, recalling an episode in which Meyer’s new haircut becomes a scandal, an echo of the kind of criticism Clinton endures about her appearance.
“The abortion issue was very vexing to her. She had a point of view but didn’t want to reveal (it) and didn’t even want to reveal that she was a woman,” Louis-Dreyfus, an outspoken Democrat, continues of her on-screen character.
“There is a line where, after someone suggests she starts a sentence by ‘as a woman’, she says, ‘I’m not gonna start any sentence with as a woman. We can’t let people know that! People hate women!’ And I think there is a kind of reality there.”
The blows – often very below the belt – traded by candidates in the real-life Republican and Democratic presidential campaigns have provided a rich vein of inspiration for writers of Veep, says Louis-Dreyfus.
In particular, she has in mind Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, whose campaign has been dogged by controversy over his comments on Mexicans, Muslims and women.
“When we started doing this show we knew it was a satire, but these days it looks more like a sombre documentary,” she says.
“If we tried to put into the script some of the stuff he and his campaign said, HBO would be telling us this is too broad.” – AFP Relaxnews