Armando Iannucci: There I am, about to go off and have my film premiered at the Sundance film festival. I need something nice to wear for the big night, so I am in a changing room in Selfridges trying on a suit that is more expensive than anything I've ever spent money on before, including a house and a trip to Java. Then I remember that I have agreed at this precise moment to give a phone interview to an American critic who will preview the film on his influential website. No worries. I can quite happily multitask. I didn't realise the call would be recorded, which is why if you log on to hollywood-elsewhere.com/2009/01/in_the_loop.php you will hear a man talking about In the Loop while trying on a pair of trousers. Two days later, I arrive in Sundance. Someone tells me it's all very casual here. Jeans and sweatshirts. "For the premiere," he says, "don't wear a suit."
Sundance. Sundance. It's in America and has "sun" in the title, so it will be warm. And "dance" makes it sound festive and fun. Maybe it'll be like Glastonbury without the cowpats, but with loads of pancakes. Actually, it's a cold and rocky ski resort filled mostly with shops selling thick gloves. These places always sound tempting and exotic when far away. Like Vegas. You think of Vegas as Sinatra and cigars and stretch limos and tall women sitting beside you as you shoot crap, whereas it's mostly old ladies with fat arms yanking the handles on slot machines like the teats of a withered goat. You say you're going to Sundance and people go, "Wow. You must be excited?" And yes, I am, very, but I'm also cynical and jaded, and have been led up the garden path by American dreams before.
My political comedy The Thick of It was sold by the BBC to an American network as a remake, and I went out to LA to watch what they were doing to it. I arrived to promises of fame and fortune, I had meetings with lorry-loads of men in very expensive shirts telling me how excited they were to see me while talking in the monotone of a drunk man grieving, and I was promised all sorts of involvement and then told it had already been cast and written and sold to a channel owned by Disney. I was taken to a meeting attended by more than 30 people to discuss the colour of the ties that would be worn by the actors on set. I was then dumped outside on to the pavement, which I resolutely refused to think of as a "sidewalk", and I walked back to my barren hotel, stared desperately into a minibar the size of a cattle ranch, and got the next flight home.
No, I'm not going to be duped this time. I tell myself that the Hollywood dream doesn't exist. This time, I'm getting my disappointment in early.
I arrive at my hotel, a friendly, functional place with a crackling fire and big sofas. The effect is spoiled by a Hollywood agent sitting on one of the sofas, with his arms folded and speaking into an ear-held Bluetooth mobile. "I saw your movie last night," he says to his client, "and it's definitely not a small part. Your scenes have great impact on the rest of the story." I try to imagine who is crying on the other end. I sigh. Memories of my miserable time in LA come back. What I brought back from that creative miscarriage was recollections of an enormous number of Hollywood agents talking loudly into the air. I made a collection of all the things I heard them say. My favourites are "No, I wouldn't say we were a million miles apart, I'd say we were 150 miles apart" and "Hey Tom, thanks for taking the call. Sorry to have to pull you out of a funeral. Was it family or a friend?"
I check in. There was a special screening for press and industry people that morning, and I receive an email saying it went well and I'm now "a hot potato". I refuse to accept this as fact. The receptionist hands me a large hamper from another Hollywood agent. It contains wine and cheeses and a pair of thick gloves. I will not be swayed by this conspiracy to make me believe things are in any way going well. Based partly on my experiences in LA, and partly on the Iraq war, the film is all about how a bunch of British politicians are star-struck by the whole experience of going to America. I mustn't fail to heed the message of my own film. I will not be persuaded that good will come of all this. I've been travelling for 20 hours so go to bed.
I wake up at the crack of 6am and, with nothing to do, decide to go for a swim. It will be quiet. The pool is empty, apart from one Hollywood agent sitting on a deckchair, in a suit, trying to get some privacy while he deals with a crying actor on the end of a phone. I decide to swim noisily, and splash like a three-year-old. I resolve to pretend I'm drowning if that's what it takes to get him out.
The rest of the day is spent not attending the Sundance festival, but instead having meetings about it. At one point, halfway though a meeting I'm driven to another meeting and then driven back to rejoin the first one. All this, because my film has caused a "buzz" and a "stir". I refuse to be impressed by these terms.
Next day, I team up with James Gandolfini and Mimi Kennedy, two of the US cast. They play a Pentagon general and a US state department politico doing their not-very-best to stop a war happening. Mimi is hilarious and James is always charming and generous, and very patient with the press. Just as well. The first interviewer is from the LA Times. That's an important newspaper. We all have to be on our best behaviour. The reporter places a small mobile phone on a tripod. We look at each other, and get ready for the smart incisive questioning. "If you had to lose one body part to frostbite, what part would it be?" Somewhere out in the digital ether, there's footage of the three of us all looking at each other thinking, "What in arse's name has happened to the LA Times?"
Everything is conforming nicely to my expectation that this will all be a disappointment, but then news comes of glowing press, a five-star review, bigger, louder buzz, and comparisons of the film with Billy Wilder and the screwball comedies of the 40s and 50s. That's nice. I'm cheered, but still stoic. I will not give way. I'm told, during the interview, that we've sold the film to a great US distributor. I'm pleased. But remain cold and unbroken. I'm told the Guardian has done an editorial about me. I tell myself that's just silly. I get an email from my wife saying the UK press is extraordinary and my mother is beside herself with excitement. For the first time, I get quite emotional and have to walk away quietly into a corner.
I suppose, despite all the brain exercises to calm me down and keep me grounded, there's always been a terrible lurking recognition that making a film is what I've always wanted to do, that, ever since going to those early Woody Allen comedies in the mid-70s, making a roomful of people laugh out loud has been my biggest dream, and now that I'm so nearly there, I can't help but want it to be true.
It's now the premiere. I decide, sod it, I'm going with the suit. The rest of the American cast arrive. They haven't seen the film. They compliment me on my nice suit. I worry what they will make of In the Loop. The premiere is a bit of a blur. I spend so much time worrying about the reception, about what I'm going to say at the start, about where I'm going to sit, and about the fact that, really, I haven't actually seen the film myself, not properly in a big cinema with loads of public, that I never settle. I'm told it went well, the audience laughed and laughed, and the cast loved it, but I now worry that I've spent so much time worrying, I haven't had my Sundance experience.
Next morning, there's an early screening, at 9am. I trundle along, thinking this is going to be the morning after the night before. It's full. The cast have come back to watch it again. I come on stage and get a cheer. I introduce my film, and then step outside. I'm standing in the foyer, and I can hear a huge crowd laughing. I enter the auditorium at the back. I stand in the darkness, and watch 1,200 people sit and laugh. I feel a huge grin on my face. I stay like this for at least half an hour. I don't want this to stop. In a snowstorm, in a large college sports and arts centre in the middle of Utah, I suddenly find myself having my Sundance experience.
Copyright Speakers Corner 2017