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Mad rush for power in ‘Stalin’ – ‘I could never reach giddy heights of Trump’

TORONTO, March 10, (Agencies): How different was Stalin-era 1950s Russia to the Washington DC of “Veep”? For “Veep”-creator Armando Iannucci, there were more similarities than you might think.

In his second feature film, “The Death of Stalin,” some quite funny people (Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, Simon Russell Beale) play some of the more fear-inducing names in 20th century history. When Stalin dies, it’s a mad rush for power (Buscemi’s Nikita Khrushchev comes running in his pajamas) and a race for the mantle of ‘reformer’ after years of purges, murders and imprisonments.

Yet the satirical ballet of hapless government strivers will be familiar to those who know Ianuncci’s other farces (“In the Loop,” “The Thick of It”). It’s just that the consequences for losing step with the party line are a tad direr.

“If you say the wrong thing or back the wrong person, you might be out of power,” said Iannucci in an interview. “But being outside of power can mean being dead, so there’s that added tension. You don’t just retire and open up a library. You’re shot.”

“The Death of Stalin,” which opened in theaters Friday, is Iannucci’s first post-“Veep” project. He departed after the first four seasons. When it was announced in early September that the acclaimed HBO season will end with its seventh season, he applauded David Mandel for “bringing her safely home.”

But while “Death of Stalin” might be a kind of comrade to “Veep,” it also charts a different path for Iannucci. The movie, he feels, resonates particularly in the Donald Trump era, and, more than any of Iannucci’s previous work, connects insular political maneuvering with its often tragic results for the populace.

AP: This is a fairly brutal time period for a comedy.

Iannucci: I was keen to make sure of that, yes, we see these people and the decisions they make within the Kremlin, but I also wanted to show how these decisions impacted people on the outside. There’s no shying away from that. So you do see people rounded up. People are killed. People are taken away. And you never see those people again. So it was always about going inside, behind closed doors, and then going outside and seeing the effect of what’s just happened. I wanted the audience to feel a little bit of what every Russian must have felt on a daily basis: Will I get through the day?

AP: Do you think history remembers its figures too seriously and soberly? The Kremlin leaders of your film are uncouth, petty and often thoughtless.

Iannucci: They’re human. They’re not superhuman. And I think a lot of them are either deluded themselves or are persuaded by others to think that they are superhuman. When they find out that they’re human, that’s when things unravel. In ‘The Death of Stalin,’ these are people who think they’re powerful and therefore they’re in complete control. It’s fear of not having power that drives them.

AP: Where do you get your interest in the comedy of politics?

Iannucci: It affects everything you do. It’s so important. And therefore I’m fascinated with how it happens. That’s it, really. But I also want people to get that vague sense of finding out how important it is. When it goes wrong, it goes very badly wrong. We have this golden view of democracy. We think now that we’ve arrived at democracy, it’s going to stay here forever. Well, no. Get it ever so slightly wrong, just tip it a slightly different way and you end up with authoritarianism and autocracy.

AP: How do you think the Trump administration compares to your political comedies?

Iannucci: I don’t think I could ever reach the giddy heights of the inspired comedy and tragedy that’s happening now in Washington. I mean, it’s mesmerizing to watch but it’s also scary. For me, the scariest thing about it is all those people who were so absolutely opposed to him before he got elected, and then have just drifted away and kept quiet. It goes back to: We’ve always got to be vigilant about democracy because it can go wrong.


LOS ANGELES: It’s a homecoming for “Homecoming.”

Dermot Mulroney will reunite with his “My Best Friend’s Wedding” co-star Julia Roberts in Amazon’s upcoming thriller “Homecoming,” based on the hit podcast from Gimlet Media.

Mulroney, who also worked with Roberts in “August: Osage County,” will guest star as Anthony, Heidi’s (Roberts) boyfriend who is said to be eager to please, but a bit needy and grows increasingly frustrated with Heidi’s lack of attention to him and their relationship.

“Homecoming,” which started production last month, is a psychological and political thriller that centers on a caseworker at a secret government facility and a soldier eager to rejoin civilian life. The series, which hails from Universal Cable Productions, marks Roberts’ TV series debut. “Mr. Robot” creator Sam Esmail will be directing all 10 episodes, which were written by the creators of the podcast, Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg. Bobby Cannavale, who also worked with Esmail on “Mr. Robot,” and Stephan James (“Shots Fired”) will co-star in the project.

The series is produced by Esmail through his production company Esmail Corp; as well as “Mr. Robot” executive producer Chad Hamilton of Anonymous Content; Horowitz and Bloomberg; and Chris Giliberti, Alex Blumberg, and Matt Lieber of Gimlet Media. Roberts will also serve as executive producer through her production company, Red Om Films.

Amazon Studios gave a two-season, straight-to-series order to “Homecoming,” which will premiere globally on the streaming service.

 LOS ANGELES: Gravitas Ventures has acquired all US rights to Amy Adrion’s gender-equality documentary “Half the Picture.”

The film explores the hiring of film and television directors in Hollywood. It features interviews with Ava DuVernay (“AWrinkle in Time”), Lena Dunham (“Girls”), Jill Soloway (“Transparent”) and Rosanna Arquette.

“Half the Picture” will be in theaters in June and will be available on VOD and Digital HD on July 10, 2018.

“Only 3% of this year’s film releases by the six major Hollywood studios are directed by women – the lowest percentage in five years,” said Laura Florence, vice president of marketing and sales at Gravitas Ventures. “Worse yet, three of those major studios have only men directing all of their 2018 releases. This issue is such a relevant and timely topic. Gravitas Ventures is excited to be release ‘Half the Picture’ to continue the conversation and to hopefully enact change in our industry.”

The film uses the current US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigation into discriminatory hiring practices as a framework to talk to successful women directors about their career paths, struggles, inspiration and hopes for the future. “Half the Picture” held its world premiere at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival in the Documentary Premieres section and is an official selection at the upcoming 2018 SXSW Film Festival in the “Festival Favorites” category.

Adrion produced “Half the Picture” with David Harris (“Myrna the Monster”). Josh Spector from Gravitas Ventures negotiated the deal with Ben Braun of Submarine on behalf of the filmmakers.


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