Q&A with Julia Louis-Dreyfus

Julia Louis-Dreyfus has moved into the White House — but she’s not the top dog. In the new HBO comedy series “VEEP,” Louis-Dreyfus plays Vice President Selina Meyer, bumbling her way through schmoozy events with senators and constantly asking her receptionist if the president has called (the answer is always no).

In an interview with The Hill, Louis-Dreyfus talks about her own interest in politics and the “intensity of devotion” she saw when she visited Capitol Hill while researching her new role. “VEEP” premieres Sunday.

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Q: It seems you’ve ripped some storylines and details from the headlines. The melting of the corn-based utensils that Selina’s pushing — that actually happened on Capitol Hill. The box she stands on — Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is known for using what’s been dubbed the “Boxer Box” to see over podiums when she’s speaking. How’d these storylines come about?

After we shot the pilot episode, I heard about the cornstarch thing [on Capitol Hill] and that [then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)] was getting pushback from Republicans for doing that. But that happened after we shot the show.

Before the pilot was written and I was speaking with [creator] Armando [Ianucci] … he was telling me, this character would have one of her agendas be the greening-up of Capitol Hill. At the time I had tried to green up our set of “The New Adventures of Old Christine” at Warner Bros. with some success. I bought cornstarch utensils. When I tried to stir the coffee, the spoon melted. It became a flaccid spoon.

Q: For the second episode, when Selina visits a yogurt shop — I’m sure you’re aware that Joe Biden visited a custard shop recently. That is life imitating art.

I will say the Boxer Box, that’s a pull from Boxer. I myself am very short.  I’m 5’3”, so it made sense that I’d need a box wherever I went.

I think everybody knows that about Boxer; of course, she is my senator. I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting her several times.

Q: What attracted you to this role?

I defy you to find any ambitious politician who aspired to the vice presidency. The idea of being in a powerful position, and yet you’re powerless — so close and yet so far. And you know, part of American culture is the idea that being No. 1 is so revered and sought after; No. 2, not so much. So I felt as if, and I still feel, it’s a comic kind of gold mine. There’s a lot of material to be found in this arena.

Q: What’s your level of interest in politics?

It’s personally interesting to me. I was somewhat politically active. I’m not a political junkie. I think Armando is for sure. But you know, I am interested in it, and I campaign for candidates that I feel passionate about. And now more than ever. I’m obviously really interested in moments that can be found on C-SPAN and sort of the in-between-the-sound-bite moments, when they’re not aware that the mic is on.

Q: What kind of research did you do/do you do for the show?

I love to watch all the political interview shows, the “Meet the Presses” and the “Face the Nations.”

In addition … we spoke to chiefs of staff, schedulers, speechwriters, and I even met with a few vice presidents.

Q: You’ve said you spent a lot of time on Capitol Hill in preparation for the show. Whom did you meet?

We met lots of senators and their staff. I did meet with Al Gore at great length. I was keeping it under wraps, but he let the cat out of the bag.

I think I’d rather not say other names. You know why? I don’t want to give the impression that we’re parodying anyone specifically, because we’re not, and I would really like to continue to talk to people about their personal experience. And in an effort to … make them feel comfortable, I’d rather not say. 

Q: What were you general impressions of Capitol Hill?

Obviously, it’s very insular — they’re definitely operating in a vacuum. The intensity of devotion that people have not only to political life, but if they’re working, to a particular individual, is extraordinary to witness. I had one person tell me that she slept with the BlackBerry on her pillow next to her, and she said it proudly.

Q: How closely are you following this year’s presidential election?

I’m following it really eagerly. It’s really kind of an ideal time to be watching for me, because things are getting heated up. And it’s a delight, through this filter now, as I’m thinking about Selina.

Q: Mitt Romney’s going to be selecting a vice presidential candidate soon. Any words of advice for him on what he should look for?

Selina Meyer doesn’t have advice, because I don’t want to align her with any political party.

But me, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, I would advise him to pick one of his Cadillacs. Any one [of them] will do.

Q: Have you been inside the White House or the Eisenhower Executive Office Building?

We spent a great deal of time in the Executive Office Building, which is fascinating. Our set is an exact replica of the vice president’s office.

We had the really thrilling experience of having people who work in the vice president’s office come to the set. They said it was like they hadn’t left their office. 

Q: Do Selina Meyer and “Seinfeld’s” Elaine Benes have anything in common? 

Rage. 

Q: Do you draw on past roles when creating new characters?

I don’t think of drawing on characters. As an actor you draw on certain parts of yourself.

Q: What parts of yourself do you see in Selina Meyer?

I guess I take the narcissism nozzle and I open it and let the ego flow.

Q: Can you give us any clues as to what will happen to Selina Meyer this year?

She’s going to go on “Meet the Press.” David Gregory gets sick, so there’s a substitute. We shot on the “Meet the Press” set.

We go to Camden Yards, the Orioles’ stadium, and hang out with some baseball players.

We go to Ohio to do some campaigning, and at one point there is an accident, and Selina has go to the hospital to be with the victims.

She also has a boyfriend. That’s very tricky, because she has to date him on the sly.

Q: Are you coming to this year’s White House Correspondents’ dinner?

I can’t. I wanted to — I have a big scheduling problem. I wanted to watch my friend Jimmy Kimmel do it.