My Favorite Scene: ‘Veep’ Creator Armando Iannucci Recalls Spontaneous Hugh Laurie Gag

by Stacy Lambe 6:05 AM PDT, April 20, 2016
Photo: HBO

No one loves a great scene more than the person who first dreamed it up -- the writer. We're asking iconic shows' creators and writers to tell ET all about the moment on their series that they most cherished getting to see make it from script to screen.

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For Armando Iannucci, the creator of Veep, HBO’s political comedy series starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Vice President turned Commander in Chief Selina Meyer, it’s a spontaneous bit involving season four guest star Hugh Laurie, who plays Senator Tom Jones. In the episode, “Convention,” Selina selects Tom as her running mate, and his response (“I'm afraid with deep regret I'm going to have to accept,” he tells a horrified Selina) becomes a running gag, much to his chagrin.

I wasn’t scheduled there to direct, but force of circumstances led me to take over for a day. It also happened to be Hugh Laurie’s first day. That whole moment where he comes out the lift, walks down the corridor and into the room, tells the joke about “I'm afraid with deep regret,” and then Selina makes him tell that story to her staffers again and again was thought of that day.

I was very pleased with that because that wasn’t in the script. On set, we kind of worked out that it would be funny if she kept making him tell that story over and over again and again and then Karen [Selina’s annoyingly agreeable lawyer played by guest star Lennon Parham] goes and kills it at the end.

It was hugely satisfying because it was a moment that none of us woke up anticipating that we would be shooting.

And when we talked to Tony Hale about playing Gary Walsh, Selina’s ever-loyal body man, he shared his take on filming that scene.

The thing I remember about shooting that scene [when Hugh is asked to tell the joke again] is Lennon’s character, Karen, making this obnoxious laugh to fit in after Hugh finishes the joke. Neither Julia nor I were able to keep it together and were laughing every single time Hugh said it and she made the noise, to the point where most of the mastery came in the editing room. I don't know how they cut that together or how they found angles where one of us was not losing our minds with laughter because of Lennon's response. I was not able to hold it together. 

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Season five of Veep premieres on Sunday, April 24 at 10:30 p.m. ET on HBO. The entire series is now streaming on HBO Go and HBO Now.