Avenue 5: Hugh Laurie & Armando Iannucci On Glittering Poop, The Harrowing Future, And New Romance [Exclusive Interview]

In the near future, cruises might not be exclusively on the ocean. Some of them could be in outer space. Of course, everything becomes way more complicated inspace if something goes wrong, as it does on the eight-week cruise of the luxury ship Avenue 5. The HBO series "Avenue 5" stars Hugh Laurie as the (sort of) captain of the vessel, which is knocked off course in season 1 and faces a three-and-a-half-year journey home. But now it's increased to eight years, and things are only getting worse!

If you haven't seen this show that launched days before the pandemic lockdown in 2020, you simply must catch up. It's not only funny enough that I recommend waterproof mascara, but it's the perfect encapsulation of what life was like in isolation. "Avenue 5" may put you off space travel, but it's got one of the best comedy casts on television, with Josh Gad ("Frozen"), Zach Woods ("The Office"), Rebecca Front ("The Thick of It"), Suzy Nakamura ("How I Met Your Mother"), Himesh Patel ("Yesterday"), Lenora Crichlow ("Being Human"), Nikki Amuka-Bird ("Doctor Who"), and Ethan Phillips ("Star Trek: Voyager").

To give you an idea of the series' feel, a leak develops in the human waste tubes in the first season, sending poop out to orbit around the ship, which is big enough to have its own gravitational pull. (There are also coffins circling, but that's a whole other problem.) In an effort to make things somewhat better, billionaire ship owner Herman Judd (Gad) lights up the waste cloud and makes it sparkle, because why not?

I got a chance to chat with Laurie and creator Armando Iannucci ("Veep) about the glittering poop cloud, their consultations with existing commercial space programs, what the future is like, and making a show that captured isolation before everyone was about to isolate due to the pandemic. Check out the interview below.

A Cloud Of Glittering Human Waste

I love this show so much! How do you up the stakes once you have a glittering poop cloud orbiting a ship?

Armando Iannucci: That's just base camp. Season 2 is all about more ... a lot of stuff happened outside the ship in season 1. In season 2, it's like we've moved five months on, it's inside. It's how are we all going to cope with each other? Season 1 is how do we cope with the predicament. But now it's how do we cope with each other, I think, which just gives it a wholly different dynamic.

Totally. It's interesting considering when this show came out, right before isolation started, now that we've all gone through that. 

Hugh Laurie: Well, I do think it was interesting that we were making a show about being in a bubble inside a bubble inside a bubble while being in a bubble. Although it was, of course, I'm sure a logistical nightmare for Armando to actually get the thing made and get it made in a timely fashion, I've no doubt of that. But I think maybe it did add to that feeling of claustrophobia and a kind of underlying anxiety, not that we feared for our safety particularly. 

But we were all aware, this was the unknown. We knew that the progress of this disease through individuals and through the population was unknown and unknowable. So there was a kind of anxiety to it, which maybe added to the whole atmosphere of the season possibly. Or possibly not. I couldn't say.

Iannucci: I think it probably does. I think it is a sort of comedy of anxiety anyway, isn't it?

Laurie: Yeah.

Iannucci: It's mostly about people just about managing to cope with an immediate crisis. But knowing that fundamentally the position they're in is unsustainable.

But funny, very, very funny. 

British Guy Playing An American Guy Who Is Really British

One of the things that I love the most, Hugh, is that you switch back and forth between these accents. And I gotta tell you, I watched "House" for years before I realized that [American accent] was not your accent. So what is that like? Is it harder to do it back and forth that quickly?

Laurie: I find it so, yes. When I was doing "House," I remember, when I arrived at work at the beginning of the day, I would go in through onto the studio lot. And from that moment on, for the next 14 hours, in my head, I don't know if it sounded that way to everyone else, but in my head, I was American. I didn't step out of it.

But to be in "Avenue 5" where, well, first of all, the pace of the production is so very different and the speed. The back and forth of the different characters cannoning into each other means a kind of mental agility that, frankly, I don't think I ever had in the first place. Never mind having it still now.

Iannucci: I remember filming with Hugh on "Veep," and you stayed in character in between takes. So I wasn't expecting to speak to you as an American. But we'd be talking about something very English like cricket, but you'd be doing it in an American accent.

Laurie: Yeah. Whereas in actual fact, it's almost impossible to say the word "cricket" in an American accent, unless you conjure up the actual insect. And then you've got a chance, you've got a fighting chance. But if you actually think of the game, the whole thing comes crashing down.

What If Alexa Was The President Of The United States?

One of the things I think is hysterical is little nods to what the future would be like, TotoPOTUS is hysterical, and the fruit disappearing. So are there other little things that you have a vision of exactly what the future is? Or are they just some fun stuff that comes up in the writer's room?

Iannucci: I like to fill in some of the details as we go along. I have an overall conception of what it must be like on Earth. You see a map at some point, you can see the Eastern and Western seaboards of America have come in by some considerable distance. Yes. We've run out of, was it camels and fruit or something like that? 

Laurie: Yeah.

Iannucci: Yeah, they've gone. They've gone.

Laurie: And America is now basically the Louisiana Purchase and nothing else. Yeah. 

That could happen!

Iannucci: But we see, I think it's in episode 5, we see that TotoPOTUS is actually all the children grown up of the big tech companies running the country. But somebody told me that's precisely what they want to do. That's precisely what some of them think should be done. Because they have all our data, why shouldn't they run the country? So that's the frightening thing. We reinvent something and then realized, "Oh God, it's true."

Laurie: I was just thinking about Murdoch, I suppose Rupert Murdoch is of the generation. He's sufficiently old enough to have children who are actually major players in the game now. He has already established one or possibly two generations of a dynasty. And I suppose that is going to — Oh my God, now that you say it, it seems the others, [Richard] Branson must be in his 70s, I suppose, is he? 

But the others, are [Elon] Musk and [Jeff] Bezos in their 50s? Maybe their children haven't yet gone to world domination school. But when they graduate, we had all better look out, hadn't we? Oh, lord.

'It's Basically Raucous Sex From Start To Finish'

Ryan has a girlfriend this season, sort of. Can you tell us a little bit about what's coming?

Laurie: It's basically raucous sex from start to finish, that's how I thought of it in my own mind.

Iannucci: How you were playing it, was it?

Laurie: That's how I was playing it, yeah. No,it's gentle in a way, there is a gentle romance to it, because Ryan is, I suppose, at some level a gentle character. He's animated by constant panic, so he's jittery, but he's gentle. I think his instinct, if all other things were equal, would be one of gentleness. And yes, he has lost his heart to yet another. Having got burned once by a throuple that didn't work, he's actually entered that game again. He's got back out there, as they like to say. 

Iannucci: It's not an intentional throuple, isn't it? It's like a --

Laurie: Yeah, it really is a sort of, would that be a bait and switch? It's not really a bait and switch. It's a bait and bait, really, yeah.

I like the idea of Ryan's tri-vorce. Shifting gears, how much research went into the side of private space travel and private space companies' relationships with NASA? 

Iannucci: We did a little bit. I went to SpaceX and Virgin Atlantic. Hugh and I went round the Jet Propulsion Laboratory [JPL] in Pasadena. We spoke to scientists and engineers really. The episode in season 1, where human waste leaks out, was based on an answer one of them gave about long-term, long-distance space travel. [They said] you're insulated from all the radioactivity with human waste. That's the solution. And we thought, there's an episode there. I wanted, as much as possible, to keep it to you call it hard sci-fi, don't you, where you stick to the rules, you can't invent new laws of physics to make the story.

Laurie: Yeah.

Iannucci: I was very pleased when the coffin in season 1 goes out and just orbits. The scientific advisor for "Star Trek" says she did the math and said, "Yes, no, that works."

Laurie: That's perfect.

'A Human Meltdown In Space'

When I try to describe the show to people, and I tell them about orbiting coffins and body parts and glittering poop clouds, it sells it right away.

Iannucci: Really?

It does! I'm really curious, how do you describe the show to people?

Iannucci: It's sort of an existential crisis. What is it? It's a human meltdown in space, I suppose.

Laurie: I'm trying to run this phrase out there to see if I get any takers. I'm trying for an adult "Lord of the Flies." I don't know if that really works, but I'm trying it. So it's up to you. You can judge whether that works. But it's the confinement, the fact that people, they may hate each other's guts, but they have to find some way of accommodating each other and surviving and getting on. Because everybody has something else that people want. Everybody. So to see people navigate that environment, I think is, I hope, endlessly fascinating.

Laurie: God bless you, by the way, for actually selling it to people on a ring of s**t.

I do!

Laurie: I think that's a tough ask. I think if I was a salesman going out there, I might say, yeah, have you got anything else, like a love affair or a lot of car chases? No, there are no cars. Okay. Ring of s**t then. That's impressive.

It works! 

Laurie: We owe you our thanks. [Laughs]

"Avenue 5" season 2 will premiere on HBO and HBO Max starting on October 10, 2022.

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The post Avenue 5: Hugh Laurie & Armando Iannucci on Glittering Poop, the Harrowing Future, and New Romance [Exclusive Interview] appeared first on /Film.