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Stalin Satire To Release In U.S. After Russia Ban; From Mormon Survivalist To Harvard PhD. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired March 2, 2018 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Tonight, satirically speaking, he's walked all the corridors of power, from the White House to Downing Street and now
the Kremlin. Armando Iannucci has created household name dramas and he joins me tonight with his new film, "The Death of Stalin". Russia is not
Plus, education to the rescue. Author Tara Westover tells me how books saved her life and how she broke out of her Mormon survivalist family.
Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Now, satire thrives on caricature and parody. But what happens when reality is more outrageous than fiction.
For the writer, director Armando Iannucci, the Trump White House is even funnier than his fictional "Veep" on HBO. He's also created "In The Loop",
which was based on his hit TV series, "The Thick Of It" about the British government and the Iraq War.
His latest work, "The Death of Stalin", which opens in the US next week is dark, witty, is beloved by reviewers and the public alike -- only not in
Russia where it's banned.
I've been speaking to Iannucci about this this week and about lampooning politics in general today.
Armando Iannucci, welcome to the program.
ARMANDO IANNUCCI, DIRECTOR: Nice to be here.
AMANPOUR: So, "The Death of Stalin", a right satire on a very, very violent moment in history. How did this go down in Russia?
IANNUCCI: Well, mixed, in that people who've seen it -- Russians who have seen it have enjoyed it and said -- they've said to me two things. They've
said it's funny, but also it's true.
Russian journalists who have seen it, one of them told me that, within five minutes, he felt he was back in the Soviet Union under that kind of time
when you had to think carefully about what you said and indeed what you thought.
Russian government, less enthusiastic.
AMANPOUR: Not so much. They banned it, right?
IANNUCCI: Yes. You had to get a license there for it to be shown in the cinemas. And we were given the license, and yet -- and then, two days
before the release, the Ministry of Culture decided to change their mind because it's making fun of politicians and the Kremlin.
AMANPOUR: It is. And they do call it -- they said it was an insulting mockery of history. And some of the former Soviet republics, Kyrgyzstan
and others, also following suit.
IANNUCCI: No. Interestingly, one cinema in Moscow did show it until it was raided by the police and the audience stood and applauded at the end of
each screening and came out saying, look, it's not making fun of the people.
That's the first thing I said when we started filming, is that we have to be very respectful of what actually happened in the Soviet Union at the
time under Stalin. There are no jokes about that. The jokes are all on the people inside the Kremlin.
AMANPOUR: And, particularly, at this time, which was the death of Stalin, the immediate sort of shenanigans following his death. And we're going to
play a shot clip right now and then we'll talk about it.
So, this is just as he's died.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're auditioning for the Bolshoi. Who are you? Nijinsky? Come on?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a bad day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Too much social climbing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The head is the heaviest part.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Read? Three, two --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One. Lift. Jesus.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This way. Yes, all right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you planning to tell him this?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can we just stop twittering like fishwives at the market and --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whoa, whoa, whoa.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Open the door.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I mean, it is funny. Who knew that you could get so much humor out of the actual fact that somebody died and they had to carry his body
IANNUCCI: And we went back and we investigated what happened. And it's true -- he was the cause of his own death in a way, in that he had a
stroke, but he had so terrified his guards and told them never to interrupt him that they had him collapse and a whole day went by before anyone went
in the room.
Then the Politburo or the presidium all arrived, as you saw on the film there. They didn't call a doctor for hours because they were terrified
they might call the wrong doctor. Stalin had put several doctors on a list. He was paranoid they were trying to poison him. So, there was a
question mark over the doctor.
So, in the end, it's kind of fitting that someone who lives by terror kind of dies by terror.
AMANPOUR: And, of course, Steve Buscemi ends up -- well, he is Nikita Khrushchev. And he ends up being the next leader of the Soviet Union.
[14:05:03] But, I guess, it is interesting that it comes out now when there's this sort of nascent Cold War again between Russia and the West,
particularly the United States.
And, again, some of the official Russian criticism has been that it's sowing discord, that it is sort of a historical poison, I mean, right at
the time when they're being accused of doing the same thing with their election and cyber hacking.
IANNUCCI: Yes. I think they were worried that it might affect the election. And I know that Putin is very, very anti the idea of interfering
in the election of another country.
But, I mean, I made the film because it was interesting -- I did "Veep" on HBO for about four years, set in the White House. And after that, I knew I
wanted to do something about authoritarianism. And I was thinking about doing something about a fictional dictator.
Now, whether that's an American dictator or British of European, I don't know because something, generally, was happening in the ether around
Europe. We had these strongman figures like Berlusconi in Italy and Erdogan in Turkey and, of course, Putin and there are populist nationalist
movements, far right movements. Le Pen in France. So, something was happening.
And then, I got sent the graphic novel, "The Death of Stalin", on which the story is based. I read it and I thought, well, this is the story I want to
tell because this is true.
AMANPOUR: So, let's true. You talk about strong man theory of history right now. I mean, it really is prevalent in the West as well. We've seen
what's happened in the United States. And, frankly, President Trump openly admires some of these leaders you've just been talking about.
IANNUCCI: He's absolutely fascinated by China, North Korea, Putin. He -- almost in a way --
AMANPOUR: Duterte, Erdogan --
IANNUCCI: Exactly. Almost like he's jealous that they're able to just click their fingers and something happens whereas he has a constitution and
checks and balances to deal with.
AMANPOUR: So, have you ever thought of doing a current updated version of "Veep", for instance.
IANNUCCI: I don't envy the writer on "Veep" at the moment because I don't think any fictional version of what is happening now is as absurd, is as
terrifying, is as gobsmackingly entertaining -- for want of a better word - - as is what's happening in real life.
AMANPOUR: Well, we're going to play a clip from -- I believe it's series 4 of "Veep".
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS, "VEEP": Thank you, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, my fellow Americans. I'd like to begin today by
saying a few words.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: What were you saying there, though? I mean, there's so much that one could unpick just in that scene. The fact that there hasn't ever
been a female president of the United States, the fact that there is now so much cynicism, and the fact that she's completely stymied when there isn't
a script in front of her.
IANNUCCI: I mean, I respond to what I see. And exploring at the time, Washington, as we were preparing "Veep", I was amazed by how much very
senior politicians are run by the staff, are run by 22 and 23-year-olds with a degree in terrorism studies from Georgetown University.
And when I did "In The Loop", we talked about the buildup to Iraq and we discovered that people were drawn in to write the new Iraqi constitution,
who were 24 and, actually, didn't really know how to buy and sell a house or a car, and yet were telling Iraq how a new democracy should function.
AMANPOUR: So, you're, obviously, not just a writer. You're political and you're really interested in current affairs.
IANNUCCI: I'm fascinated by politics. And I want politics to work. You're right about what you're passionately believe in.
My father was born in Naples and he -- in the Second World War, he fought in the partisans. He was antifascist. Fought against Mussolini. But he
came over to Britain, he didn't take out British citizenship so he couldn't vote. And I said why? Why don't you vote?
He said, the last time I voted, Mussolini got in. And what he was saying is that democracy is not perfect and it's not as stable and permanent. You
have to keep nurturing it. And the way you nurture it is by participating in it.
AMANPOUR: You are very good at satire. And in satire, there's a lot of cynicism. It just reminds me of "West Wing", which was the anti-cynical
White House political drama. And I just ran into Allison Janney. It's, obviously -- it's awards season. And she's up for "I, Tonya".
But, nonetheless, she was the spokesperson for the White House. And people loved the goodness that came out of that fictional White House at the time.
IANNUCCI: Yes. It's a question I've always wanted to ask Aaron Sorkin, does he feel he could write "West Wing" now with that kind of --
AMANPOUR: But do you think he was right to write it then?
IANNUCCI: I think so.
AMANPOUR: People yearned for those scenes.
IANNUCCI: It's one of my favorite shows. It's what got me inspired into writing political comedy. But what I am responding to what I feel is
happening now -- it happened in America and it happened in the UK as well, in the politicians holding on the swing vote.
[14:10:04] It was all about the swing vote. And, therefore, took for granted people on the left and people on the right, who they felt were
their natural bases.
AMANPOUR: Do you think that an Armando Iannucci, who's the king of satire these days, and potentially another series, could you shift your center of
gravity into something that's sort of wholesome, less satirical, less cynical and bring people in to what you say you want them to --
IANNUCCI: (INAUDIBLE) you asked me that because the next thing I am -- I'm about to shoot a film version of Charles Dickens' "David Copperfield" which
is set in 1840.
It's a -- for want of a better word -- it's a family costume drama, but I'm doing it because, actually, the book is a really modern, psychologically
very insightful book and, I think, it has a lot to say about how we behave with each other today.
AMANPOUR: Can't let you go without paying a clip from "In The Loop". So, we're going to play a clip. And, of course, mindful of what you said. All
these young hipsters with degrees from Georgetown University, this is this clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
A.J. BROWN, "IN THE LOOP": If we just started, my assistants should be bringing in coffee shortly.
MALCOLM TUCKER, "IN THE LOOP": Your assistant?
BROWN: Yes. So, Idam (ph), we need to have a conversation about the mood of the British parliament, bumps in the road ahead and whatnot?
TUCKER: Sorry. This situation here is -- is this it? No offence, son, but you look like you should still be at school with your head down a
(EXPLETIVE DELETED) toilet.
BROWN: Your first point there, the offence? I'm afraid I'm going to have to take it. Your second point, I'm 22, but, Idam (ph), it's my birthday in
nine days, so if it will make you feel more comfortable, we could wait.
TUCKER: Don't get sarcastic with me, son. We burned this tight-arsed city to the ground in 1814. And I'm all for doing it again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I mean, honestly, it's hilarious all these years later.
Of course, Malcolm Tucker was the Downing Street, the prime minister's spin doctor, the communication secretary having a meeting with somebody who he
clearly thought was his inferior.
But you were also saying something about the so-called special relationship.
IANNUCCI: Well, yes. The special relationship, what I said to the actors, when we were filming scenes going out to Washington for the first time, I
said, remember the first time you went out to LA and got an agent who promised you, you're going to be a star and how after a week of meetings
you came home thinking nothing happened.
I read the accounts of the Blair administration talking to the Bush administration in the lead up to the Iraq War and they were the same. They
were excited. They were star struck to be in the West Wing, to be in the Oval Office. And they kind of lost their dignity.
AMANPOUR: Armando Iannucci, thank you so much for joining us.
IANNUCCI: Pleasure. Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And now we turn from a veteran screenwriter to the budding new author, whose life story is being hailed as one of the hottest books of
Tara Westover was born into a family of strict Mormon survivalists in Idaho. For the first years of her life, her very existence was kept
secret. She didn't go to school. She didn't have access to doctors and she didn't even have a birth certificate.
At 17, she stepped into a classroom for the very first time. And ten years later, Westover achieved a PhD from Cambridge University. In her new
memoir, "Educated", she describes that incredible journey.
And this week, she told me how her relationship with her family became collateral damage.
Tara Westover, welcome to the program.
TARA WESTOVER, AUTHOR, "EDUCATED": Thank you for having me.
AMANPOUR: You have an incredible story. It's a really dark story. It starts anyway like that. Did you see it like that? Did you see your
childhood as something that you dreaded or was it a happy childhood?
WESTOVER: I didn't see it as stark. In a lot of ways, I had a really beautiful childhood. I grew up on this beautiful mountain in Idaho. But
because my father has some kind of radical beliefs, we were a bit isolated. So, I was never allowed to go to school or to the doctor. I didn't even
have a birth certificate.
AMANPOUR: You didn't have a birth certificate?
WESTOVER: Not until I was 9 years old, which meant -- because we didn't go to school or to the doctor effectively, according to the State of Idaho and
the federal government, we didn't exist.
AMANPOUR: What do you think led your father? Give me a little bit of background as to how you ended up in this isolated place in the conditions
WESTOVER: I don't quite know why he had these beliefs. I mean, I think he's a bit paranoid about things, so he just developed these ideas about
doctors and hospitals and the government. He was kind of concerned that they've been taken over by some kind of nefarious organization, the
Illuminati, the new world order. He called it a lot of things.
And the beliefs were really sincerely held. I mean, he had a junk yard. So, we would get injured quite a bit and then we wouldn't get medical care.
And I think, for people, it's hard to understand that he wasn't trying to cause us pain. It's not that he didn't care about us. He really believed
that that was the right way to treat these kinds of injuries, like when my brother's leg was put on fire and it was covered in third degree burns and
we treated that at home. My mother made a salve out of lobelia and comfrey and I think that they really --
AMANPOUR: Were those herbs?
WESTOVER: Yes. They're herbs that she found on the mountains. She is a really talented herbalist actually and she is very good with burns, thank
goodness. I think that he really believed that that was the best thing.
AMANPOUR: Was your mother a willing participant? I mean, she was, you say, a talented a talented herbalist, she was a midwife, she was educated.
WESTOVER: She was. I think she was not as radical as my father was, but, over time, she became that way. And so, I think she is one of the most
intelligent, talented people, forget women, people I've ever met, but she does tend to see things the way he sees.
AMANPOUR: And didn't stand up for you?
WESTOVER: No. I mean, I've always felt like there are two versions of my mother. There is a version of her that she is when she's alone with you
and there's a version when she's with my father.
And I don't really know which version she is. I mean, kind of -- one of the sadder parts of the story is I had an older brother who, for many
years, was violent to me and was violent to other people.
And when I confronted my mother about this, she believed me. I had seen things and I knew that I was telling the truth, but my father didn't.
later, when I confronted my father, he didn't believe me. And then, my mother flipped and stopped believing me.
AMANPOUR: What did he do to you? How old were you?
WESTOVER: It had started when I was about 15. He could be incredibly kind and self-sacrificing, but he could also be very cruel and manipulative. He
would grab me by my hair and haul me down the hallway and stick my head in the toilet a lot.
He called me a whore a lot. And it was a word that would really stick with me. I would really identify with it because it would come into my life
when I was young and it would take me a lot of years and a lot of -- I mean, education really helped me. Education in the broad sense of being
able to get your own grip on what's happening and your own perspective on things.
AMANPOUR: All this stuff was happening to you and there was no sort of social services around. There were no neighbors who could see these kind
of kids potentially in danger?
WESTOVER: My family, we were isolated. We went to church and there were certainly people in the community that would reach out and try to
intervene, but, I mean, in the State of Idaho, it's not illegal to not school your children.
There is kind of a vague requirement that you give them a comparable education, but that was never checked. I mean, I never took an exam. I
never wrote an essay. I never saw social worker or anything like that. So, there was there was no enforcement.
AMANPOUR: How did you get out? How did you get educated?
WESTOVER: Well, when I was 16, I decided I would try to educate myself because an older brother of mine, who had gone to school and had -- my
parents hadn't been as extreme when he was a child, so he had had an education -- more of an education, I should say.
And he just told me I should try. So, I taught myself some algebra and some grammar and kind of skimmed through the ACT and (INAUDIBLE)
university. So, I was 17 the first time I sat foot in a classroom.
AMANPOUR: Did you know what was happening in the world before you went to university?
WESTOVER: Not really. I knew about the constitution because my dad was a big constitutionalist, but there were a lot of things I didn't know about.
One of my first lectures, I raised my hand and asked what the Holocaust was. I'd never heard of it. And I think people thought I was being anti-
Semitic. I think they heard it as what is this. And I meant it as what is this.
I was sure -- once I thought about it, I think I've heard of some context where Jewish people were killed, but I think, in my head, it was something
like the Boston massacre where a handful of people had been killed. I hadn't -- the scale of it had never -- I'd never been taught that.
AMANPOUR: You were born in 1986 -- sometime in 1986. You don't know the exact --
AMANPOUR: September, OK. Sometime. And did you know about, I don't know, the Civil Rights movement, people like Martin Luther King, President
Kennedy, all the big --
WESTOVER: I didn't know any of the presidents really. I definitely didn't know the Civil Rights Movement. And that was something that really changed
my conception of the world. I mean, my family -- my brother did have a nickname for me that was a slur.
AMANPOUR: What was that?
WESTOVER: The N-word. And I had heard it my whole life.
AMANPOUR: The N-word? For you?
WESTOVER: Yes. Well, I would work in a scrap yard and I would get black on my face and that was the nickname he used for me when that happened.
And I had heard that my whole life and I had always laughed because I thought it was -- I don't know what I thought about it, but I thought it
And then, I learned about the Civil Rights Movement and I realized how recent that had been. And I realized what that -- but that word had been
formed as part of a discourse that had only one purpose really and that was to dehumanize people.
And I think learning about that history changed not just how I saw history, but how I saw my family and how we were kind of unwittingly allowing
ourselves to become foot soldiers in this conflict.
AMANPOUR: Do you think your father was part of a cult? I mean, what was his vision? What was his intention? Was it just for his own family? Or
was this part of a broader religious belief? You're Mormons.
WESTOVER: I mean, my dad, I think it was very specific to him and he would have liked to convince more people because they really believed it, but it
was basically our family and the way that he isolated our family, specifically. It wasn't a cult so much.
[14:20:00] AMANPOUR: As you grew up, did you start wondering whether he was quite normal? Do you think he had a mental illness?
WESTOVER: As I grew up, I thought he was right and everyone else was wrong. I think, at university, I learned about mental illness.
I think, as a child, I thought that they were two categories that you could be insane or you could be sane. And if you were insane, you fell in love
with turnips and whatever.
I didn't have a category in my head that you'd be functional and something could still be going on. That really helped me when I was -- that was one
of the formal bits of my education that really helped me see my life.
He could want us to be safe and not be able to do that because of the way his mind works.
AMANPOUR: So, tell me about the junk yard, but it does feature very prominently in your book. It was both a place where you played, place
where you worked for your father and a very dangerous place. Tell me what happened to you.
WESTOVER: I was in a bin. And my father moved the bin. He wanted me to be in the bin, so that he could take it out and then he was going to dump
the scrap. And then, after the scrap was dumped, he wanted me to get in and settle all the scraps, so more would fit.
And he decided it would be faster if I rode up with the scrap and then he would give me a minute to climb out of the way and then he would dump it.
But what happened was, when he picked up the bin, a piece of metal shifted and it just pierced right through my leg and it held me in place. So, he
was holding the bin level, so I could climb out and I couldn't move.
AMANPOUR: And could you scream?
WESTOVER: No, I was diesel engine. It was really loud. I was trying, but he couldn't hear me. And so, what happened is he effectively raised it and
dumped it while I was inside. And, luckily, I didn't go forward when the piece of scrap that had me pinned fell out. I was able to throw myself
over the side.
If I had gone through the front, it would have been like going through a meat grinder. But I went over the side and I fell. And that was the
moment when my father came over and said, oh, what happened. I really internalized that as my fault. I should have done something differently.
AMANPOUR: Was that a turning point for you? Is that when you decided you had to get out of this?
WESTOVER: I think I did. I really wanted to get out of the scrap yard. I watched my siblings get seriously injured and I wanted to get out. And I
think this relationship with my brother that was violent and had a lot of problems -- when my brother Tyler came back and said you should get out of
here, that's what he was thinking of.
AMANPOUR: And you dedicate that book because Tyler is the one who turned you on to education?
WESTOVER: Yes. He's the one that turned me on to education. And when I confronted my parents -- eventually, I do go away. I get an education. I
get put on this path of education that takes me to Harvard. I go to Cambridge. I had this wonderful experience with education.
But that same path would really take me away from my family because one of the things that happens, I think, as you get an education is you become
able to hold on to your perspective. I came to see that relationship with my brother for what it was and I confronted my parents about it.
And they -- as I said, my mother first believed me, but, ultimately, when my dad said I was lying, he said I was trying to destroy the family, my
parents took that track. And it was really my brother Tyler who stood up for me and believed me and --
AMANPOUR: So, what's the relationship now? Do you have any relationship with your parents?
WESTOVER: I have a very limited relationship with my parents. I would say I'm estranged from my parents and my brother Sean and my sister really.
AMANPOUR: Sean is the abusive brother?
WESTOVER: Yes, exactly.
AMANPOUR: And that's a pseudonym, I understand. Yes.
WESTOVER: Of course, yes. And so, it's -- yes, I am estranged from half my family and I'm close with half my family.
AMANPOUR: So, in the years since you broke out of this environment and went into a completely different environment where all the information was
available to you, how on earth did you adjust to suddenly knowing everything and having everything at your disposal?
WESTOVER: Well, it was hard. There were moments like that time when I asked about the holocaust and people thought I was being anti-Semitic. And
then, there were -- I quickly learned just not to tell people when I didn't know things. It was hard.
And it was hard because I didn't know who I was for a while. I think there was the fact of confronting the reality of my own ignorance, which was
hard. And then, there was just that sense of identity and not knowing who I was. And I would go home and see my parents.
It was my third year at university when my father -- there was a terrible accident and my father was torching a fuel tank off a car and a spark made
it into the fuel tank and the car exploded. And he was really badly burned.
And my family made the decision to treat that at home. So, they had no IV, they had no morphine. And the recovery took months. I mean he almost
died. And the whole time he was recovering, I was at war with myself.
I didn't know, but I thought this was what God wanted him to do and they were doing the right thing or whether they were crazy and they were
torturing him for no reason.
But I do think, with that story -- if you think again, it just proves there was a real sincerity to the way my parents lived. My father would never
have asked anything of us that he didn't ask of himself because the worst injury that happened to any of us happened to him.
AMANPOUR: Have they read the book?
WESTOVER: They have read it. I mean, it's been kind of predictable that half of my family that I am in touch with have been really supportive and
then my parents have not been supportive.
AMANPOUR: Why did you decide to write the book?
[14:25:00] WESTOVER: I didn't feel like there were enough stories of really complicated family situations. I thought we had stories about
family loyalty. I didn't feel like we have stories about what to do when loyalty to your family was somehow in conflict with loyalty to yourself.
And I thought that we had stories about forgiveness, but I didn't feel like we had stories about forgiveness that didn't kind of conflate it with
reconciliation or make it seem as though reconciliation is the highest form of forgiveness.
And I thought, like for me, if I was going to reconcile with my family, I needed them to change. And that wasn't within my power. I had no control
over whether they changed.
So, I felt like I needed -- I needed an idea, a story about forgiveness that didn't conflate with reconciliation, something I could do that I had
And I think a lot of people write these stories when they are in their 50s and their parents have passed away. And maybe by then it is harder to
remember why it was so hard to walk away from those relationships and the real love that was there because I think it really is a loss. I really do
feel like losing my family was a loss and it was a choice I would make again, but it really was a loss.
AMANPOUR: Tara Westover, author of "Educated", thanks for joining me.
WESTOVER: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: The price she had to pay for freedom.
And that's for our program tonight. And remember, you can always listen to our podcast, see us online at Amanpour.com and follow me on Facebook and
Twitter. Thanks for watching. And goodbye from London.