You don’t have to be an MEP, APA (accredited parliamentary assistant), a Schuman (trainee), a lobbyist or any other creature of the European Parliament ecosystem to delight in the political satire series Parlement – and that’s exactly why it’s so intriguing.
Created by Noé Debré, a French screenwriter from Strasbourg, the send-up of the European Union’s inner workings manages to be educational – useful if you need to brush up on EU institutions – and highly entertaining. For example, in an early episode, which takes place before Brexit was formalised, a clueless Brexiteer MEP suggests solving the Irish border dispute by using “a massive GPS”.
Since debuting on france.tv in 2020, the series has followed Samy Kantor, a young parliamentary assistant forced to learn swiftly how to navigate the sea of metaphorical sharks that is the European Parliament – literal sharks also turn up when he is tricked into overseeing an amendment to a key fishing regulation.
The Parliament caught up with French actor and writer Xavier Lacaille, who plays Samy on the show.
How did you go about preparing for the role?
Actors have different methodologies, and mine is very physical and intuitive. As an actor, I don’t need to know the details of what parliamentary assistants actually do. Two of the writers, Maxime Calligaro and Pierre Dorac, have worked at the Parliament, as a parliamentary assistant and a parliamentary administrator, respectively. They agreed to come with me around the Parliament for a couple of days before we started shooting the first season. I was on the lookout for how people walked and talked. That’s how I always start my job. I don’t think it’s a good thing to be theoretical about acting; it’s very interior work.
What do you think are the signature elements of the series?
The international ambition of the series is one of its most characteristic aspects. Parlement is one of the first series in Europe where you can see many actors with different nationalities working together. At the European level, countries have to work together and compromise, and that’s exactly what we had to do when shooting the series. German actors, Spanish actors, Italian actors – they work in different ways. We had to find a common language to work together, and that language is fiction. I guess it’s kind of a metaphor for European politics.
In the second season, we see that Samy has become more of a shark himself, but this never leads to any real conflict with the other main characters. Is this transformation going to continue until conflict erupts?
Well, that’s a tricky question. I’m not sure I can answer it because it might be a spoiler for the upcoming season. Let’s say that stakes are going to be higher, and we are likely to see more conflict in the third season than we did in the second.
The show can be quite critical of MEPs and the European Parliament in general. Has there been any negative feedback?
When you create something new there is always positive and negative feedback. Of course, there have been some negative comments, but most people understand that everything is exaggerated, including the psychology of the characters, because it’s pure comedy. You can tell from the start that it’s not going to be something extremely serious. Parlement is neither a documentary nor is it House of Cards. The portrait is neither proselytising nor overly critical; it’s somewhere in between. We should always believe that the audience is intelligent and [we should] strive to elevate the debate. Comedy is an outstretched hand towards the audience, and it must be daring in order to make people laugh.
Which character would you like to play if you weren’t already Samy the Shark?
I would really enjoy playing Guido, the Italian lobbyist. His character is very complex; there are so many layers to work with. You can never tell with certainty whether he is being sincere or manipulative. With Guido, you never know which foot to dance on.
Readers unfamiliar with these character are missing out – time to bingewatch Seasons one and two. Xavier – wishing you the best of luck for filming Season 3 on behalf of those of us already obsessed with the show.