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In the fourth season of Veep, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is now President Selina Mayer and must balance the demands of her new job with her ongoing election campaign to remain in her new position.Patrick Harbron

In the first episode of Veep's fourth season, Julia Louis-Dreyfus's Selina Meyer – now the first female president of the United States – heads into an intelligence briefing. Her chief of staff, Ben Cafferty (Kevin Dunn) stops her before she reaches the door. "Ma'am, have you given any thought to the Vice-President being at these meetings?"

"Oh," Selina says. "You know, I mean, I wouldn't want him to have the shitty experience that I had as veep. Unfortunately, the precedent has been set for this meeting."

On Sunday, Veep opens a new chapter for its ambitious but incompetent protagonist, former vice-president Meyer. At the end of the previous season, Selina became President after her predecessor stepped down for health reasons. This season, she has to balance the demands of her new job with her ongoing campaign to remain President – to avoid, in the words of her press secretary Mike McLintock (Matt Walsh), a "Snapchat presidency."

Selina's new role changes the tenor but also the setting of the show. We're no longer bound to the Eisenhower building or Selina's home – now, we're on-board Air Force One, on her campaign bus, in Iran. And a bigger stage means an uptick in vanity. In the second episode of the new season, Mike – who as press secretary is the face of the administration – makes a poor decision regarding his mustache. And Selina's hair, which she impulsively chopped off at the end of the last season, gradually grows throughout the new season.

The emphasis on appearances is one aspect of the life of a politician that the stars of Veep can relate to. "The fact that I am somebody who's somewhat well-known and I kind of have to sell myself like I'm doing right now – I tap into that all the time to play Selina Meyer," Louis-Dreyfus told a roomful of journalists at a New York press event on Monday. "I understand very much the idea of what's in front of the curtain and what's behind the curtain."

Lobbing questions during the junket, Louis-Dreyfus seemed to channel her character's command, but also her air of obligatory geniality. Promotional events like these are part of an actor's job, but they're supremely weird – the "talent" is ushered from room to room, speaking to six journalists at once, smiling, nodding, shaking hands, gamely answering questions about their character's hair and wardrobe. I detected a hint of Selina when Louis-Dreyfus was asked about a dress she wears in the second episode and answered, "How 'bout that bow?"

After four seasons on the show, the actors' view of politicians has largely softened. "The joke is, politics is show business for ugly people," Walsh cracked. "I think it's decent people trying to do a good job, but they're effed-up human beings. Relationships come into play, status matters, it's who you know and not what you know. I think I understand those truisms, because I've kind of lived them as a character."

Anna Chlumsky, who plays Amy, formerly Selina's chief of staff and now her campaign manager, said that performing on the show "just kind of grounds you in realizing that [politicians] are not superheroes and supervillains. It's not a religion. It's people going to work every day."

There will be a few new people at work this season. Patton Oswalt appears as Teddy, the new veep's chief of staff – alongside Jonah (Timothy Simons), who now works in the veep's office and can no longer use his access to the President to chafe Selina's team.

Hugh Laurie also appears in later episodes, although his role is still a mystery. "Wait till you see what he does," Louis-Dreyfus teased. "It's great."

On a show as cynical as Veep, it's hard to imagine any character developing in a healthy way. As President, though, Selina does seem to be learning. In the premiere, she tells Ben, "You can absolutely do two contradictory things at once. For example, I love my mother, but I had to put her in a home, and it's actually better for her if I don't visit."

Like her hair, Selina's growth has been incremental. But she's definitely not the same person she was in season one. "I think she has grown," Louis-Dreyfus said. "Maybe not in any positive ways, but now she's President. So watch her fuck that up."