Bits and Bobs (Vol 8 ½): Who's seeing 'Hamlet 2'? A Steve Coogan Q&A
Anglophiles, you have spoken. In answer to Monday’s query — Why isn’t Steve Coogan a bigger U.S. star? — some of you said he was excellent but too esoteric for American tastes. Others still hold his personal life — they’re rumors, people! —against him. But we all seem to agree that he’s made some brilliant stuff, from TV’s I’m Alan Partridge and Saxondale, to his two films with Michael Winterbottom, 24 Hour Party People and Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story. Which now has me asking something completely different: Who will be heading out to see the Coog play flailing drama teacher Dana Marschz in Hamlet 2 this weekend? I can’t get the theme song, “Rock Me Sexy Jesus,” out of my head, and think it’s worth going just because seeing it again might do that.
But I digress. To give you some incentive, Coogan chatted briefly with Bits & Bobs about the film, his career, and what other British comedies you should hit up right away (Gavin & Stacey, Human Remains, Porridge, etc). So check it out and then tell me, will you be heading to the theater?
BITS AND BOBS: How’d you become involved with Hamlet 2?
STEVE COOGAN: Someone sent me the script. I’d read a lot of comedy scripts that I really didn’t like. There’s a lot of really boring hacky, repetitive, formulaic comedy that just makes my shoulders slump. And I read this and it just made me laugh out loud. It’s one of those rare things, which is something that is smart but not cynical. I’ve done smart and cynical and I’ve done smart and uncynical. Like Saxondale, I tried to make it uncynical because I wanted him to be a nice guy, not a nasty guy. It’s almost easier to get laughs from doing someone who’s twisted than it is to get laughs from someone who is basically good underneath. For me anyway. I find it easier to play twisted, dysfunctional people. So for me to play somebody who has got a good heart is quite difficult. Hamlet 2 had an edge and was interesting, and sort of oddball weird s—- in it that could have only of come from Pam Brady. And yet it had a little of a life affirming quality as well. That’s what made me want to do it really. Also, it was slightly different from what I’ve done before.
How much of your own experience as an actor fed into it?
A lot. Not that I’m like the Dana character. I don’t wear my hearton my sleeve. If I met him in real life he would probably irritate thehell out of me. I did go to drama school and there is a certain type ofperson who is like that, very passionate and that. I’m not veryeffusive or demonstrative in my emotions the way he is. I wondered if Icould do this kind of thing and not make it a caricature. I’ve known alot of people like that. I think Californians are like that, very openwith their emotions all the time.
Do you think you’ll ever do theater?
I’m doing a live nationwide tour in the fall where I do my own showon stage. I think just doing a theatre piece onstage…I’m not sure aboutthat. I’m a little bit of a philistine in some ways. I’m one of thosepeople who goes to theatre and thinks, this is really boring. Part ofme is very visceral, although I like to be creative. I sometimes getintimidated in theater and think I’m supposed to like something that Idon’t. I think the fact is I’d rather watch a Bruce Willis action filmthan see most theater. I’m really looking forward to the tour itbecause it will give me a chance to get back to the audience. I likethe immediacy of doing that. I’m going to do lots of differentcharacters. I’m doing Tom Saxondale on stage. Paul and Pauline. AndDuncan. But not Tony Ferrino. Alan Partridge, obviously, at the end.And I’ll be doing some stuff as myself onstage. I’ll have a lot of thedancers and the live band. It’s going to be a big big thing. I mightbring it to North America.
Have you really pitched an Alan Partridge movie?
I’m toying with it. People talk about it a lot. I think I might doit to stop people about asking me about doing it. I’ve got mixedfeelings about because it was so successful it dwarfed anything elsethat I did in the eyes of the British public. Whereas abroad people whoknow about me are familiar with all my work so they have a more roundedview of me. My onus in Britain is very mainstream. The thing that logsin most people’s minds is just Alan Partridge and everything else isseen as a sort of footnote. I don’t want end up in the same situationin America by pushing that character to the fore. I’m proud of him. Ithink he’s very funny. But I don’t want to overemphasize Alan aboveother bits of work that I’m equally proud like Saxondale, the Michael Winterbottom films, and Hamlet 2.
Do you feel there’s a big difference between working in the U.S. film industry versus in the British Industry?
There is more in common than there is not in common. In terms ofmodern pop culture we’re becoming more and more similar to America, butwe’ll always be slightly different and that’s good. I think we cancross-fertilize. I’ve been lucky enough to work with people I think areat the top of their tree creatively — Ben Stiller, Larry David, andOwen Wilson. I think generally Americans like attractive people who aresuccessful. And I think the British like ugly people who aren’t.
And where do you fit in?
I like playing ugly people who are failures but ironically I’m very attractive and very successful.
I was watching Lies & Alibis and you look very good in that film…
I’ll tell you what it is: Because I almost always play people who arenot attractive, it has the opposite effect than what happens to mostactors. You tend to see them in real life going to the store and caughtby the paparazzi and you think they don’t look so glamorous and nowthey’ve just been caught on camera. I tend to have the opposite effectbecause I always play super ugly, but when people see me they are sortof pleasantly surprised. It’s quite useful.
Are you currently working on a new BBC comedy show?
I wouldn’t call it a comedy. It’s more of a drama, called Sunshine. It has funny moments in it, but I really wouldn’t describe it as a comedy. Not in the way I’ve done comedies before.
So it’s far away from Alan Partridge and Saxondale…
Yes. It has moments of comedy but there is much more pathos. It’snot laugh out loud series. It has a lot of angst and a lot of emotionand a lot of tears. It’s very sad and it’s moving, and I’m very proudof it for that reason.
Can you tell us anything about the main character?
Yes, I play a garbage man who is a gambling addict, who spends allhis money on the horses and gets into incredible trouble. Not a verywealthy man — a working class blue collar guy. It’s not like Saxondale no.
That show was laugh out laud funny…
Well, I love Saxondale. Saxondale was my proudestcomedy because it was funny but smart. It had a cult following inEngland, but it didn’t really catch people’s imagination abroad.People who have found it really really appreciate it. And I’m findingit out after the event. There were some good reviews in England, but itkinda was something that when it reached other people, people wouldcome out of the woodwork and say how much they liked it.
Do you think it will come out on DVD in the States?
I’m led to believe that they’re putting 13 episodes out on BBC Americaagain soon. Bizarrely I’m the one that has to bring it up and say “Whyaren’t you putting this out on DVD in America? People like it, thereare anglophiles there.” At the moment the only people who recognize mein America are the cool people [laughs]. People who’ve found me on BBCAmerica and seen some of the independent movies I’ve done.
Do you think you’ll work with 24 Hour Party People director Michael Winterbottom again?
Definitely. Oh yeah. I’ve met with him several times. He wants todo something in January with me. For me, I don’t care what it is, Ijust want to work with him. I’m going to something else with him forsure, I just love working with him.
A friend of mine had told me that he’d seen you tell a storyabout how when you were younger you saw Tony Wilson, whom you played inParty People, at a fete. Is that true?
Yes it is. It is absolutely true. My aunt was a makeup artist atGranada Television, which is why I kinda became curious and fascinatedby TV. And he was the local newscaster. This would have been about1976. My aunt was 21 and she had a party at my parents’ house. I wouldhave been 10, 10 ½ , maybe 11 years old. And she borrowed my parents’house saying “can I have a party for my media friends?” And my mom saidyes and banished us upstairs. And then we saw people coming into thehallway and I remember pointing and saying “look that’s Tony Wilson inour house.” Bizarrely, before Tony died he did a documentary series inManchester where he went to my mom and dad’s house. Tony interviews mymom and dad about me. It was about Manchester people that had becomesuccessful and I was one of them. Tony went to my parents’ house andwhen he got there he said “I’m sure I’ve been in this house before, Icame to a party on this road.” And my mom said, “You came to thishouse. You came to our house thirty years ago.”
I know you produced The Mighty Boosh, and your company Baby Cow made Sensitive Skin. We were wondering if you would recommend stuff for anglophiles to check out?
For sure. Of course, The Boosh. Gavin & Stacy[premiering on BBC America this Tuesday at 8:40pm] will be veryinteresting to some people. If they’re really interested, there is someobscure stuff. There is a series called Human Remains with Rob Brydon and Nighty Night’sJulia Davis. It was Baby Cow’s first TV series. There are a couple ofepisodes in it that are among my all time favorite comedies. Yes, Human Remainsis a real hidden treasure and Julia Davis and Rob Brydon in it aresuperb. So that’s one. Do you mean stuff from the past? Do you know theTV series Porridge? The relationship between Fletch and hiscellmate Godber is pretty much the same as Saxondale’s with hisassistant Raymond: It’s the mentor giving flawed advice to the naïveyoungster. Someone who had a good heart and was trying to father thisperson, and does it with a combination of contempt. I’ve always likedthat series: It’s one of the few examples of a British televisionseries that is happy to put heart and emotion into the comedy. Britishcomedy tends to be smart but a bit cynical. Also, there’s Steptoe and Son. And Tony Hancock’s Hancock’s Half Hour,which is really very similar to Alan Partridge in some ways. That showwas a British institution for years. It used to get like 25 millionviewers, which is virtually half the country on a regular basis. Andthat was really avante guarde because it was popular and it has theseobscure references in it that would be lost on lots of the audience.