Steve Coogan On His Own Films
24 Hour Party People (2002)
“Very happy memories. Probably one of my most enjoyable experiences as an actor. It was a real revelation making that film, about a way of working which is not about being precise, and freeing you from the shackles of having to just be guided by what was funny. It was about what was truthful and interesting and about being submerged in a role and creating a world that seemed real, that’s what Michael [ Winterbottom ] did on that film.
“So to me it felt very real making it. It didn’t feel like acting even though I was playing Tony Wilson. It felt like I was in that world. I was familiar with it from another perspective because I knew about that world, I knew about Tony so in that way it was familiar, but it felt more familiar to me just by virtue of the fact that Michael created this world. Yes, the Hacienda nightclub was something I used to go to, but when we made the film it had been demolished so they had to rebuild it, and that was very odd to see it rebuilt in a way that seemed completely real and believable.
“But that film was seminal for me because I felt it seemed like a real experience. I’ve not watched it for years, I find it difficult to look at it, because to me it’s like looking at an old photo album of memories - of real memories of a real time - rather then me being in the film so it’s got this quite surreal quality for me.”
The Wind In The Willows (1996)
“That [ film ] was thrilling for me I mean, it didn’t really do much business but it was a hugely thrilling experience for me because I was working with my childhood heroes: Terry Jones and Eric Idle and Michael Palin - who came on for a day - and John Cleese.
“It was wonderful, I wasn’t even 30 years old and I was working with these people who I’d grown up with. Just great, a wonderful experience. It was almost like I was giddy with excitement every day when I turned up on set. I couldn’t quite believe I was working with these people.”
Around The World In 80 Days (2004)
“I don’t think it fully exploited my skills, that film. It was just great fun to make, sort of a cheap trip around the world really! It was a great film to make but also a lesson: when you’re part of a huge machine you get a little bit lost in it and I think that’s probably what happened to me.
“The experience I wouldn’t swap for the world. It was really very exciting but it probably harmed me really, because the film didn’t make money, so you become tainted by that.
“Having said that, Frank Coraci [ the director ] is a great friend of mine and I had great fun making it with him and it was a really amazing experience, but I don’t feel great affection for the film itself.”
Coffee And Cigarettes (2003)
“I love that; it’s one of my favourite things. I played myself and I chatted with Jim [ Jarmusch ] and Fred [ Molina ] about it and we sort of devised it between the three of us. It was great to come up with something and work very quickly under pressure, and fashion it into something at the end that was so good.
“I was really proud of that. It was great working with Jim and we shot it in two days. It was great to be able to invent and just throw things in so, yeah, I’m still very pleased with that and really, really grateful to have been in a Jim Jarmusch film.”
A Cock And Bull Story (2005)
"It was a bit odd playing myself because you feel quite vulnerable. But then, Frank Cottrell Boyce was writing it and Frank had done 24 Hour Party People , and I like Frank, but you sometimes get a bit scared that you’re going to make a fool of yourself.
“But I’d worked with Michael [ Winterbottom ] before and I trusted him, so you know that something interesting is going to come out of it. I’ve got great affection for that film; again, Michael creates a world you know.
“It’s odd looking back because I think, ‘That’s sort of me, but it’s not me,’ you know? ‘Kelly Macdonald's my wife!’ It’s really odd actually in some respects but it’s also quite exciting. I’ve a baby son in it - which I don’t have in real life. And the film has got real charm too, I think it’s a wonderful film, I really do.
“I liked the going from reality to the fiction of it, and it’s one of those films that stands watching again. I’ve not watched it for a while and to me it’s like a mystery, I still don’t fully understand it.
“I don’t like to look back on things because I think it’s wrong to be backward-looking, but I’ve got great affection for that film as well, for all of the films with Michael really. They feel very personal to me. When I work with him, I feel really connected with the films and [A Cock And Bull Story]’s no different.
“Once a film’s been released you sort of walk away from it and if you do see it again, it’s an odd feeling sometimes. It feels a bit wrong. You feel like the Christmas Carol where you look at yourself in another life and watch yourself. It feels a bit unnerving because you’re sort of watching yourself in the past. Weird.”
The Other Guys (2010)
“Will Ferrell is a wonderful man, a gentleman. Mark Wahlberg is very talented. But to me, [The Other Guys] felt sort of a bit pointless. Pointless casting of me, not particularly using my comic skills.
“I was working with very talented people which was great but really, anyone could have played that part. Adam McKay’s a wonderful director, very funny - made me laugh out loud a lot - but I sort of learned a lesson; it’s pointless going into someone else’s film playing part number 4 or 5. It’s a thankless task. You might see a big machine and be part of a super-funny-sexy film but you don’t really get a chance to do anything: you’re just there to be functional. I won’t do that again.
“I was advised ‘This is what you do.’ Since I did films like that I've come back to England and the three films I’m making this year are all because I started going back to what’s instinctive, being creatively instinctive and not doing things just because you’re supposed to do them.
“It’s a funny film, it’s a very funny film, but for me it’s slightly pointless. I don’t do anything in it.”
Tropic Thunder (2008)
“ Tropic Thunder is a bit better [than The Other Guys for me] because I do get a little moment to be funny in that and my head gets blown off, so I die in an interesting way. So that’s funny and I think that’s a funny film.
“I’m quite pleased with that and also people say they wish there was more of me in it, so I quite like that. Also, I had a nice time in Hawaii in that so yes, I like Tropic Thunder .
“[ What I look for now is to be ] more creative, more creatively involved in content that I’ve got more control over. I can do things that I know I’m good at and feel satisfied with, rather than just being told to go stand over there and say your lines, which just drives me a bit crazy.
"I tried doing that, I can’t do it anymore. When you’re just a pawn in someone else’s game, it’s just a bit depressing. I want to be in the hot seat or not bother.”
The Trip (2010)
“I did [ see the film version of The Trip] and it did very well, it actually made money in America and we’re doing another one over in Italy next month, The Trip 2 .
“Again [The Trip] was me being me, Rob [ Brydon ] being Rob and that was almost entirely improvised, but with some guidance. I wasn’t sure about doing it but Michael [ Winterbottom ], again, just browbeat us into it, and I said, ‘Oh all right we’ll do it.’ He always makes interesting stuff, and I really like the films.
“Working on The Trip , me and Rob would think up conversations and say, ‘We’ve got an idea for a conversation,’ and he would say, ‘I’ll shoot it.’ There was no, ‘Well, let’s talk about that first…’ We’d just do it and see what works.
“We’ve got roughly planned out sort of structures for [The Trip 2] but no finished scripts. It’s very scary! I don’t know what we’re going to say! I mean, the first Trip script was scary enough. This one is a bit less scary because we know it worked the first time but it might be that we’ve got nothing new to say. I hope we will and you think, ‘Well, we’ve got to try and go in there and do something but it’s by far the scariest thing because you think, ‘What the fuck are we going to talk about?’ Yes, it’s scary.”
Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013)
“I always thought probably at one point we would do an Alan Partridge film but we were in no rush to do it. When we brought him back for these website shows we did called Mid Morning Matters , that was a sort of a conscious decision not to do him on TV, to do something a bit different.
“And it was also road testing the character and coming to the conclusion that ‘This is funny, this guy is still funny.’ Because we hadn’t done him for a few years so it was a way of oiling the wheels. It’s like taking a car out of the garage and taking the dust sheet off and seeing if it will start... and it did.
“Also, there were two new writers that came on board, Rob and Neil Gibbons who also wrote the movie and they gave the character new impetus because they weren’t jaded and bored. Armando [ Iannucci ] and Pete [ Baynham ], who did the series, they had moved onto other things so it was almost like looking back for them, I can imagine, or going over the same ground. Rob and Neil had fresh verve and vigour and that helped just give it that new spin and gave it momentum.
“It was always on the cards that at some point I would do a film. But I wanted to do it when I wanted to do it rather than doing it out of, ‘I haven’t got anything better to do.’ It’s better doing it from a position of strength and a position of choice. So I’d already started doing new films, the Stephen Frears film that I’d just finished and the Michael Winterbottom film, so it was like, ‘OK, let the Partridge film be the third film.’
“We were conscious of trying to avoid [ certain pitfalls ]. The biggest problem is that the character works on television for half an hour and you think, ‘Well, characters are supposed to have an epiphany or conquer a character arc in a film and come to a conclusion or change in some way,’ and of course you can’t do that with Alan. And you have to make the film cinematic, which of course is at odds with the character who is not so cinematic, the character is made for television. So you have to figure out a way of making the film cinematic but without losing what it is that makes the character charming.
“How do you take a small world quality and put it on the big screen? That’s the challenge. But I think we’ve done it because I think we’ve managed to keep it all in Norwich or Norfolk, but it’s more cinematic - we’re out on the road, and there’s a scene Cromer pier at the climax to the film. There are lots of visual, visceral things that make it different but I think we’ve kept the smallness. You have to make events seem more dramatic without seeming unreal, but I think we’ve done it.”
The Look Of Love (2013)
“[ I now say to Michael Winterbottom ], ‘Well what am I doing?’ He doesn’t talk much, he doesn’t say much when he directs. We have a few conversations and then you sort of get on with it. [ Our working relationship ] is very workmanlike but it’s quite intuitive and feels very organic, and we don’t have lots of long conversations. He just turns up and says, ‘Let’s do this,’ and you do something and he goes, ‘Maybe do a bit more of that,’ and you say, ‘Why don’t I do this?’ and he says, ‘OK.’ You just try things and some things are real some things aren’t.
“I knew who Paul Raymond was, and I’d read about him. I’d seen him on the back of these soft porn magazines so I knew a little bit about who he was and I knew that he’d had tragedy in his life - his daughter died - and he had been quite rich and he seemed to always dress immaculately.
“So just from the bare bones of the story I was like, ‘Who is that guy?’ He seemed quite interesting, interesting enough for us to do enough research and we found some interesting things out about him. At one point he was Britain’s richest man, and you think, ‘How did that happen?’ He died owning half of Soho. All that became very interesting to me.
“[ When playing a real-life character ], I find out what they were like in reality and try to imagine what it would be like to be that person. Or to try and think, ‘He was real,’ and not be scared by that that. And of course when you’re surrounded by the paraphernalia and the people it becomes very easy because you’re sat there and there’s someone being your wife, someone being your daughter, and so it’s easy for you to re-imagine yourself as them.
“Having said that, you don’t feel slavebound, so I would use aspects of me to put on top of that. You can’t eviscerate yourself completely from the role - I’m sure Daniel Day-Lewis can but I can’t! - so I put a bit of me in with a bit of Paul Raymond: you come up with a sort of cocktail. It’s not a documentary, it’s an impressionistic portrayal of a real person. I think I made Paul slightly wittier than he was, I think he was a bit drier than I portray him but there’s certain things about him, an essence of truth about him. I think I capture his slightly stuffy repressed nature and I think it’s very true to how he was."
The Look Of Love opens in the UK on 26 April 2013.