"There are lots of pretentious Brit directors..."

You and Ben Stiller go back quite a way now. How did you get involved in Tropic Thunder?

A few years ago, he came to London and tracked me down ’cos he’d seen my stuff and said that he liked it. That was very nice – I was very flattered. He said he just wanted to work with me. Every now and again he puts something my way. So when he asked me to play Damien in Tropic Thunder, it was a no-brainer.

Is your experience of working with actors that they’re insecure, ignorant people with no self-esteem, as Tropic Thunder paints?

Well of course, anyone who’s in the industry is neurotic. If you write and perform comedy, you’re not trying to say, “Hey, look at these guys, they’re all jerks but I’m not like that.” Most comics say, “This is what we’re making fun of and we’re a bit like that, too.” The fact is, yes, there’s a lot of neurosis and a lot of pretension and a lot of bad behaviour.

Did you use anyone for inspiration?

Not really. There are lots of pretentious Brit directors around. Throw a stick in Hollywood and you’ll hit three.

You spend a big chunk of your year in LA now. Do you socialise mostly with fellow actors and comedians?

The people I know tend to be people I’ve met through the industry because, of course, that’s my connection with this town. So my friends here tend to be industry people – but people who I have a personal connection with. That’s sort of inevitable.

When you wrote and starred in The Parole Officer, were you trying to create a Hollywood calling card?

[Deep sigh] Yeah, I have very mixed feelings about that movie. It wasn’t the movie I wanted to make. I thought it was too soft; it ended up being too squidgy. I wanted to make something that was edgier and that’s not what came out for various reasons.

You’ve mulled over projecting Alan Partridge onto the big screen. Is that something that still might happen?

It may but I find that it defines me so much that I have to be careful. I need to change the record in people’s imaginations before I go back to that and I still feel I’m trying to make my mark in movies.

In the UK, I tend to be seen as that character almost entirely. So my opportunities over here are more interesting than the ones I get in the UK. I don’t want to neglect the UK or the US ’cos I have opportunities in both places. It makes sense for me to pursue them all.

Has Sacha Baron Cohen’s success helped open up more doors for you in Hollywood?

I think any British comic that does well here, like Simon Pegg, Sacha, to some extent Ricky Gervais, it’s all helpful because the US has an ear open for people like me who are creative.

Are you actively looking for a big crossover vehicle, something to take you to the level of Will Ferrell?

Of course it would be great to do that and I would love that to happen. But I’m trying to have that happen with as much control as I can have – on my own terms.

I’m lucky that I have a pretty solid career in the UK so i things don’t really happen for me here in a very commercial way, it doesn’t matter because I don’t especially need it. I’d like it to happen but I don’t need it.

I’m very suspicious of making any kind of decision that goes against your gut instinct, simply because it might be seen as a smart career move for you.

Was playing Phileas Fogg in 2004’s Around The World In 80 Days one of those “smart” career moves?

Yes. I don’t think that was great for me to do. Although I loved working with the director and I enjoyed the whole experience, I don’t think it played to my strengths.

Would you like to be offered more dramatic parts, like Tony Wilson in 24 Hour Party People?

I’ve just done a TV series with the BBC that was quite dramatic and intense [Sunshine, in which Coogan plays a gambling addict] so I’m able to satisfy my dramatic urges and still pursue the comedy thing here. I’m in no rush to go and do something super-intense and dramatic. You have to play to your strengths and I like doing comedy.

How has the bad publicity that you endured last year [Courtney Love accused him of leading Owen Wilson down a dark path before his suicide attempt] affected you?

[Raising voice] Of course it concerns me when stories come out that are not true and have no truth in them from a totally discredited source. But people who know me know that it’s horseshit.

But of course there’s concern that people in the industry might give it a moment’s credence and that might affect my career. And I think that was probably the intention of those comments – to try and throw a little grenade in my career path.

But fortunately it didn’t gain traction... Very soon, the credibility of that story sank. Unfortunately it still floats around on the internet, but it was discredited long ago.

And what about the wild, party-animal we hear about?

Do you hold the opinion that pursuing life’s pleasures to an extreme degree is useful for your comic edge? No I don’t. And that’s been overstated. I’ve certainly made huge errors of judgment. But I just want my work to speak for itself.

I’m not a politician, I don’t go around proclaiming family values, I don’t go around pretending to be the bastion of morality. So that stuff is none of your... no one’s fucking business, frankly.

If I was a politician it would be legitimate for people to probe. But I’m not – I’m a comic. If you think my movies stink, then feel free to say so. But what happens in my personal life is my business.

The Total Film team are made up of the finest minds in all of film journalism. They are: Editor Jane Crowther, Deputy Editor Matt Maytum, Reviews Ed Matthew Leyland, New Editor Jordan Farley, and Online Editor Jack Shepherd. Expect exclusive news, reviews, features, and more from the team behind the smarter movie magazine.