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Steve Coogan interview, part 2

Never one to pass up a chance both to kiss a celebrity’s ass and show off my feigned erudition, I wasted no time in discussing Coogan’s role in Michael Winterbottom’s “A Cock and Bull Story,” an adaptation of Laurence Sterne’s bizarro18th century novel “Tristram Shandy” in which Coogan played himself as an actor in a film within the film that also is adapting “Tristram Shandy.” Let’s listen in...

PK: You could hardly do a film that’s, in my opinion, better than “Tristram Shandy,” where you basically played yourself in a very unflattering role. Was that like a turning point in your career

SC: Not really. I’d done “24 Hour Party.” I knew that was different. Was it a turning point? No, it wasn’t a turning point. It was interesting and I found it quite enjoyable to play something in that way. I don’t normally like people playing themselves if it’s self-congratulatory and assisted. What happens when I’ve seen people play themselves is it’s sort of self-congratulatory narcissism and I didn’t want to be guilty of that when I did it, so I tried to sail as close to the wind as possible, even to the extent of almost deliberately not being  funny to challenge the audience to wonder why I was doing it. I kind of just like that whole tension and discomfort. I gravitate towards it. I don’t know why. I like it. I like the awkward side of life.

PK: When did you first notice this? Was there an awkward moment that you had when you were growing up which you enjoyed?

SC: Small tiny embarassing moments. I think that the discomfort, awkwardness, embarrassment, all those moments are when we really learn what it’s like to be a human being because there’s a sort of brutality of truth in certain awkward moments and certain uncomfortableness because we have this way of communicating which is very smooth and ordered and, ultimately, it conceals, often, the true feelings.

PK: It discloses the truth

SC: Like kind of a conspiracy of communication and sort of repression. So, it’s nice to kind of bust through that and find a way of shedding light on the human condition, which is the purpose of drama. I think everybody can do that in however small of a way or big of a way and I feel like when you do comedy, when you look for the awkward things, that’s a way of finding that and shining that light. 

PK: So you draw on a lot of personal experience. Did you do a lot of improvisation in “Hamlet 2?”

SC: No, not very much at all. I would do a lot of improvisation only in discussions beforehand. I might say, “Let me try this” or “Shall we try this,” those kinds of conversations before a scene, not really on camera, but a lot of the ideas I had thought up just before a scene was shot.

PK: You went to a theater school, did you drawn on any of that experience in creating your character?

SC: Yes, I did. A little bit. I’m aware of ... I’ve kind of got a strange background because it’s half comedy, stand-up background and half theatrical drama-school background, so half actor, half comic. I’m a strange weird creature. So, yes, I was able to draw upon that on the comic side of things. In terms of the drama, a certain streak of pretentious self-searching that I was very aware of.

PK: But you had no teacher who was as inspiring as...

SC: At drama school, not particularly. I mean there must have been guys...Not like that... The brutal reality is if there had been a teacher like that she would have annoyed the hell out of me.

PK: If this one is very successful, do you think they’ll be doing a “Hamlet 3?”

SC: I think that sounds terrible. 

PK: People might have thought Hamlet 2 sounded like a terrible idea.

SC: Actually, “Hamlet 2” did sound terrible. That is true.  When I heard the title, I thought that sounds really, really bad and then I read it and I changed my mind.

PK: Well, this is Hollywood. Anything can happen.  Do you have any interest in doing something like the original Hamlet?

SC: No, not really. I’m too old. You have to be in your twenties for Hamlet. In your forties, doing that kind of angsty self-searching looks actually really tragic. Maybe you could do a mid-life crisis Hamlet, but who the hell wants to see that.

PK: What about Macbeth?

SC: I don’t think so.

PK: You do have another film coming up with Michael Winterbottom with whom you seem to enjoy a very good relationship?

SC: It’s not specific. We have 2 or 3 ideas, there’s sort of hoping it will happen but nothing’s concrete right now, which is kind of a pain in the ass, but we’re definitely going to do something, it’s just not definitely the thing you may have read about that’s all.

PK: And then there’s something called “Ed Eagle,” which is...

SC: And that again may not happen either. These people kind of throw my name into things before they’re ready and their out of the trap. It’s kind of annoying.

PK: IMDB, not to be trusted then.

SC: Yeah, well, what do you think? I’ve seen stuff on IMDB that I’m supposed to be shooting, that I’ve written a first draft of something. I’m like wow, have I? I’d like to find it. If I can find it on the internet, it will save me a lot of work.

PK: But you are doing a stand-up tour of Britain with your Alan Partridge character?

SC: I’m doing a bunch of characters on stage, like six characters. I’m sort of hesitant to call it stand up because though I do characters for stand up because I also have a live band, dancers, and supporting actors who come on stage and do sketches and stuff and a big screen and I use computer graphics. It’s like a little theater experience, rather than stand up. It’s not just me in front of a microphone.

PK: Will you do any numbers from “Hamlet 2?”

SC: No, I can guarantee there will be zero content from “Hamlet 2.”

PK: Do you find that, since you haven’t done it for about ten years, thisis  like a return to the well to restore your inspiration?

SC: Yeah, it’s nice to just go in front of an audience again, no middle man, a complete lack of ambiguity there, they applaud and laugh or they don’t. It’s immediate. It’s also a good discipline because it requires absolute focus. You have to be totally unresigned, you can’t do it in half measures, you have to absolutely commit every night. So I’ve given myself that challenge, that benchmark, as something that was important for me. I’m being sort of pressured to wrap it up.

PK: Here’s a quote from Oscar Wilde that I read somewhere  that you quoted once. “To be a spectator of one’s own life is to escape the suffering of one’s own life.”

SC: It’s basically not that my life is angst and suffering, because I quite enjoy it. But, of course, from time to time, things don’t go exactly the way I’ve planned, but I channel everything I do into my work. That’s a way of sometimes exorcising things. So, no excuses about experience, everything is potentially creative material.


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Peter Keough tosses away all pretenses of objectivity, good taste and sanity and writes what he damn well pleases under the guise of a film blog.

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