By chance I downloaded the movie Hamlet 2 a few weeks back on the recommendation of a pal, but had no idea it has Steve Coogan in the starring role (I'd forgotten that I'd posted a story and pictures about it in this thread!). The story, and his character, reminds me more than a fair bit of Chris Lilley playing the drama teacher in the Australian sitcom 'Summer Heights High', but that aside it's quite a good laugh.
It's not going to change your world, but it's worth a watch if you like Coogan.
Rehab, drinking, Courtney Love, Owen Wilson's 'overdose': Steve Coogan confesses all By Piers Hernu
23rd August 2009
'There are lots of things I regret now. But I'm basically philosophical about anything I might have done in my life and... I'm neither proud nor ashamed of it,' says Steve Coogan.
In the not so distant past, this would be the departure point for a rueful tale of alcohol, cocaine, fast women and lurid headlines. This morning, however, Coogan looks positively saintly. He is filling a glass with ice and nothing more menacing than mineral water. He is in a large, ultra-chic, all-white room in the very trendy St Martin's Lane hotel in central London. Having known Coogan off and on for the past 12 years, I get the immediate impression that at 43 he's at long last starting to calm down.
This may simply be because he has too many competing interests in his life. He is the father of Clare, his 11-year-old daughter, and he is a very British Hollywood film star, stand-up comic, TV actor and co-director of his own production company.
'I'm a Catholic with a Protestant work ethic - there's definitely an element of the devil makes work for idle hands,' he says, draining his glass and gazing out across the city rooftops. 'Being busy helps to avoid the distractions that come with the pressure of what I do. When I was a student I was very, very ambitious, completely immersed in my comedy career. I never had that period of reckless hedonism that you should get out of your system in your youth.
'I postponed it. Then when I had it, I had both fame and money. That was a terrible idea. There are lots of things I regret now. But I'm basically philosophical about anything I might have done in my life and...' he pauses for a moment, gazes up at the white ceiling and lets out a long resigned sigh. 'I'm neither proud nor ashamed of it. I know there have been dysfunctions within me. But I also know that those things partly help me to be creative, and I don't try to edit my life out of my work.
'I went to rehab in America because I was going off the rails a bit. And I did once see a priest, but religion wasn't discussed in any of the sessions - he was more of a highly qualified psychotherapist. There was this idea that I was addicted to sex, because it's a sexy headline. But the truth was much more complicated. It was to do with fame - how I was dealing with success.
'Those things are part of the picture, but I'm lots of things. A lot of the way I'm perceived is partly tied up with my background. It's the curse of being middle class. I can't go around claiming to be a horny-handed son of toil. And I can't go around pretending to have that in-built confidence either. And when it comes to alcohol... some people can drink but I can't. It turns me into someone else. I don't fall off the wagon. I crash into a brick wall.'
'There was this idea that I was addicted to sex, because it's a sexy headline. But the truth was much more complicated. It was to do with fame - how I was dealing with success,' says Steve
It's unfortunate for Coogan that he's known as much for his misbehaviour as for his achievements with his beautifully observed TV grotesques Alan Partridge (spoof/cod local radio DJ) and Saxondale (spoof/cod ex-roadie turned embittered pest controller), and major Hollywood movies.
In 1996, shortly after his girlfriend Anna Cole, a solicitor, announced she was pregnant with Clare, a lapdancer sold her story about rolling around with Coogan on a bed strewn with £5,000 worth of £10 notes. In 2004, his wife of two years, society beauty Caroline Hickman, moved out of their home in Hove after two lapdancers sold a similar sex-and-drugs story.
He says he doesn't dwell on 'all those old stories you can find about me on the internet'. But then he says candidly, 'That was a terrible time. I felt bad about what I did and I regret it. It was a mistake. I'm not making any excuses. It was just an act of stupidity. I've never claimed to be a paragon of virtue but my behaviour has changed - not because of what a newspaper says about me but because I thought it ought to. I use it be wiser and realise that it helps me to be creative.
'I'm not tormented now. Without wanting to diminish the event, lots of people make mistakes. I look after myself too well and I'm far too anal to self destruct. I'm too well rooted too, because my family to me is very real. By that I mean my family in Manchester and my daughter, who has changed me completely. And being a father has made me a lot more sensible than I used to be. I get a thrill out of fatherhood. It's kind of an unadulterated happiness because nothing matters to you as much as your child.
'A bad review, a low phase in your career... they become unimportant. I think if you embrace parenthood you become a much better person. I think I have become more compassionate, more philosophical and less insecure. Although I still have an ego that gets easily bruised.'
Coogan has been burdened by the weight of expectation of his fans, and his recent projects have failed to achieve the success of his glory years. In his latest film, Hamlet 2, Coogan plays his first major lead role as a hapless American high-school drama teacher who audaciously undertakes a sequel of the Bard's famous play. It's an enjoyable if somewhat preposterous feel-good romp that's so skewed to the US market that's it's gone straight to DVD here.
'It was not the kind of thing I'd be considered for over here,' he says. 'It was me playing a nice, vulnerable, naive guy who is trying to do the right thing, whereas normally I play people who are twisted and idiotic in a slightly aggressive way.
'You could say that Saxondale isn't as funny as Alan Partridge but it's more satisfying because he's a more rounded character. Basically I might not be as funny as I used to be but I don't care.
'I'm getting bored of smart-alec, cynical comedy. I'm now trying to do things that are a bit more life-affirming. The default response these days is to curl your lip up at everything whereas the radical choice is to say something non-cynical. Doing something with genuine sentiment is the most avant-garde thing you can do at the moment.'
The middle of seven children - five boys and two girls - Coogan was brought up in a large Irish Catholic family in the the suburbs of Manchester. He fluffed his A levels and was rejected by Rada, but accepted by Manchester Polytechnic to study drama. He didn't get any acting roles so took to stand-up.
He's a brilliant impressionist and was the voice behind Neil Kinnock, Mick Jagger, Margaret Thatcher and Michael Heseltine for Spitting Image. He won the Perrier Award in Edinburgh in 1992 for his early show featuring Mancunian characters Paul and Pauline Calf and Duncan Thicket. His fame was sealed with the appallingly cheesy, Norwich-dwelling TV and radio host Alan Partridge in the series Knowing Me, Knowing You... With Alan Partridge and I'm Alan Partridge.
Even with Partridge's immense following, his film career rapidly took him to unexpected new heights. His turn as Manchester music-scene guru Tony Wilson in 24-Hour Party People won him the role of Phileas Fogg in Around The World In 80 Days with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan. He followed that with Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story and Ben Stiller's Tropic Thunder. He's not satisfied, though.
'I am slightly annoyed I haven't been offered the part of a really evil baddy in an American blockbuster by now,' he says smiling. 'But I don't get offered loads of stuff. I'm definitely on the list when they cast movies in America, but I'm quite far down it. Films come to me when they've gone past five or six bigger actors so odd things come my way which have either languished for a while or the A-listers have missed them.'
There have been suggestions that Coogan's personal life has hampered his Hollywood career - most recently when one of Coogan's most ill-judged dalliances, Courtney Love (former wife of Nirvana star Kurt Cobain), claimed that actor Owen Wilson's alleged attempted suicide had resulted from Coogan supplying him drugs. He is scathing of the press he got.
'It was not the kind of thing I'd be considered for over here. It was me playing a nice, vulnerable, naive guy,' says Steve of his lead role as a hapless American high-school drama teacher in Hamlet 2
'That story gained more credence over here than there. It was a complete fabrication put about by someone who had a different agenda. In America they realised it was bullshit as soon as they established that it was spread by someone who was trying to throw a grenade in my path. The industry made it very clear to me that they knew, so thankfully it had no effect on my career or my friendship with Owen.
'Yes, Owen did have a bit of a personal wobble between the first Night At The Museum film and the one we've just finished, but he is totally fine now. I spent last Thanksgiving with his family in Texas. We're working together again this year. It never affected my friendship with him at all.'
This is not to say that working on A Night At The Museum 2 with Owen Wilson was without pain. 'Honestly, on that film, I really thought I might go blind,' he tells me. 'During filming one day, I was running along - I play a toy soldier - scampering past these giant blades of plastic grass. But, being really old, I got out of breath, so I stopped. And as I bent over to catch my breath, one of these blades of grass went right in my eye.
'It was horrific - it pushed my eyelid over the top of my eyeball and down over the other side. I bruised my ruddy eyeball - actually, I nearly blinded myself. I stopped and put my hand over my eye - I thought I'd have blood gushing out - I couldn't see anything. My head went numb. I had a black eye for the whole of the rest of the film. They had to cover it up with make-up every day.'
It looks fine now; no need for make-up on our shoot, where Coogan is chatty and co-operative with everyone present and seemingly relishes the fuss being made of him. During a break we nip outside the hotel for a quick cigarette but he noticeably turns his back on passing pedestrians in an effort to avoid yet another loud Patridge-esque 'Aha!'
'At home in Brighton people just ignore me,' he says. 'But I was in Selfridges in Manchester last week trying to buy a top and people started following me round pointing camera phones at me and giving a running commentary about what I was picking up. It just got really weird and I had to get out of there.'
I remind him that the last time I met him, in August 2007, he told me he had an American girlfriend. Coogan pauses and looks a little sad. 'The truth is I really don't know if I still have one,' he says. 'I know I'm lucky to do what I do but the one thing I don't like about my business is that with all the travel it's not very grounded. It makes relationships difficult. I like normality and going around a supermarket and putting things in a basket.
'I've got an Oyster card and I like to use the Tube whenever I'm in London. OK, I put a cap on and stick my face in a newspaper but the best way of being inconspicuous is just to avoid eye contact. I know my demographic. If it's a 75-year-old lady then I know I can look her straight in the eye and she won't bat an eyelid. If it's men between 20 and 40, however, I'm doomed. The curse is people with camera phones.'
A couple of times a year he gets away from it all with his brothers and friends in the Lake District. 'We stay in B&Bs and it's a sort of men-only bonding thing. I also rent a bolt-hole cottage in Ireland and I like to drive out there on my own and hide hermit-like reading books and not answering the phone. If a car drives past, which happens maybe twice a day, I get quite irritated.
'I don't spend money like the avaricious, nouveau riche, consumer that I was in my twenties. I've got an eight-year-old BMW X5, which I'm slightly embarrassed about, and an 11-year-old Porsche. I've got a bit of property and I'm looking to buy a place in Ireland. But these days I like to spend my money on family occasions. My brothers and sisters all do really worthwhile jobs like teaching and caring for people with special needs which don't happen to be incredibly well paid. So I foot the bill because I'm the rich one in the family.
'It frustrates me when people try to portray me as a dysfunctional, tortured soul. But I understand it makes better copy than "well-adjusted person has quite nice life". I'm not saying I'm a well-adjusted person, by the way. But I do have quite a nice life.'
Steve Coogan, actor and comedian He may have been crowned king of the underworld, but Steve Coogan admits he has yet to make it big in America. He tells Siobhan Synnot how he hopes to change all that, with help from Alan Partridge
9 February 2010
By Siobhan Synnot
'I'D QUITE like X-ray vision," decides Steve Coogan. "Not right all the way through to the bone though, I don't want vision that is completely X-ray. I'd have to have the power to turn it on and off too, because I don't want to see everyone in X-ray – my god, that would be a curse."
Even when considering what godlike power he would most like to possess, there's a touch of the Alan Partridge to conversations with Coogan. Not just in the way he emphatically flattens the last word in a sentence, but the pedantic manner in which he tackles a question. There's also a hint of the Norwich acrylic pullover in his latest character, even if he does wear rock star trousers and have millions of dead souls under his command. Coogan's sly, subversive performance brings comic discomfort to the Olympian god, hinting that Mr and Mrs Hades aren't getting on terribly well in the bedroom department.
Yet Hades is also a rare thing in the pantheon of Coogan characters – rather attractive. In his usual line of work, Coogan is often unflatteringly coifed and costumed, but Hades is allowed to cut a bit of a dash. In the flesh too, Coogan is a spruce 44-year-old, with pale skin, skinny limbs, a leonine mass of dark curly hair and teeth that appear to have been straightened.
"I always play sort of hideous or slightly physically unattractive characters." he admits. "It looks like you're not vain, but in actual fact I'm incredibly vain. And it always means that if people are used to seeing you look horrible or wearing awful clothes then, when you scrub up, people are nicely surprised."
Percy Jackson And The Lightning Thief is the first film in what it's hoped will be a franchise to rival Harry Potter. Logan Lerman (3:10 To Yuma) is Percy, a dyslexic teen who discovers he's the son of Poseidon and, therefore, the demigod relation of many of the best known characters of ancient Greek mythology, including the neurotic, narcissistic Hades, who can change himself into a fiery demon, but prefers snakeskin hip-huggers and Cuban heels.
In a cast that includes Pierce Brosnan as a centaur and Uma Thurman as Medusa, Coogan is not the biggest name in the movie, nor is Hades the biggest part, but the lack of responsibility suits him fine. "This is low risk," states Coogan. "It's like a holiday: you don't have to write the damn thing, I just have to do the fun part. The bottom line with this film is that I hope that it will be a huge success so that we can have more fun and be paid for it, but if it's a disaster it won't really affect me because I'm not carrying the movie."
Coogan now splits his time between a home in Brighton, close to his nine-year-old daughter, and Los Angeles where, despite having been in the business for more than 15 years, he is still treated as a fresh face. A lead role some years ago in a remake of Around The World In 80 Days failed to make him a global star, while Michael Winterbottom's indie music hit 24 Hour Party People, in which he played Factory Records musical entrepreneur Tony Wilson, didn't break him outside the arthouse circuit.
• Coogan in 24 Hour Party People
Blink and you'll miss his small roles in A Night At The Museum and its sequel (as a miniature Roman general), or Tropic Thunder (an ineffective British film director, blown up in the first 15 minutes). Safety Glass gave him a relatively straight lead role as a sleazy newspaper reporter, while Hamlet 2 starred Coogan as a hopeless drama teacher, but these pictures flopped in America, and even in Britain both films headed straight to the DVD shelf. And yet Coogan reckons there is still everything to play for.
The duality of his career must be odd for Coogan. After the interview, I spot him in a smokers' huddle at the side of the hotel just as a passer-by clocks him, and mouths "Ah-ha!" Coogan doesn't even look round. In Britain he's a success not just as an actor, but as the boss of his own production company Baby Cow, which includes The Mighty Boosh among its current shows. His personal life has long been subject to intense media interest, with tabloids clearing their pages to publish bad-boy details of drug use, infidelities, and his brief relationship with Courtney Love, who accused him of supplying drugs to a suicidal Owen Wilson; a claim Coogan says was "total fiction".
Over in America, however, he readily admits he has practically no profile with mainstream audiences barely aware of what British fans already know he is capable of. Among the US comedy cognoscenti, however, he has a fan club that dates to early episodes of Knowing Me, Knowing You. Ben Stiller and Wilson are friends – as is Larry David, who had Coogan play his psychiatrist in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
"It's quite strange because I'm established in Britain, but in America I have to audition. Even for Curb Your Enthusiasm, I had to sit on a chair in a corridor and then go in and audition. It's weird because you think, 'I thought I didn't have to do this kind of thing anymore.' But it's good, quite humbling."
Doesn't he find having to climb from the first rung of the ladder rather frustrating? Coogan affects a Zen master's stoicism: "If you're unknown, then your problem is selling tickets. If you're very well known, your problem is, will you be as funny as you were last time? So there are always things to contend with.
"Being unknown in America is an advantage in some ways actually because producers and directors see me as an interesting character actor, while in Britain I can generate my own projects but I don't get offered that much work unless I create the work myself. In Britain, they see me as outside or apart from normal actors. In America, I'm on the lists."
• Coogan in Percy Jackson And The Lightning Thief
Usually, the more famous actors get, the more they want to be likeable on screen. One case in point is Ricky Gervais whose cringe-inducing David Brent was followed by the more sympathetic Andy Millman in Extras. In his last film, The Invention Of Lying, he played an even more likeable everyman, who cried when his mother died and held out for true love. Coogan, on the other hand, remains thirled to portraying awkward customers. Nobody is better at small, choreographed dances of hideous embarrassment: his immersion into character is absolute, and he's almost fearless in showing us the desperation that frequently lurks under their seen-it-all, know-it-all exteriors. It's this bravery in playing toe-curling characters that makes him so admired in the UK, but perhaps distrusted in the US.
However, you can't keep an appalling man down, and Coogan has just finished filming a small villainous role in The Other Guys, a new Will Ferrell comedy. Alan Partridge – The Movie is also in the pipeline, with Coogan and Armando Iannucci finally gripped by an idea that will introduce Coogan's most enduring and exasperating character to American audiences. Partridge has been part of Coogan's life for almost two decades. Coogan admits Partridge is almost tangible. "He certainly feels as if he is this other character that exists in his own universe who I visit now and again. Or, if you like, I embody him. He possesses me for a short period of time."
Before Partridge returns, Coogan is also working on an elaborate film and TV show crossover project with Rob Brydon, which reunites them with Winterbottom, their A Cock And Bull Story director. The two men will play fictionalised versions of themselves, inspired by the improvised interplay between Coogan and Brydon in A Cock And Bull Story, where they needled each other about the size of Rob's billing and who did the better Al Pacino impression.
With a blockbuster, the revival of a favourite character, and now a double act in prospect, could 2010 be the year when Steve Coogan finally reaches a peak of recognition? "The secret of my career is never to peak," Coogan responds firmly. "And I'm doing very well at it."
Movie role was hell for comedian Steve Coogan
Jul 16, 2010
STEVE COOGAN has been speaking of how he went to the depths of hell for his most recent movie role. Funnyman Steve - who is returning to TV in a new BBC2 series - played Hades, god of the underworld, in fantasy adventure Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, now out on DVD and Blu-ray.
Hades' hellish lair was located underneath Hollywood in the film, based on Rick Riordan's children's books and starring Logan Lerman as a troubled schoolboy who finds out his father is Poseidon. Also in the film are Sean Bean as Zeus, Uma Thurman as Medusa and Pierce Brosnan as Chiron the centaur.
Coogan described his role as "a doddle". He said: "I got to turn up, spend a week in Vancouver, I got to kiss Rosario Dawson who played my wife Persephone, and when you've got all these visual effects around you half of the job is done for you. The rest of it is just camping it up a bit, which is what I did. A little bit of that English rock star thing, that slightly androgynous thing that they have which the Americans can't do but we can. So I wore Cuban heels and strutted a bit."
So did he definitely try to bring a distinctive British flavour to the role? "I played Hades as neurotic, self-obsessed and narcissistic and if that makes me British, well..."
He was, however, playing a god so how did that feel? "For me it was about having some fun but you have to try and balance the levity and comedy with maintaining a sense of menace. Did I enjoy it? I got to wear snakeskin trousers, which I wouldn't normally do."
Coogan is next to appear in BBC2 semi-improvised comedy series The Trip in which he and co-star Rob Brydon play versions of themselves as they travel around the north of England for a series of restaurant reviews. Ben Stiller makes a guest appearance in the show as Coogan's agent.
Coogan to star in Cruise Of The Gods remake ...but in a different role
18th July 2010
Steve Coogan’s one-off comedy Cruise Of The Gods is to be remade as a movie – again starring the Alan Partridge creator. But while in the 2002 BBC original, Coogan played a big-shot star – in the remake he will take the role of a struggling actor, originally played by Rob Brydon. The 90-minute show was set on a fan cruise held in honour of a fictitious Eighties sci-fi TV series. Of its two stars, one went on to the heights of fame while the other has barely worked since.
New York screenwriters Michael Handelman and David Guion, who recently penned the movie Dinner For Schmucks, say they will stick to that premise in their new version, to be called The Great Beyond. ‘We're huge admirers,’ Handelman said of Coogan. ‘We've seen all of his stuff. He's a brilliant actor. Cruise Of The Gods was never shown here [in the US], so we are remaking it.’ Guion revealed that Coogan would be playing the obscure actor, adding: ‘We're still talking about that but I think the idea would be to find an American star to pair him with.’
The original, made by Coogan’s production company Baby Cow, also starred David Walliams and James Corden; while Russell Brand, who was due to star, was thrown off set for ‘drug-related incidents’.
I enjoyed the original, but for once I'm looking forward to seeing the remake.
He's back! First picture of Partridge's return
9th October 2010
This is the first picture of Steve Coogan, donning his Pringle jumper to become Alan Partridge on screen for the first time in seven years.
Beer giant Foster's is sponsoring a new series of 12 short Partridge shows for the internet, which will appear online from November 5. Each will be 11 minutes long and appear on the website Fostersfunny. It is the latest stage in the brand’s sponsorship of comedy, which has seen it sponsor Channel 4 programming and the Edinburgh Comedy Awards.
Partridge co-creator Armando Iannucci has worked on the new web episodes, which are made by Coogan’s production house Baby Cow. Coogan has released a new quote as Partridge, saying: ‘I am delighted to announce that after years as a regional broadcaster on North Norfolk Digital my groundbreaking radio segment, Mid Morning Matters, will now be accessible to a potential audience of billions via the World Wide Web (www).
‘That it has taken Foster's to help realise my dream of joining the information superhighway is a damning indictment of the established broadcasters whose shabby treatment of me on Sept 10th 2001 was frankly shabby. I made dozens of calls the next day, all of which were ignored.
‘My appreciation must go to Armando Iannucci and Baby Cow for ignoring the lies, god bless them. In the meantime I look forward to "hanging out 'n' chillin" with the MySpace generation.’
Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan: 'We're not the big buddies people think we are' The comedians play companions in their new TV series, The Trip. But their real-life relationship runs far from smoothly
26 October 2010
It is somewhere in the region of lunchtime at the Inn at Whitewell, and from the dining room carries the gentle roar of the feast: spoons brush soup plates, wine glasses kiss, and conversation gathers and swells. Outside, it is a sharp, bright day and here in the Trough of Bowland, the light skims across the bare branches and seems to settle among the hills of the Hodder Valley.
Back indoors, sitting beside the log fire, is the comedian Rob Brydon. He is sipping a glass of red wine and surveying the local newspaper, pausing, occasionally, to bask in the warmth.
Into his post-prandial idyll stalks Steve Coogan; taller, sharper, slightly harried, he sits down heavily and scowls. Brydon, impervious, lowers his newspaper. "I have ordered you a sticky toffee pudding," he tells him grandly, and proceeds to quiz Coogan with a series of On This Day in History questions read aloud from the paper in a Terry Wogan voice. "1702," he begins, "King William the Third died, and Queen Anne ascended to the throne . . ."
Coogan ignores him, and the pair bicker lightly. Diners stroll past, oblivious to the famous comedians in their wake. "That is some of the nicest sticky toffee pudding . . . " Brydon purrs, devouring the entire dish. "Mmm, moreish, isn't it?" Coogan looks on, dismally. "You're eating my pudding," he says, "and we're sitting in a corridor."
In truth, Brydon has already eaten two of the puddings, and upon closer inspection looks a little green around the gills. There is an abrupt halt in the conversation. People scurry about in gilets and fleeces, carrying walkie-talkies and tape-measures. They adjust wires and lights, listen intently to headphones, and a makeup woman dashes over and dabs at the shine on Brydon's forehead.
The scene unfolding here is in fact being filmed for an episode of The Trip, a new BBC series that begins on Monday. Directed by Michael Winterbottom, Coogan and Brydon essentially play themselves, amid the premise that Coogan has angled a role as a guest restaurant reviewer for the Observer, touring the best restaurants of Lancashire, Yorkshire and the Lake District. His intention was to take a [fictional] American girlfriend named Mischa, but when he and Mischa split up shortly before the trip, he asks Brydon to accompany him in her stead.
It is a comedy of sorts, but it is much more than that. It is a homage to the north, and northern culture – its food, of course, as well as its music, its literature and its landscape. Fiction blurs with reality, and there is geology and Romanticism, sightseeing and wine-tasting and much rumination on ageing and masculinity, relationships, love, fame and comedy itself. Perhaps more than anything it is about identity – about where you belong and who you are, how others perceive you and how you perceive yourself. And it is funny, of course.
The idea was born out of A Cock and Bull Story, Winterbottom's masterful "adaptation" of the Laurence Sterne novel Tristram Shandy, which also starred Coogan and Brydon. "I'll always work with Michael," Coogan tells me that evening in the bar. "I love working with him and I trust his judgment. The very worst thing you could say about a Michael Winterbottom project is that it is a Noble Failure. It would never be a bad piece of work."
Winterbottom, it transpires, had particularly liked A Cock and Bull Story's improvised scenes between Coogan and Brydon. "He said, I want something more substantial based on what we felt when we did them," Coogan continues. "And all I could say was, 'Why do you want to do this? Why the hell do you want to do this? What is the interest?' And then he starts weaving in words like 'Coleridge', and slightly expanding on Rob's worldview." Coogan pauses a little theatrically. "I don't think Rob actually has a worldview," he says, "but you know . . . his opinion on things."
Coogan also worked with Winterbottom on the 2002 film 24 Hour Party People, and enjoyed the process – a small crew, informal, minimally scripted. "So it appears to be chaotic. They began shooting on both those films when they were half-formed, which normally would scare me – in fact it did scare me on 24 Hour Party People, I didn't know how it worked then. I wouldn't do this with anyone else," he adds. "Because I just know it wouldn't be good."
It is early afternoon, and Coogan and Brydon are sitting at a table, filming another scene. Coogan is remonstrating with Brydon for his stereotyped impression of a northern accent. It is unclear whether this is actually part of the scene, or just Coogan airing his own bugbear – though this blurred patch of reality is precisely where the series sits. The makeup woman leans across and whispers to me: "Michael works like this. You don't know what's going on. He knows what's going on . . . You just have to go with it."
The waiter brings the wine and pours a little for Coogan to taste. "Yeah, that's lovely," he says. "What are you doing with the wine-tasting?" hisses Brydon after the waiter has departed. "When you taste wine you're not saying whether you like it, you're saying if it's not corked." He illustrates his point, showing how to sip and then curtly nod. Coogan looks at him with some detachment. "Can you do that and not be camp?" he wonders. There is an awkward silence, the pair discuss their starters of scallops and tomato soup, the constitution of fishcakes, and Brydon idly sings He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother. It's the casual conversation of people who know one another well, charged with the certain frisson of two men who have lately spent more time in one another's company than they would normally wish.
It's Coogan who breaks the volley of insults. "Deciduous trees," he says, looking out of the window. "You don't often see deciduous trees round here, because they were chopped down for firewood and for ships in the 17th and 18th centuries." These kind of comments anchor The Trip and, in particular, Coogan's character. His notes on landscape, limestone and poetry, serve to re-route the squabbling and bring a peculiar kind of melancholy to the series.
Is he genuinely interested in geology? Does Brydon truly know more about wine? Are the quarrels raging across the dinner tables of the north's best restaurants, from L'Enclume to Holbeck Ghyll, Hipping Hall to the Angel Inn, real or fattened up for the occasion? "Rob has a sort of a lightness of touch, and I'm a little more contemplative about things," Coogan explains. "I wouldn't say tortured . . . but the aspects of ourselves that help the comedy, we play up to more.
"I like playing with the fact that it might be me, to give it a bit more edge," he continues. "So some of the conversations with Rob are funny, but some of them are very uncomfortable. They're sort of genuine arguments. It's a sort of an exaggeration of real life." He thinks for a moment and plucks out an example: "He called me a prick the other day. It was slightly unwarranted, just because I'd annoyed him, and I made him apologise to me. And I meant it. The thing is," he concludes, "I quite like people, in between laughing, to feel discomfort. I'm not sure why. Rob is less comfortable with discomfort. I think he walks away from conflict, whereas I gravitate towards it."
The essence of the programme really sits here, in the relationship between Coogan and Brydon, their innate differences, and their diverging careers. Raised in Manchester, Coogan began his comedy career in Ipswich in the 1980s, supplementing stand-up with voiceover work and impressions for Spitting Image, before moving to Radio 4 to work with Chris Morris and Armando Iannucci on On the Hour. It was this programme that spawned Coogan's most popular comic creation, Alan Partridge. There have been other great characters, of course – Paul Calf, the Mancunian waster, Tommy Saxondale and Tony Ferrino among them, but few have rivalled Partridge, the gaffe-prone Norfolk chatshow and radio host with catchphrases galore.
It was Coogan who helped Brydon get his first big break. Born in Swansea, he carved out a career on BBC Radio Wales, before a move to television in the form of Marion and Geoff, a mock-umentary series in which he played a divorced taxi driver still infatuated with his ex-wife; Coogan was the associate producer. But as their careers have continued, Brydon's success, in broad, populist terms, has come to eclipse that of his mentor. He enjoyed a role in the primetime sitcom Gavin and Stacey, for example, and regularly appears on panel show programmes on both television and radio, hosting two: Annually Retentive and Would I Lie to You? He is a hugely popular standup performer and voiceover artist, and, earlier this year, launched his own chatshow, The Rob Brydon Show.
By comparison, Coogan seems to have wilfully shied away from mainstream success, taking a sideways step into film roles, playing Tony Wilson in 24 Hour Party People and Phileas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days. In 2008, he returned to standup with a tour entitled Steve Coogan is Alan Partridge and Other Less Successful Characters. The result is that, in an age of panel show ubiquity, impressionists and Michael McIntyre roadshows, Coogan pointedly refuses to join in the giddiness.
This discrepancy helps feeds the friction in The Trip. "Ian McKellen told me I'm a national treasure," says Coogan, over the lunch table. "Ian McKellen told me I'm a very funny man," replies Brydon. "Rob," Coogan says, "I think you are one of the funniest panel show guests of the late-noughties." To which Brydon responds with a Basil Brush impression: "Come on Mr Steve! Come on Mr Steve!"
There is a scene in The Trip that sums up their diverging public profiles rather perfectly. Arriving late to Dove Cottage, William Wordsworth's home in Grasmere, the pair are only admitted because the attendant recognises Brydon from the television, asking him for an autograph for her grandson who is a huge fan of his trademark Small Man in a Box impression, in which he makes his voice sound very small and high and far away and declares "Help! I'm stuck in a box!" It is an impression so successful that it apparently now has its own iPhone app.
It is also an image evoked by some of the series's most moving scenes; in the evening, after dinner, we are shown Brydon, in bed, talking warmly on the phone to his wife, while Coogan cuts a lonely figure, standing before the mirror in his hotel bathroom, applying eye gel and attempting his own Small Man in A Box impression. "Help! Help! I'm trapped in a box!" he squeals, and there hovers the thought that maybe Coogan is a man trapped in a box, for ever unable to escape the association of Alan Partridge. "I don't care about silly voices," he half-shouts at his reflection. "They're stupid." Later, he will climb to the top of a steep hill, and into the windy nothingness bellow Partridge's famous catchphrase: "Ah-HAAAAAA!" Is it an affirmation of who he is, one wonders, or is he ostensibly throwing Alan off the cliff?
"Often a jibe against comics is 'you're not funny any more'," Coogan tells me, halfway through his fishcakes. "And Rob might say that to me sometimes, 'Why don't you just lighten up?' And I think I am still funny, but even if I wasn't, if you define yourself as funny, well . . . " he lets the threat hang incomplete. "I don't define myself as that," he says. "I define myself as lots of things, not just my career, my life."
There is a shake of the head. "I don't keep up with things in pop culture," he admits with a curmudgeonly set to his face. "Probably Rob thinks that's failing, because I won't be able to relate to ordinary people. And it might be good to keep up with pop culture, but I also think if you envelop yourself in it, it starts to rot your brain. And in some ways, I'd rather keep my imagination separate, be slightly out of touch."
Perhaps the prevailing argument running through the series is that of a contest between Coogan's north and Brydon's Wales. "The north has more cultural identity than Wales," announces Coogan at one stage. Brydon splutters. "The north isn't a country!" he replies. "Wales is a nation! The north is a district!" Coogan hurrumphs. "The north might as well be a country," he says, arguing that it has made a greater cultural contribution to mankind than Wales.
Brydon fights back with a string of impressions of Welsh stars, from Anthony Hopkins to Catherine Zeta Jones, Shirley Bassey and Shakin' Stevens. Coogan sighs. "The north is where the industrial revolution started. The railways started in Manchester." "There's railways in Wales," Brydon insists. "Colossus, who cracked the Enigma code," Coogan ploughs on, "the bouncing bomb, Manchester United, unions, people who galvanised the working people." Brydon looks suddenly puffed up with victory. "Who set up the National Health Service?" he wonders. "Aneurin Bevan. Was he from Manchester?"
For all their intersecting careers, both actors are keen to stress their distance from one another. Coogan notes that he does not socialise with Brydon, and later, when Brydon sits down with me, one of his first points is that "we're not the big buddies that some people think we are. I mean, before this I don't think I'd really seen him properly for about two years." There is no quarrel, he insists. "When we do get back together, we slot in quite easily."
Brydon admits he gets a bit upset sometimes, when they argue. "It can get a little heated and we're really nasty to each other . . . " he says, looking downcast. "It's good for him. I don't know . . . You saw today, you shake it off, and then we'll be laughing."
After all, this is, essentially, a love story. It is about a love for the north, and for Britain, of course, about love for their children and their families and their work, about rediscovering a love for life, in a funny old way. But it is also about a love for each other. As the series progresses we see how Coogan, brittle at first, begins to soften in Brydon's company. In one episode, we even see them singing Abba's The Winner Takes It All in the bar of the Yorke Arms.
"It's trying to find the meaning out of life beyond a cheap laugh," Coogan tells me. "It's not cynical – and don't get me wrong, there's some great cynical comedy. But there'll be some love within it. And if you're making anything with a comic element and you put love in it, perversely, it's the most avant-garde thing you can do."
And perhaps love is the best way to describe the relationship between Coogan and Brydon. Though it is a crabby, unacknowledged, unnamed kind of love. They are not a double act, and this is not a romance, or a buddy movie, but still, they seem to belong together, somehow. There is a scene they shoot at the Inn at Whitewell, which illustrates this well: Coogan and Brydon arrive at the hotel and head to the reception desk to check in. "Are you friends?" asks the receptionist. "No," says Brydon, "we work together." "Oh," she replies. "Are you his assistant?" Brydon pauses and smiles. "In a way," he says, "yes."
Steve Coogan: Two parts Partridge, one part genius He is about to reprise his most famous role while also appearing as the Observer's restaurant critic on TV. But will we ever see the real man?
31 October 2010
Two years ago, when Steve Coogan was on tour with his most recent live comedy show, he ended every performance with a cheeky music hall number entitled Everyone's a Bit of a Cunt Sometimes. The song acknowledged, with a nudge and a wink, the cocaine-and-strippers tabloid reputation that has followed him through his years of success, before exculpating himself on the grounds that, hey, nobody's perfect. Was there a kernel of sincerity to it? Impossible to know. It was just one in a series of performances that have knowingly turned the "real-life" Coogan into a semi-fictionalised character, drawing on public perceptions of who he is (to a large extent created by the media) and neither quite refuting nor confirming them, but cleverly appropriating them for his own comic purposes.
He's about to take to our screens again, playing another exaggerated version of himself in a BBC series, The Trip, in which he and Rob Brydon embark on a gastronomic tour of the north of England on the premise that Coogan has landed a gig as guest restaurant reviewer for the Observer. The Trip is directed by Michael Winterbottom, who was so taken with the improvised off-set relationship between Coogan and Brydon in his 2005 film version of Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story that he wanted to give them their own vehicle. In the movie, Coogan played a self-obsessed actor with a complicated personal life, pursued at one point by a tabloid hack over claims of a relationship with a lapdancer.
It may seem an odd move, to repeatedly play a version of yourself as negatively portrayed in the press, but it's a mark of Coogan's confidence as a performer that he can take the unflattering portraits and turn them to his own comedy. It's also a smart way of not revealing or apologising for anything. "The stuff that's been written about him in the tabloids doesn't bother him as much as the people who write it would like to think it does," says Brydon. "I've never seen him reading a review… but he'll use it if he thinks it will further what he's trying to do." (In the past, he has been sufficiently bothered by reviewers' unfavourable opinions that he has taken issue with them both in interviews and on stage.)
But turning himself into a character might also be a way of distancing himself from his most successful comedy creation, the Norfolk-based radio presenter and chatshow host Alan Partridge, whose ebullient faux pas and naff catchphrases so engaged public affection that he would have secured Coogan's place in British comedy's hall of fame even if his creator had never worked again.
But the popularity of Partridge has been a mixed blessing. In Britain, the character has cast a long shadow over the rest of Coogan's career, so that he has always been partly competing against himself, as he acknowledged in the title of his 2008 live show: Steve Coogan Is Alan Partridge and Other Less Successful Characters. That show, though generally well-received, prompted critics to ask whether even a hit character like Partridge could be sustained over 15 or more years.
It seems Coogan can't quite let him go; this week, Partridge returns to make his first foray into online broadcasting, with a 12-part web-show entitled Mid Morning Matters on the comedy website fostersfunny.co.uk.
While Partridge's career has spiralled steadily downwards since the heyday of his chatshow, Knowing Me, Knowing You, Coogan's has described a more varied trajectory.
Born in Manchester in 1965 into a large Catholic, socialist family, he learned to amuse his brothers and sisters by imitating characters from their favourite television comedies. He studied at Manchester Poly and put his talent for mimicry to good use on Spitting Image. His first Edinburgh show in 1990, supported by Frank Skinner, was largely impressions. The following year, he avoided the fringe, took an entertainment job in Rhodes and picked up the paper one morning to see that Skinner had won the Perrier award.
Galvanised, he returned to Edinburgh in 1992, this time with a series of characters that included the mullet-haired student-hater Paul Calf, one of the few that has shown almost the same longevity as Partridge. He took home the award and soon after was hired by the BBC for radio show On the Hour, the spoof news show created by Armando Iannucci and Chris Morris, where Partridge was born.
"As soon as he started doing Partridge, it just felt like one of the funniest things you'd ever seen," Iannucci remembers. "There was such a complete immersion in the character. I think the secret of Alan's success is his eternal optimism set against our judgment of him as this rather sad, disappointed guy. But he must never realise this – his default position is that he is always right."
Partridge leapfrogged from The Day Today, On the Hour's television incarnation, to his own chatshow, while Coogan also moved into films. He was nominated for the best newcomer Bafta for his role in the 2001 film The Parole Officer, which he co-wrote, but it was his portrayal of maverick Factory Records boss Tony Wilson in Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People the following year that brought him to the attention of Hollywood, in particular Ben Stiller.
Partly through Stiller, he has landed roles in a number of big-budget movies, including Night at The Museum and its sequel, as well as Tropic Thunder, yet the breakthrough to mainstream success in America eludes him. Coogan has speculated that American audiences are not attuned to the comedy of failure as we are in Britain. Certainly, his best performances seem to come when he plays characters who are down on their luck, such as ex-roadie Tommy Saxondale, or compulsive gambler Bing in Craig Cash's bittersweet Sunshine.
Alan Partridge has never found an audience in the US except among a handful of comedy aficionados (including Stiller), though plans for a Partridge feature film show a determination not to give up on that possibility. The script is currently in progress, co-written by Iannucci, Coogan and original Partridge collaborator Peter Baynham, who also wrote the Borat and Brüno movies with Sacha Baron Cohen. "It's progressing slowly because we want to get it absolutely right," Iannucci explains.
Coogan's appetite for work reaches beyond his own career, though. In 1999, he set up his own production company, Baby Cow (an oblique homage to Paul Calf and his blowsy sister, Pauline) with business partner Henry Normal. Over the years, Baby Cow has developed a series of critically acclaimed and highly original television comedies including Marion and Geoff (the show that gave Brydon his break), Nighty Night, The Mighty Boosh and Gavin and Stacey.
Coogan has spoken frankly about recognising a degree of envy for the fact that many of the programmes Baby Cow has backed have enjoyed a success that has eclipsed his own post-Partridge television work in the UK, while still being proud of his company's achievements.
"Steve is very generous as a performer," says Iannucci. "He's always suggesting funny people he's seen, who are unknown. The important thing for him is that the finished work should be as good as possible, and if that means giving someone else the funny line… then he's the first to suggest that."
When not in LA, Coogan is based in Brighton to be close to his 13-year-old daughter, Clare, from a previous relationship with solicitor Anna Cole. His brief marriage to Caroline Hickman ended amid tabloid tales of cocaine-fuelled nights with lapdancers and he was subse quently linked with Courtney Love, but has stated he no longer touches drugs. Since 2008, he has been in a relationship with actress and heiress China Chow.
At 45, his personal life may seem more stable, but he has described himself in previous interviews as having "an addictive personality" and, according to Brydon, he thrives on extremes. "He embraces a life of highs and lows and he likes those extremes. He's happy to reach high and he doesn't mind falling flat on his face."
But The Trip occasionally shows us a more reflective side to Coogan. According to Brydon: "It's about two guys in their mid-forties questioning where they are in their careers and their lives." Does it reveal the "real" Coogan? "It's a fairground hall of mirrors version," Brydon says, enigmatically. "Sometimes it's true, sometimes it's distorted. Part of the fun is working out how close these characters are to real life."
For as long as audiences care enough to keep wondering, it seems that Steve Coogan could be an even more enduring character than Alan Partridge.
THE COOGAN FILE
Born Stephen John Coogan, 14 October 1965, one of six children, to Anthony Coogan, an IBM engineer, and his wife, Kathleen, in Middleton, Greater Manchester. The family also took in foster children.
Best of times I'm Alan Partridge wins 1998 best comedy Bafta. In 2005, he was voted by fellow comics to number 17 in the Comedian's Comedian top 50, three places below his hero, Peter Sellers.
Worst of times In 2007, ex-lover Courtney Love told tabloids she blamed Coogan's lifestyle for his friend Owen Wilson's attempted suicide. Coogan said: "Owen and I have a completely apple pie friendship" and threatened libel action against newspapers repeating her claims.
He says "If you think my comedy stinks, give me both barrels. Otherwise, I'm not going to qualify anything. It's none of anyone's fucking business."
They say "Working with him is like playing sport with someone who's very good – it raises your game. When you watch what he did with Partridge you know it's genius." Rob Brydon
"His show is half as good as it could be – and twice as entertaining as most other comedy shows this year." Dominic Maxwell on Steve Coogan Is Alan Partridge and Other Less Successful Characters
Steve Coogan with his girlfriend China Chow, August 2010. Steve Coogan interview The hideous Alan Partridge made Steve Coogan famous, but far from happy. Now it seems he's in danger of being both.
8 Nov 2010
The room in which I am to interview Steve Coogan is in a basement in the West End of London. For some reason, the room is crammed with sofas – 11 of them in all. It’s like being stuck in a furniture warehouse and about as far from a convivial environment as you could imagine. Yet it proves to be peculiarly appropriate, a suitable setting for Coogan himself.
He arrives fresh off the train from Brighton wearing a porkpie hat with his hair erupting from around the sides and a pair of lightly tinted aviator glasses. Folding the glasses, he puts them on the arm of his chair along with two mobile phones. His cuffs are unbuttoned, his brown cords bagged around the knees. His friend and collaborator Henry Normal once said of Coogan that he ‘feels disconnected from the world – comedy is one way he makes that connection’. A few minutes in his company bear out the truth of this.
Given how regularly Coogan has been turned over by the press, it would hardly be surprising if he was wary, hostile even. Instead, he answers questions readily and generously. But there is next-to-no eye contact as he’s doing so. And it’s not just the eyes. Physically, everything about him seems somehow averted. Twisting around in his chair with his brow furrowed and his arms periodically wrapped around his chest, he stares fixedly out at the rows of sofas.
Recently, he’s been playing Alan Partridge again for a series of shorts on the internet. To his surprise, Coogan says he found himself laughing at Partridge. ‘It’s the first time I’ve done him in years and it’s quite scary how comfortably I can slip back into him,’ he says in his distinctive Mancunian honk. ‘Watching some of the tapes, I found myself laughing at him as a spectator, almost as if I’ve become disconnected from him, although I know that some parts of him are parts of me.’
Quite a few parts, I suspect. While Coogan and Partridge may be poles apart in some respects, they both give off a disconcerting sense of distance, of being walled-up in their own little universes. And it’s not just Partridge. Coogan is shortly to be seen in one of a series of Chekhov shorts that he and Normal’s company, Baby Cow, have made for Sky Arts.
The shorts, featuring Julia Davis, Mathew Horne, Mackenzie Crook and Johnny Vegas, are all good. Coogan, though, is outstanding in On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco. Supposed to be giving a lecture on the perils of smoking, his character ends up telling his audience how unhappy he is and how much he loathes his wife. Behind the shabby velvet coat, here’s another socially maladroit figure boiling over with frustration and resentment.
‘I went to drama school, so I knew Uncle Vanya, but I wasn’t especially preoccupied with Chekhov. But then I saw this translation of this particular play and it just appealed to me. I was quite shocked by how contemporary it was. And I liked that combination of humour and tragedy,’ Coogan says.
Has that always appealed to him? ‘Oh yeah,’ he says, sounding faintly surprised. ‘I’ve always been drawn to discomfort and that limbo of unease you get between comedy and tragedy. Making people laugh one moment and the next making them feel really uncomfortable…’
He breaks off and stares at the sofas for several seconds. ‘I suppose the difference is that now I’m not that bothered about being funny anymore.’ He’s not? ‘Not really. I mean, I still love comedy, but I find myself much less interested in it than I was. In the past, I always used to watch comedy in the cinema or on TV, but these days I’m more likely to watch a documentary.
‘Most of all I don’t want to be bored. That’s why I’d rather do something that has some sort of ambition, that risks failing, rather than make safer, more comfortable choices. If I’m a little bit scared about doing something, then I take that as a good signal.’
His tastes in comedy have changed too, he reckons. As he’s got older – he’s just turned 45 – they’ve become softer, warmer, more human. This was evident in both his last two television series, Saxondale and Sunshine. Not only was the tone gentler than anything Coogan had done before, but there was also more emotional depth.
‘Right now, I think the most avant-garde thing you can do in comedy, in this country anyway, is talk about love. That’s the biggest taboo, far more than being satirical or taking on sacred cows. It’s what really unsettles cynics and intellectuals… People like that,’ he adds, with an audible curl to his lip.
In the past, Coogan has always appeared very conscious of his background, about how exposed it made him feel, and about what he sees as the gaps in his education. While this may have faded over the years, it plainly hasn’t gone away. Without any prompting, he precisely identifies his standing on the social scale – ‘I come from a lower middle-class background’ – and talks regretfully about how he always felt ‘very unmetropolitan’ when he was a boy. ‘I was smart enough to know what I didn’t know, which was the worst of both worlds in a way.’
Brought up in Manchester, where his father worked as an engineer for IBM, Coogan comes from a large family: he has four brothers and two sisters, and his parents also took in a number of foster children. As a child, he used to entertain the family by imitating characters from Dad’s Army and Fawlty Towers.
Can he still remember the pleasure he took in first making people laugh? ‘Yes,’ he says, ‘it’s a universal thing for funny people that playing the fool empowers you. That’s the paradox: you become the most powerful person in the room. I remember that was a good feeling. The feeling of empowerment was what was addictive about it.’ He pauses. ‘Still is in some ways.’
Turned down by five drama schools in London, he ended up going to Manchester Polytechnic School of Theatre. There, he found himself among people who may have been more sophisticated, more metropolitan than he was, but didn’t have his instinctive grasp of comedy.
‘I realised that while these people were very articulate and could talk a good talk, they couldn’t actually do it. I also realised that I had a good ear.
'Going to a grammar school, you mixed with all sorts of different types and I used to listen to how they talked. When I did my imitations, I could sound like someone really rough, or I could sound like a cabinet minister. And I felt comfortable pretending to be all these different people. It gave me an edge,’ Coogan explains.
Soon after he left drama school, Coogan began to do impersonations for Spitting Image, alongside Harry Enfield, Rory Bremner and John Sessions. But although his career was going pretty well, he wasn’t particularly happy.
‘I knew that I’d been written off by the comedy fraternity as someone who just did impersonations. That really bothered me, so I hatched this plan to do a show based entirely on characters, without any impersonations. There was definitely an “I’m good at this and I want respect” side to it,’ he says.
It was while he was devising and performing his character-based show that Coogan felt that he’d really hit upon his own style as a comedian.
‘Prior to that I’d done this stand-up comedy act where I’d done my impersonations. But there was nothing very honest about it, nothing very bold: it was just me trying to be a bit sophisticated. Then when I started doing characters I found I could use various idiosyncrasies from my own character to comic effect. That I could exploit these things, however unattractive they were. Beforehand, I would have been self-conscious about it, but all at once I wasn’t anymore.’
In 1992, he won the Perrier Award at Edinburgh with John Thompson, and then a year later came the first appearance of Alan Partridge on The Day Today on Radio 4. According to Henry Normal, with whom Coogan would go on to found the production company Baby Cow, there’s a point in the early years of most comedians where they step back from the world and see how they can subvert it.
‘When you see a crowd of people jumping up and down at a pop concert, all gloriously in the moment, I don’t think you’ll ever see a comedian there. They’ll all be standing at the sides, looking at how it all fits together,’ he says.
This is true of Coogan. He’s both watchful and detached, as if constantly seeing things through a wry and yet pretty merciless lens. In Alan Partridge, co-written with Armando Iannucci and Patrick Marber, he found his ideal alter ego – a man cut off from any sense of his own absurdity and blithely unaware of what others think of him.
A year after Partridge’s debut, The Day Today moved to television. All at once Coogan was famous, successful and the possessor of a burgeoning bank balance. Looking back, I wonder how fondly he regards that period in his life.
‘Not that fondly really. I was very driven and not particularly comfortable in myself. There was a time in my early twenties when I wouldn’t even go on holiday because I thought I might miss an opportunity. I was so ambitious that I didn’t really stop to think about things, which probably served me well,’ Coogan says. ‘My holy grail was to do a comedy that was as revered as Fawlty Towers, which arguably I achieved with [I’m] Alan Partridge. But I was about 30 by then. That was when everything started to get odd because it was like: “What do I do now?” Once I got the respect I’d wanted, it didn’t make me that happy. It just changed one set of problems for another set.’
We’re not here to talk about Coogan’s problems – I’d been warned to steer clear of his private life. Let’s just say that there were plenty of them and they were related with relish in the tabloids. The general verdict on his behaviour, delivered by those who know him reasonably well – and confidently endorsed by thousands of armchair psychologists who don’t – is that Coogan is the possessor of an addictive personality.
These days, he may be cleaner, healthier and less prone to go bonkers. However, a glance at his recent CV suggests he’s throwing himself into work as eagerly as he once threw himself into… other things.
As well as his Partridge and Chekhov shorts, Coogan is currently appearing in BBC Two’s The Trip, in which he and Rob Brydon play fictionalised versions of themselves going around the Lake District reviewing restaurants. There have also been rumours about an imminent Patridge movie, but Coogan says he doesn’t want to jinx anything by talking about it.
And then there’s America. Over the past few years, he’s been in a number of Hollywood films. While some have been big hits – Tropic Thunder, Night at the Museum – Coogan has never really shone there. Invariably, his name is to be found among a huddle of co-stars rather than emblazoned above the title.
He admits that he made a systematic attempt to crack Hollywood – and admits, too, that it hasn’t gone quite the way he hoped. 'I do bits and bobs really. There have been some things that nearly worked. Hamlet 2, for instance, got great reviews, but didn’t take off.
'Now I look at it as being a nice sort of holiday because it’s someone else’s gig and I’m just a hired gun. It’s quite nice just to turn up and be very well paid for it. I mean…’ He gives a shrug. ‘It’s easy.
‘Part of the problem in this country was that directors wouldn’t hire me because they thought I had all my own ideas. They’d be intimated by me. In a way I’d made a rod for my own back. And that’s still true with British directors in America,’ he says.
‘If I go for an audition for something in Hollywood, which I still do occasionally, and I find there’s a British director involved, I won’t bother taking the meeting. I know exactly what’s going to happen. They’ll tell me how great I am and then not give me the job. It’s easier not to turn up.’
If there’s clearly been some disappointment, Coogan says that his life now is much more balanced than before. He has a steady girlfriend, China Chow, the daughter of Hollywood restaurateur Michael Chow, and a thriving production company. Baby Cow has produced some of the most innovative comedies on British television including Nighty Night, The Mighty Boosh and Gavin & Stacey.
‘I do work very hard, but I don’t leap out of bed every morning. I don’t have the energy for a start. There’s still an element of “Do I have to do that?” about a lot of things, but if something is interesting I pursue it.
'I’m much more conscious of living now than I was. I feel I used to be defined by what I did and now I’m not. Now it’s just a part of me. For instance, I tend to do a lot of non-work things now.
‘I read a lot. I’m currently reading lots of history books because I feel I lack a knowledge of history – but I’m perfectly comfortable admitting that, which I might not have been before. I’m fascinated by the English Civil War. That’s my favourite period of all. When everything was in a state of flux.’
Coogan lives in Hove, near to his 13-year-old daughter. Anyone who has ever been to Hove, who has gazed upon its cream-painted Regency terraces, will know that it is a sedate place – the sort of place where someone who’s taking pains to avoid temptation might choose to hole up. I wonder if he sees his path through life as beset by potential traps he has to try to steer clear of.
He groans. It doesn’t last long but it’s plainly heartfelt. ‘Are you going to reprint all those things that have appeared about me in other papers?’ ‘No, no, no,’ I say mustering some semblance of indignation. ‘I’d rather not talk about it because I’ve been here too many times before. People regurgitate the same old clichés and it becomes like a photocopy of a photocopy of something that’s vaguely interesting. I can see that it’s interesting, but now I behave differently than I used to behave when I was younger. It’s not as if I’ve achieved this nirvana because that’s potty, but…’
Coogan breaks off again. Then he twists around in his chair and, for one of the few times, looks me straight in the eye. ‘Let's just say that I have found a kind of perfect imperfection.’
* ‘Chekhov: Comedy Shorts’ begins on Sky Arts 2 HD, next Sunday, at 9pm
Steve Coogan phone-hack writ against News Int
13 December 2010
By Sarah Limbrick
Steven Coogan has become the latest celebrity to sue the News of the World over claims it illegally hacked into his mobile phone messages. He follows on from former MP George Galloway who filed a writ at the High Court for breach of privacy in August. The latest twist in the News of the World phone-hacking saga comes as the Crown Prosecution Service announced on Friday that there would be no new criminal charges.
Coogan claims the paper and investigator Glen Mulcaire intercepted his voicemail messages, and misused private information in grossly offensive actions. Now he is demanding damages from publishers News Group Newspapers and Mulcaire.
He argues that Mulcaire carried out voicemail interception on an industrial scale, and that documents seized by police had the names, or partial names, of 4,332 people in whom he was interested. Police told Coogan that he was targeted by Mulcaire, who had documents including his mobile phone number, account number, and his password, according to a High Court writ. He claims Mulcaire was paid £105,000 a year for his services in 2005, as well as £12,300 in cash payments from the News of the World, and was contracted to provide research and information.
Mulcaire and Royal editor Clive Goodman pleaded guilty to phone hacking when they appeared at the Old Bailey in November 2006, admitting they had gained access to voicemail messages from three members of the Royal Household. Goodman was jailed for four months. Mulcaire also admitting intercepting voicemails left for Max Clifford, soccer agent Skylet Andrews, Gordon Taylor, MP Simon Hughes, and supermodel Elle Macpherson. News of the World editor Andy Coulson resigned the day that the two men were jailed, taking responsibility for the paper’s wrongful use of phone interception.
Coogan claims that his voicemails were intercepted between February 2005 and August 2006, but says he will not know the full extent of the interception, until he has disclosure from the paper, the Metropolitan Police, and the Information Commissioner.
He claims in the writ that journalists Neville Thurlbeck, Ross Hindley and Greg Miskiw targeted Gordon Taylor’s voicemail messages, along with Mulcaire, and that the paper settled Gordon Taylor’s claim for damages for around £700,000. The paper also settled Max Clifford’s damages claim for a reported £1 million.
Coogan is demanding aggravated and exemplary damages, saying the paper’s conduct was so grave as to merit condemnation by the court, and says the paper has not admitted receiving information from his voicemails, or apologised to him. Coogan seeks injunctions banning the paper and Mulcaire from phone hacking or using information they have already gleaned, and an order forcing Mulcaire to disclose the names of those who instructed him to target Coogan, as well as other details, so that he can also sue those individuals.
He also seeks an order forcing News Group and Mulcaire to hand over all documents and materials containing information obtained from phone hacking, and an inquiry into damages or an account of profits, for misuse of private information and invasion of privacy.
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