Steve Coogan has a flight to catch to Hawaii, to shoot his latest movie project with Ben Stiller. It could have been a short hop of a journey from Hollywood, an interlude from the round of partying, networking and hanging out that is considered the right of those who, like him, enjoy international recognition for the work they have done in front of the camera. Coogan, though, has spent much of the previous week in a courtroom in London, not as a result of more excesses with lap dancers and cocaine, but because he has been honing his favourite comic creation, Tommy Saxondale, who, in a new series starting this month on BBC2, finds himself in the dock. The comedian says he was astonished to see in the lobby of the courtroom a panel listing former High Sheriffs of Surrey that included Penelope Keith and Richard Stilgoe.
While filming, he has been staying in a hotel by the Thames, an establishment more refined than Alan Partridge's motel and one where staff have resisted the temptation to serve Coogan's food on an oversize plate. For an hour and a half, he sits at a picnic table in the hotel grounds, still wearing the hair extensions that transform him into Saxondale - a rock roadie turned rodent-exterminator, fighting to reconcile his self-image as a counter-cultural child of the Sixties with his reality as a bearded pest-controller in small-town Hertfordshire - and explains his dedication to making British television comedy.
"More than ever, I now appreciate being able to do interesting work in television. It matters to me. You can be blinded by the lights of Hollywood, especially when you think there's this pot of gold somewhere. It's not healthy. Saxondale stops me selling my soul, basically."
In part, Coogan's willingness to stay away from LA and write television scripts day after day in the office at the top of his house in Hove is due to frustration with the fact that Saxondale, weighed down by the public hunger for a new incarnation of Partridge, has not enjoyed the ratings that its creator feels it merits.
"I was a bit disappointed that [the show] didn't capture the public imagination. If people have a certain expectation and it doesn't immediately fulfil that, they look at something else. You don't get an immediate fix of visceral comedy within the first 10 seconds [of Saxondale]. It really rewards application if you listen to it and pay attention. There's lots of layers in there and lots going on," he says. "He is my favourite character, because for me he's more complex than any of the other characters I have done."
The second series is the result of nine months of working with his co-writer and executive producer Neil Maclennan, who lives nearby, and joins Coogan in the task of smothering the office walls in Post-it notes of ideas. "In the end, there's no substitute for sitting down and putting the hours in. It's a good discipline to write every day for several months and take your time over it. The office looks out over my back garden and beyond that to Sussex cricket ground, and we occasionally hear cheers and 'Howzat!' when we are writing. The cheers are not for us, though - I wish they were."
This is not to paint Coogan as a twisted funny man grinding his teeth in frustration at the humourless masses who fail to appreciate his talent. How could he feel unloved when he has three feature films in the pipeline? What's more, he is a pragmatist and a student of the science of comedy. According to Henry Normal, his business partner at Baby Cow productions and friend of 20 years, "comedy is somewhere between mathematics and music - there's a rhythm to it".
Coogan understands that a multi-layered character such as Saxondale - who is at once a wit and a bore, a rebel in suburbia, a man of principle and a prig - is going to be a bit rich for some sections of the comedy audience. "The British have an opposition when you try to be at all intellectual with your comedy - there's a deep mistrust and suspicion of that. They say, 'Just be funny, don't try to be clever.' But we wanted to do comedy that was about something, have the character articulate something about the baby-boomer generation that is now getting old and disconnected with the world. Nobody has properly articulated that."
Saxondale, Coogan says, is a metaphor for a world in flux, where the members of those generations that grew up with a common disgust for the Vietnam War or the policies of Margaret Thatcher now don't quite know where to vent their spleens. "When Tony Blair walked in to Downing Street with an electric guitar 10 years ago, it confused everything," he says. "The war in Iraq... it wasn't a Conservative government that oversaw that war. It's complicated and confusing. It isn't clear-cut. That's what Saxondale is about. It's slightly directionless anger."
So in series two we see Tommy welcoming squatters to his Stevenage neighbourhood, warming to these kindred spirits until his more conservative midlife instincts surface. "Although he's not a Trotskyist or anything, he empathises with the squatters because he imagines them to be like a last bastion of opposition, although they're just a load of drug addicts and stoners. He wanted to like them, but when he went round to the house... oh my God, they were just grotesque. He told them to tidy up and pull themselves together." The scene recalls an episode from the first series, in which Saxondale is confronted by a group of aggressive animal-rights vigilantes and responds by shooting one of them, Dirty Harry-style, with his pellet gun.
Coogan breaks off for a second to retrieve a ball for some children playing nearby. The day after the Saxondale wrap party he is no longer sporting a beard - he has shaved it off in order to play a second character in the series, a camp and hare-brained raver living in high-rise squalor. "He's a gay Mancunian heroin addict, an anorexic Emo guy called Keanu Reeves who changed his name by deed poll and wears different coloured winkle-pickers." Playing both roles meant that Coogan had to use a false beard for part of the filming. "It's quite hard shooting a scene where you have to have an argument with yourself."
Coogan had, of course, hoped that Saxondale would take off of its own accord, and chose to do minimal publicity for the first series, perhaps not entirely convinced by his own work. "The last series came out during the World Cup, which didn't help. But I didn't put my head above the parapet. Now, I believe it's a good show and I will say it to people."
At least the Americans are taking notice. The NBC network has a format deal with Baby Cow and an American version of Saxondale has already been written. Coogan believes the Mustang-driving lead character is likely to resonate with US audiences. "There's an American element to him. We were going to call the series The Wild One - the slightly romantic view of the lonesome cowboy who survives by himself. He has an American heart. When he drives down the A1M, he thinks it's Route 66."
Then there's the fact that, in the US, Coogan isn't laden with the legacy of Partridge. "The American critics were slightly less encumbered with preconceptions about me. It wasn't as if Alan Partridge was a huge hit in America," he says of the favourable response to the first series of Saxondale after it ran on BBC America. Even so, Coogan is aware that the market for British comedy in America is still niche, although it is popular in key Hollywood circles. "It's kind of a culty thing, but a lot of the comedy establishment like British comedy. Matt Stone is a big fan of Alan Partridge and loved The Day Today. Ben Stiller is a fan of my stuff, as is Jack Black."
He and Larry David have such a mutual appreciation that Coogan appears as a psychiatrist in the new series of Curb Your Enthusiasm, which might make Ricky Gervais a little jealous. Coogan weighs the merits of British and American comedy. In the US, he says, there is a "rigorousness" and "consistency" to the work that results from the many tiers in the commissioning process. But this is a "double-edged sword" and the lack of such safety nets can allow a quirky gem of a British production to make it to air.
"In Britain sometimes, if the programme controller likes something it gets commissioned. That would be anathema to the Americans, because ultimately it's all about the bottom dollar. This country's comedy at its best, at its absolute best, is better than theirs, to be honest, because you have these almost aberrations, where events conspire every now and then to make these programmes where someone likes it and gives them a break, and you get something like Little Britain or The Office. But America does have rigorousness and they're just more organised."
When Coogan is in LA, he only tends to get recognised in "cool record shops" such as Amoeba, which has a section dedicated to his DVDs. His standing in such circles was raised by his role as Mancunian impresario Tony Wilson in Michael Winterbottom's film 24-Hour Party People. He is working with the director again on Murder in Samarkand, a film based on Craig Murray, the outspoken former British ambassador to Uzbekistan. "It's about people's human rights violations and torture." Not exactly a rib-tickler, then. "That's where you're wrong, you see - not ordinarily, but Michael will find a way."
Murray, says Coogan, is "recklessly truthful" and "heroically flawed", the sort of well-intended but slightly damaged character that he relishes. He is playing a "self-delusional" American high school drama teacher in Hamlet 2, directed by Andrew Fleming, and even confirms his interest in a film version of the life of the inept skier, Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards. "That's a very real project that I'm attached to. When and where I don't know, but it is real. It's out there and there's a script and a director."
Yet another flawed character, a media professional, very nearly took the place of Saxondale, he reveals. "Myself and Neil developed two characters in tandem. The other was much more of a contemporary character, a journalist-stroke-TV presenter. A very edgy, zeitgeisty, über-trendy, post-modern, smart, savvy... annoying character."
Coogan, at Maclennan's behest, even wrote an episode in which the character - "Bill Cookson, I think we were going to call him" - gets excited at a dinner party when he listens to a rap album and hears a real drive-by shooting. "It's that slightly odd fascination with deprivation and danger that grammar school and university boys are attracted to, but don't actually want to be part of... trying to be very hip and with-it, but underneath very conservative." There are few of us in the media who might squirm a little if this character ever makes it to television, not least among them William Cook, The Guardian's comedy and TV writer.
It wouldn't take a shrink or a television critic to work out that Coogan's fascination with complex characters who aim high but end up getting burned is partly based on his own mixture of experiences in the limelight, mercilessly and mirthlessly documented in the Sunday tabloids. He says obsession with flawed personality, or at least Schadenfreude over a fallen star, is a "national sport". As with comedy, there is a marked difference between Britain and America, and again it is a "double-edged sword". The "Brave New World Soma-taking" adoration of anyone successful that he experiences in Hollywood contrasts with the endless complaining that he notices as soon as he returns to the UK. "We've got much better bullshit-detectors in this country, but sometimes it makes you think that everything is bullshit and you end up living a cynical life."
With Tommy Saxondale, however, he thinks he has found a character with an essential truth. "I wanted somebody I could tread a line with, to try and do something that isn't done very often, which is a character who is likeable in some respects and objectionable in other respects, and is complex like human beings are complex, rather than just a ridiculous, contemptible comic figure. Unlike other characters I've done, he's funny and he knows he's being funny. But he's also a jerk sometimes. I like the fact that you think he's an ass and then suddenly you engage with him and think, 'He's speaking for me'."
At the age of 41, Coogan is too young to be a baby-boomer and too sharp to hanker for slippers and a semi in Stevenage. Surely, he's more the edgy, zeitgeisty Bill Cook-type? But listen carefully and even this most ground-breaking, unconventional comic creator has a streak of Middle England among his own multi-layered identity. "I've been staying in this hotel and I said to Neil, 'It's very relaxing. There are no trendy people here, there's no people who are edgy or zeitgeisty within a two-mile radius.' And that's really nice. Ten years ago I would have said, 'Look at this place, it's full of Surrey Daily Mail readers, aren't they annoying?' I suppose I'm getting older."
The Normality Behind Coogan 'I like a cup of tea and an Eccles cake'
Henry Normal is sitting in the Oxford Street office of the media company, Baby Cow Productions, that he founded and runs with Steve Coogan. Friends from their days on the comedy circuit in Manchester, the pair both live in Brighton and Hove, though Coogan is at one end of the city and Normal at the other. Coogan says of their relationship: "We don't socialise, but we have deep, deep mutual respect and total loyalty."
The comic characters they have carved out are not inspired by nights of boozing - Steve has had to find the company for those elsewhere. "I don't socialise with anybody, it's as simple as that," says Normal. "When I'm at home, I exist in another world, a bit like an astronaut who works in space. I like a cup of tea and an Eccles cake and I like to watch television and films."
In the office Normal is another person, overseeing a slate of comedy hits that includes The Mighty Boosh (shortly to start filming a third series), the award-winning Julia Davis sitcom Nighty Night, and Ideal, which is about to begin its fourth season ("It's the best piece of work that Johnny Vegas has ever done").
Normal thinks outside the box, particularly where "box" means television. He is overseeing a YouTube-based project, Where Are The Joneses?, some 100 bite-sized episodes showing a deranged woman's mission to locate her 27 half-siblings from a list obtained in a sperm bank. The film project even pays its way with a sponsor's logo at the end of each clip. "Ford have put up all the money," says Normal. "Yes, she drives a Ford S-Max, but I've got to say we've had no instructions from Ford to feature the car." Not that he is unqualified in his praise of YouTube. Excerpts of other Baby Cow shows have been placed there illegally, he says. "A lot of people have worked very hard on those shows and the idea that they become public property - I don't agree with that."
Coogan has used Normal's Nottingham accent for the character of Tommy Saxondale. "You could think that, with a 50-year-old bloke who likes progressive rock and speaks with a Nottingham accent, Steve might be tekkin' the mick," says Normal. "But I don't do pest control. At least not as a day job."
A new series of 'Saxondale' begins on BBC2 at 9.30pm on Thursday, 23 August
That's interesting to hear that he will be in the enxt series of Curb. I'm sure that did get up Gervais' nose for sure - but then, Coogan is lesser known in America so he will probably be accepted easier in the role.
The good, the bad and the ugly The comic gave us the brilliant Alan Partridge, but has had decidedly mixed reactions to his film career while his private life has been both colourful and sordid. As his TV series returns he's still desperate to prove himself Sean O'Hagan
Sunday August 19, 2007
Writer and producer Patrick Marber once said of his friend Steve Coogan: 'Fame and wealth are not enough for Steve. He wants more than that. He wants to be brilliant and be perceived as brilliant.' It is to this end that the 41-year-old Coogan, fresh from a fertile spell in feature films, returns to our television screens this week in the second series of Saxondale, a bittersweet sitcom in which he plays an ageing, drug-damaged ex-roadie who now works as a pest-control officer. He also has two feature films in the pipeline and is considering playing the lead in a biopic of the ill-starrred English ski-jumper, Eddie 'the Eagle' Edwards, but it is the success of Saxondale, which he also co-wrote and produced, that seems important in terms of his need to be perceived as brilliant.
As Coogan creations go, though, Tommy Saxondale has not thus far captured the public imagination in the same way as his most famous alter-ego, Alan Partridge, who is now embedded in the collective psyche alongside the likes of Basil Fawlty and David Brent. Ratings for the first series were respectable; the critical reception mixed going on muted. 'It really rewards application if you listen to it and pay attention,' Coogan said recently of the sitcom. 'There's lots of layers in there and lots going on. He is my favourite character, because he's more complex than any of the other characters I have done.'
While there is no doubting the complexity of Coogan's latest character study, a lovable but spiky loser who is less grotesque than Partridge but just as lacking in self-awareness, the show is an oddly uneven affair that, on the evidence of the first series, has still not found the right tone. Having forsaken the outright cruelty that underpinned the best of his previous creations - Partridge, the uncouth Calf siblings, Paul and Pauline - Coogan seems to have stumbled in his attempts to create a more rounded, less monstrous character. It has not been for the want of trying.
'It was extraordinary to watch him at work,' says an actress who worked with him on Saxondale. 'He has this brain full of ideas that just keep on developing even at the point where he is speaking the lines on camera. They just keep shooting and let him go with it. You can see the wheels madly turning. It's like watching an eccentric genius in full flow.'
The result, though, sits somewhat uneasily between a character drama and an observational comedy. There is much to admire here in the craft and in the attention to detail, but little to laugh out loud at. Could it be that the man who once quipped that his ambition was to enjoy 'a Woody Allen unfunny period' could now be experiencing that very thing: the beginning of a comic hiatus?
Like Allen and the late Peter Sellers, the tortured funny man with whom he is most often compared, Steve Coogan is a comedian with pretensions to seriousness and a few well-publicised inner demons. For a while back there, amid the lurid tales of cocaine-fuelled infidelities with topless dancers, it was easy to forget that this was the man who invented an entire comedy genre, the peek-through-your-fingers-with-embarrassment style of humour that began with Coogan's inhabiting of the Alan Partridge role and reached an apogee of sorts with Ricky Gervais in The Office
It would not be overstating the case to say that Coogan is as important and influential a comic performer as anyone since Tony Hancock or Spike Milligan. Like them, he changed the way we laughed at the world. Like them, he is a man for whom that towering achievement is not enough.
Born Stephen John Coogan in 1965, in Middleton, a small town just north of Manchester, he was one of six children in an Irish-Catholic family. His parents also fostered children. In this overcrowded childhood, the young Steve became an attention-seeker, a show-off, discovering, in the process, that he had a natural gift for mimicry and impersonation.
His ambition was there from the start, too. 'I used to say a prayer,' he later confessed. '"Please God, make me rich and famous and I will be nice to people".' After a spell at Manchester Polytechnic studying drama, Coogan drifted into stand-up comedy as well as doing voice-overs for commercials and for Spitting Image, in which he mimicked Margaret Thatcher and Neil Kinnock as well as Mick Jagger. At the Edinburgh Festival in 1990, Coogan met Marber, who offered to produce his stand-up show. Two years later, he returned to Edinburgh and won the Perrier Award.
The first real sign of his special gift for comedy came with the Radio 4 show, On the Hour, which featured the debut of the fledgling Alan Partridge, a local sports reporter whose reliance on cliche was matched only by his lack of specialist knowledge: 'Faldo takes position... he holds the long bat thing in his hand, in both hands now.'
'Someone once said of Sellers that he had that ability to change his metabolism when he went into character. Steve has that same gift,' says his one-time producer, David Tyler, who first worked with Coogan on Spitting Image and later on Coogan's Run. 'What is unique about him in contemporary terms is that he has the observational skills of the best stand-up comics and the acting skill to become the character in the situation rather than just relate it to you.'
On television, Marber and Coogan turned Alan Partridge into that rare thing, a more grotesque and yet even more believable archetype, the sports reporter-turned-TV-chat-show-host-turned-local radio presenter, whose opinion of himself grew more inflated with every career twist.
Over two series - Knowing Me, Knowing You and I'm Alan Partridge - Marber and Coogan's creation entered the collective consciousness to the point where Coogan, like John Cleese before him, was regularly accosted by people shouting Partridge's catchphrases at him.
It was around this time, too, that Coogan began to impinge on the collective consciousness in a more unexpected way. In 1996, his name appeared in a tabloid headline accusing him of cheating on his pregnant girlfriend. That girlfriend, Anna Cole, ditched him, but they live near each other in Brighton and share bringing up their child, Clare.
The distinctly Alan Partridge-style revelation from a topless dancer that she had made love to Coogan on a bed littered with £10 notes was ironically referenced in the postmodern plot of A Cock and Bull Story, Michael Winterbottom's tricksy take on Laurence Sterne's classic novel, Tristram Shandy, which starred Coogan as a philandering actor.
In 2005, Coogan divorced his wife of three years, Caroline Hickman, and found himself almost immediately at the centre of another tabloid scandal when rock star Courtney Love announced that she was pregnant with his child after a fling. Love also claimed that Coogan was 'a fucking sex addict' with 'a major substance habit'. Though the words 'pot' and 'kettle' immediately sprang to mind, Love's outburst seemed to confirm the rumours that have long circulated in London's media hangouts regarding Coogan's after-hours appetites. 'Some of it was true, some of it was bollocks,' he told GQ recently when quizzed on the Courtney Love story.
Where, then, does all this leave Steve Coogan's career plan? Having worked with Winterbottom on the patchy 24 Hour Party People and in A Cock and Bull Story, in which Coogan and his onscreen sidekick, Rob Brydon, seemed way too pleased with themselves to even bother acting, Coogan will star in the director's forthcoming film, Murder in Samarkand, a human-rights drama based on the life of Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan. That need to be perceived as brilliant still seems his prime driving force.
Coogan's future may well lie across the Atlantic. Baby Cow, the company he runs with his current co-writer, Henry Normal, has signed a deal with NBC to produce an American version of Saxondale. Over there, Coogan is a cult star, with hip fans such as Jack Black and Larry David, who has just cast him as a psychiatrist in the new series of Curb Your Enthusiasm. He is also set to co-star in a Hollywood remake of The Persuaders alongside Ben Stiller, another high-profile Coogan fan.
When I rewatched Coogan recently in both Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes, in which he played a version of himself, and Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, in which he acquitted himself well as a chief courtier, he seemed somehow too familiar to convince. This may be the peculiar predicament he finds himself in with British audiences as he continues to pursue two overlapping, but conflicting, careers.
In Hollywood, however, he carries none of that Brit-com baggage. And, if even half the tabloid stories about him are true, it is a town that perfectly suits his temperament. Like Sellers, he may thrive there. Let's hope the cost is not as high.
The Coogan lowdown
Born Stephen John Coogan on 14 October 1965 in Middleton, near Manchester, the son of Kathleen and Tony Coogan. He has a daughter, Clare, with ex-girlfriend, Anna Cole, who lives near him in Brighton.
Best of times - The rise and rise of his greatest creation, Alan Partridge, whose catchphrases 'Aha' and 'Knowing me, knowing you', entered the British collective consciousness. In 2005, a TV poll to find the Comedians' Comedian placed him in the Top 20 funny men of all time.
Worst of times - The various tabloid exposés that began with the story that he had been unfaithful to his pregnant girlfriend in 1996, continued with the news that he had bedded a topless dancer on a mattress scattered with notes amounting to £10,000, and reached a nadir of sorts with Courtney Love's kiss-and-tell account of their two-week sex marathon. Last year, a tabloid claimed he had slept in a brothel.
What he says - 'If you catch me preaching fidelity while I am shagging chickens, then throw the book at me. Otherwise, leave me alone.'
What others say - 'I'm not in love with Steve. But we are still really close. He's not that great at calling back sometimes, but he calls a lot. It's amazing we're still together.' Courtney Love, 2006
How Hollywood turned on poor old Alan Partridge Courtney Love points the finger at Steve Coogan over film star Owen Wilson's suicide attempt? She has to be kidding, right? By Neil Norman
02 September 2007
Considered by many to be the natural heir to Peter Sellers, Steve Coogan is determined to raise his profile in the US as a prodigious creative talent. Recent events have conspired to raise his profile though not, perhaps in the way he might have wished.
While Coogan's prestige as a screen performer is rising, with roles in movies ranging from Around the World in 80 Days to Night at the Museum, he has made some enemies along the way. Notable among these is Courtney Love, the rock singer-cum-actress, with whom Coogan had a two-week affair resulting in her alleged pregnancy. Both have subsequently denied the rumours though Miss Love clearly harbours a grudge against Coogan, if her latest allegations are anything to go by.
In a candid outburst to US Magazine, she claimed that Coogan bore some responsibility for the recent suicide attempt by their mutual friend, Hollywood actor, Owen Wilson. This will come as a surprise to those who believed that the sole reason for Owen's actions was the break-up with his girlfriend Kate Hudson, Goldie Hawn's daughter, and the subsequent pictures of his ex kissing her new inamorata, Dax Shepard. Love's claims are not necessarily reliable. Her own lifestyle has been far from blameless and she clearly has an agenda concerning Coogan that may have coloured her attitude and prompted her outburst. Coogan's lawyers have described the allegations as "entirely false and without foundation".
Nevertheless, Love went back on the offensive on Wednesday night by turning to reporters outside her Hollywood home. "There's just some people who are good influences and some people who aren't good influences," she fulminated. "Hopefully the guy [Coogan] leaves us alone in this town and goes back to Brighton, or wherever the hell he's from and just maybe stays there."
The scandal – if that is what it is – could not come at a worse time for the British comedy star. Even if they are unfounded, the allegations threaten to leave a taint that it would take a bigger star than Coogan to overcome. Hollywood, contrary to popular belief, is a forgiving place. Many bankable stars in the past have been brought back into its mink-lined embrace after being caught with their pants down, or excessively powdered nostrils.
For Coogan, it could prove more difficult. He is a British star on the make in Hollywood, a comic actor whose genius is widely acknowledged in the UK but is only just starting to make waves in America. He has not yet reached the stage where he is scandal-proof. What's more, Ms Love knows that and has timed her accusations to perfection. Moreover, Coogan is a self-confessed womaniser with two long-term relationships on the rocks plus a string of affairs. In 1996 it was claimed that he had been unfaithful to his pregnant girlfriend, Anna Cole, who subsequently dumped him.
This was followed by the tale of a topless dancer who claimed that they had made love on a bed strewn with £10,000 in ten-pound notes. In 2005 he divorced his wife of three years, Caroline Hickman, only to be caught up in the Courtney Love two-week bonkfest and the ensuing pregnancy scandal.
Coogan is also incredibly ambitious and his greatest dream is to conquer Hollywood and become a bona fide movie star. "Fame and wealth are not enough for Steve," said his friend, writer and producer Patrick Marber. "He wants more than that. He wants to be brilliant and be perceived as brilliant." Coogan's Hollywood friendships, with Ben Stiller, for example, will carry him through a few tough headlines and his appearance in Stiller's new film, Tropic Thunder, from which Wilson has pulled out, should cement their collaboration.
It remains to be seen if his new Hollywood pals will rally round him and keep him from serious career damage. Clearly, it is a tough time for Coogan and the ranks of Hollywood's A-listers will be divided. The Wilsons (Owen and his two brothers) are well liked, and Coogan may find himself excommunicated from the Church of Tinseltown if there is any substance in the allegations.
Steve Coogan is to star in a new comedy movie called Hamlet 2. The Saxondale comic will start shooting the film in New Mexico on September 17, ready for release in the autumn of 2008.
The plot revolves around a teacher who tries to save his school's drama department by writing and producing a sequel to Hamlet. Andy Fleming, who directed this year’s Nancy Drew film, will direct and co-write the script with Pam Brady, who previously worked on South Park and Team America: World Police.
Catherine Keener, from the 40-Year-Old Virgin, has been signed up to co-star, Variety reports.
More details have emerged of the Alan Partridge movie script that Steve Coogan is working on. The plot of the proposed film has the inept presenter attempting another comeback from local radio, only to have his ambitions thwarted when Middle Eastern terrorists hijack the BBC offices.
Coogan has written some dialogue, but has said he is not sure whether he wants to revisit his most famous creation. ‘Part of me wants to do it, part of me wants to do other things,’ he said in a recent interview. According to today’s Sunday Times, lines from his negotiation with the terrorists include: ‘Your position is that you want to destroy the West. The West’s position is that, broadly speaking, they don’t want to be destroyed. Is there a midway between those two positions that could satisfy us both? Rather than suicide bombings, you achieve so much more with a sternly worded letter.’
Playwright Patrick Marber, whose early collaborations with Coogan included The Day Today, has also been working on the script, but the pair put their plans on hold following the London bombings, for fear the screenplay would appear in bad taste. Actress Felicity Montagu, who plays Partridge's PA Lynne, said last year: ‘There was a lot of talk about it, but then the London bombings happened and it got put to one side. I'm sure Steve will write an Alan Partridge film eventually. But for the moment I don't think it's happening.’
And back in 2005, Armando Iannucci, who helped Coogan create Partridge, said he did not want to be involved in any movie spin-off, saying: ‘Steve wants to do an Alan Partridge film, but I couldn't bear to go through that again. For me, the idea of spending two more years in a room with that voice is more than I can take.’
Hollywood studio Universal at British production company Talkback Thames are said to be willing to bankroll any Partridge movie.
This will be brilliant I'm sure as long as the original writing team are in control - though it's a shame Ianucci isn't up for it, but the character is already well developed so maybe it's not that important.
I really enjoy the Alan Partridge stuff. I hope he goes forward with it. Just reading the article about him and Courtney Love. She is a complete whack job. One would wonder if she is sane when she is speaking considering her history. Still, Coogan's history with women doesn't seem to be too good, but it doesn't change the fact that he is a funny guy. I can't stand lots of Hollywood jerkoffs, but love some of their acting, so ya just can't take that away from them. ;-)
It's no joke — free TV doesn't 'get it'
February 14, 2008
AFTER flirting with a film career and Hollywood in 24 Hour Party People, Around the World in 80 Days and A Cock and Bull Story, British comedic actor Steve Coogan has returned to his home ground of television. In Tommy Saxondale, he's brought yet another antihero comic creation to life — but just what is it about Coogan's work that has never seen it get a decent run on Australian free-to-air TV?
The characters of Coogan, including Paul Calf and Alan Partridge, reside in a pay TV and DVD wonderland, patiently awaiting appreciation via word of mouth. In the '90s, Coogan's Alan Partridge character was one of the brightest stars on British television. Partridge, the obnoxious, socially inept radio and TV chat show host stumbled his way through a ramshackle (fictional) career. In Knowing Me, Knowing You , with Alan Partridge, the Abba-obsessed narcissist even managed to accidentally shoot one of his guests.
The relative success and acclaim of other media-savvy shows of the time, Frontline and The Larry Sanders Show, should have guaranteed KMKY, and its sequel I'm Alan Partridge, at the very least an out-of-ratings summer run here. The Seven Network belatedly ran both shows, but programmed them either close to or after midnight — and I swear, even then once previewed the upcoming KMKY over the preceding movie's end credits with a voice-over that intimated the show was an actual Parkinson or Enough Rope-style talk show, not a parody of the genre. No, it seems free-to-air executives in this country consider self-reflective satire to be David Tench Tonight, or (shudder), Eagle and Evans!
While Coogan's comedy lacks the immediate catchphrase appeal and sledgehammer innuendo of a Little Britain, the actor himself also appears to be marked as deficient in the demographic appeal sought by the ABC — whose audience you'd think would appreciate his style. Contrast the ABC's desire to seemingly screen everything ever produced by the trio of Robson Green, Dawn French and Martin Clunes.
The ABC has a chequered past with "difficult" Britcoms that ultimately become, if not mainstream successes, at least cult classics. The Office, The Royle Family, Ali G, the "slacker-comedy" Spaced — go right back to The Young Ones; all shows that gathered dust for years before finally being screened. Even now they have the challenging animation Monkey Dust and the "stoner-comedy" Ideal (also produced by Coogan and Henry Normal through their Baby Cow company) languishing with little fanfare on ABC2.
In contrast, pay TV, in particular UKTV, has been a champion of Coogan's shows. Maybe it's down to their long-term relationships with program distributors; perhaps UKTV can afford to take more risks with comedies considered left of centre. In reality though, Saxondale is a mainstream character-based sitcom set around the day-to-day existence of 52-year-old Tommy Saxondale, a roadie back in the '70s with rock dinosaurs such as Deep Purple and Genesis, who has settled down in the London commuter belt with his own business, Stealth Pest Control.
A wardrobe consisting of Wrangler Pro-Rodeo jeans and Dunlop Green flash pumps ("easy to wash the inner soles") is matched with the hairstyle of a "weeing tramp". He's a self-styled free-thinker and maverick — perhaps prone to just a little too much reminiscing of days "sucking Cuban rum from the snakeskin boot of the Nazareth drummer".
The legacy of a messy divorce seems to be a temper that presents itself in fits of rapid blinking, nervous twitches and disdainful social commentary. Committed to anger management classes, these group therapy sessions (chaired by a SNAG who is a cross between the curly-haired actor Alan Davies and Andy's carer Lou from Little Britain), are run in the children's section of the local library. They form wonderful character-defining vignettes that open every episode.
In Tommy there are shades of the tactless David Brent (The Office) and the social awkwardness of George Roper (Man About the House, George and Mildred). He seems to have landed on his feet with girlfriend Magz (Little Britain's Llanddewi Brefi barmaid Myfanwy, Ruth Jones). She makes a quid selling T-shirts depicting historical figures smoking dope. His apprentice of sorts in the pest control game is Raymond, repeatedly subjected to graphic tales of Tommy and Magz's sexual role-playing.
With only a few episodes to go, UKTV is continuing straight into series two.
Steve Coogan is to tour for the first time in a decade. The comic will be playing a string of live dates this autumn, under the title Steve Coogan Is Alan Partridge and Other Less Successful Characters. So far, 40 dates have been announced – click here for the schedule.
The show boasts ‘a show featuring the characters that have made him a Bafta and British Comedy Award winning comedy legend’ – so is likely to include the likes of Paul and Pauline Calf. Coogan’s last live show, the 1998 tour The Man Who Thinks He’s It, played 200 performances and was seen by 350,000 people. Tickets for some of the shows go on sale on Monday.
Brilliant! £30 is a bit bloody steep, but I'll give it a go for sure. I've never paid anywhere near that for a live show but I'm pretty certain I won't be disappointed.
I have rapidly become a CYE obsessive, and I think the Coogan episode was one of the less brilliant ones. I can't bring myself to say it was bad, but it lacked something. Coogan wasn't really right for the role, he just seemed to be playing a hairy, wealthy therapist version of Alan Partridge, especially where he lies really unconvincingly to Larry, and his eyes dip and he scratches his face nervously - that is right out of the Partridge episode where Alan is lying to the police officer after stealing a traffic cone.
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