Interview – Steve Coogan

Steve Coogan blew through Seattle to promote his latest film, Hamlet 2, in early August. I had the pleasure of talking to him not just about that film, but his work with Michael Winterbottom and his television creations for the BBC. A small portion of that found its way to “A Moment With… Steve Coogan” on the Seattle P-I.

On his screen persona:

I think there’s going to be a common denominator in a lot of the comic characters I play. I always gravitate towards characters that are inadequate and lacking self-consciousness.

On how Dana is different from his other screen characters:

Dana’s more of an innocent who is also quite emotionally open. He wears his heart on his sleeve. But there is another big difference: The Dana character believes in art and creativity. He believes that he can genuinely make these people’s lives better through his efforts. There’s a certain moral compass to the world of Dana Marschz that I think doesn’t really exist for Alan Partridge.

On his busy schedule of acting and writing and creating TV shows:

It’s the only thing I’m really very good at — it’s what I do — and I like it and I try not to be complacent about it because there’s still a kind of paranoia that I might be one day unemployed, so I’d better keep working and keep busy. I don’t know what else to do. I stare into the abyss unless I’m working.

I also talked to him about what he’s been watching on DVD for MSN’s “What’s in You DVD Player?” series:

Steve Coogan in "Hamlet 2"
Steve Coogan in "Hamlet 2"

What’s in your DVD player?

I have a kid so I watched Monsters, Inc., and I saw Harold and Maude, the Hal Ashby movie that I showed to a pal the other night. I saw a Henry Fonda film called The Wrong Man, which is a Hitchcock film, and a movie called Once, an Irish movie, an independent movie. I’ve seen it twice now and I’m kind of in love with it.

I take it that a lot of your film watching is on DVD.

Yeah, I do. I have one of those pay-per-view things with like 500 movies you can choose from and I still find myself thinking, “There’s nothing here I want to watch.”

There aren’t a lot of classics on those channels, and you seem to like the classics.

I sometimes like to watch an old movie through the perspective of the present to see the attitudes and perceived values of its time. I like to educate myself with what’s been out there. A lot of people, especially people in the industry, are surprisingly ignorant of their film history, which they ought not to be if they’re in this industry. It’s like doing homework, a very enjoyable homework.

But the lion’s share of the interview can be found at Parallax View:

You made two films with Michael Winterbottom, 24 Hour Party People and Tristram Shandy. There had to be a lot of challenges on those two films, where there were so many levels of engagement with the character, and then stepping back and commenting on the portrayals.

With Michael Winterbottom, in those films, there’s a very simple thing I do that I don’t do in other films and other work I do. In other films I do, especially comic films, there’s a lot of control and craft involved in what I’m doing, whereas in those movies with Michael, I trust him enough to, if you like, let go of the controls and see what happens. And I’m never quite sure what I’m doing and that’s quite liberating because I can trust him. So I just sort of forget about almost everything and go with whichever way the wind blows and whichever way he pushes me and just dive in and don’t think about it too much. It’s just an organic, instinctive thing, there’s not much of an intellectual process going on for me in those movies. When I’m talking to the camera, I’m just talking to someone about what’s happening to me. I don’t over think it, I trust him. It’s a very different way of working.

In addition, you write and produce so many of your own projects for television. Do the Winterbottom projects give you a chance to stretch yourself in other ways?

It does. It allows me to because I don’t have the responsibility for what I’m doing, which is quite liberating, as long as you trust the person you’re working with and trusting them to be responsible. It enables me to do things I wouldn’t normally do because it’s a way not, even though I’m proud of working with Michael, it’s not my voice, it’s not my vision, it’s his and I’m just there to facilitate that and to help render that, which is nice, whereas when I’m doing my own stuff it is my point of view, it’s from me.

Read the complete interview here.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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