Questions for Steve Coogan
The star of The Trip talks about the difficulties of playing himself, his disdain for impressions, and his love of a talking-dog video.
Coogan: Not especially. It was Michael's idea. He liked what Rob and I did in Tristram Shandy and he wanted to build on that, and I was slightly reluctant and I wasn't sure there was a lot of mileage in it. But he invented this reason that I would go around the country reviewing. It's not something I would ever do, if a magazine asked me to do that I'd just say no. For the purposes of The Trip, I said I was kicking my heels, and it embeds a reason for us to be together on a journey. We don't talk about the food that much, to be honest. Michael originally intended that we would. But we talk about art and creativity and our lives.
Slate: I only remember you talking about that one drink that looks like snot.
Coogan: That's the full extent of my culinary critical faculties.
Slate: Even though you're not interested in food, I've read that you've been cast in Good Vibrations –about the influential punk rock record store owner Terri Hooley. This is the second time you've done a film about the U.K. music scene—the first being 24 Hour Party People, which was about Tony Wilson and the Manchester-based Factory Records. Do you have a great interest in music?
Coogan: I do, but I'm slightly out of date.
Slate: What do you like to listen to?
Coogan: Guitar bands, all the bands that are retro sounding. Like Kings of Leon. What I don't like is dance music or hip hop or any of that sort of thing. I'm basically an old fart when it comes to my music tastes. But yeah, I'm sort of stuck—I like the Smiths and the Talking Heads and Radiohead.
Coogan: We're writing it at the moment, and we're shooting it next year. It's going to be shot in England. We haven't cast it yet, apart from me.
Slate: Are you glad to go back to that character? Does it feel like a regression, or does it feel like you can do new things with it?
Coogan: We're feeling excited about it. I'm doing it with Armando Iannucci and Peter Baynham. Peter is in America now and has been writing a lot with Sacha Baron Cohen, but he's come back to work on this. And Armando has been off doing his own thing. But we're sort of reunited for this because we did some webisodes, these series of short episodes, 12 of them that we put online, and they were a big success in England. It was kind of a way of road-testing the character, and we realized it does work, so we're very happy about that. And it whetted our appetite; we realized there was more left in the character.
If it was the only thing I was doing, then yes, I would probably be a bit paranoid, and feel like I was doing a revival tour, like a band. But we're creatively juiced up about it and we think it's funny, and I still like the character despite its success.
Slate:Are you more interested in your cult failures than the things people are really jazzed about? Or do you not pay attention to critical reception or popularity?
Coogan: I do a bit. I did a character called Saxondale that I really loved and had fairly good crits, but didn't capture the public imagination the way Alan did. But I still like that character as much as Alan, and that has a kind of cult following. I also have a cult following in the U.S., and people mention that series, and I like when people mention that series. But the thing is, Alan is a character I still like, but it's not like I'm going to do it forever. It feels like this is probably the last hurrah, and I'm working on other things. Less comedy. I'll always do some sort of comedy, but I'm working on more dramatic things, I'm writing.
Slate:Can you talk about those things?
Coogan: There's a Paul Raymond project I'm doing with Michael Winterbottom that's being written at the moment by Matt Greenhalgh, who wrote Nowhere Boy, about John Lennon, that's something I'm pretty excited about. I'm doing a film with Julianne Moore and Evan Rachel Wood in New York in August called What Maisie Knew, and I'm excited about that.
Slate: Based on the Henry James novel?
Coogan: That's right, based on the Henry James novel. I play the ex-husband of Julianne Moore and the sort of tug of love over Maisie. I'm doing a film with, ah crikey … Nick Broomfield! [He's] directing a film. We're doing it in October in Tanzania with Stephen Dorff. Those kind of exciting things I'm looking forward to. They're serious roles.
Slate: Though Tanzania with Steven Dorff sounds like a Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas scenario, on the surface of it.
Coogan: It's set in the Congo in 1960s, I play a writer, he plays a member of the CIA.
Slate: Finally, what's the best thing you've seen on the Internet this week?