Except for the few who caught him in Michael Winterbottom’s brilliant Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story or 24 Hour Party People, not many in America know who Steve Coogan, is. Other than, perhaps, as the guy who got Courtney Love pregnant, or the guy whom Courtney later accused of driving Owen Wilson to a suicide attempt. Both charges have been denied so often by Coogan that I hesitate even to bring them up.
All this is about to change, however, since Coogan is appearing in two huge movies this month. (Not to mention his performance in the recent Finding Amanda, the only reason to see that movie.) Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder opens this Friday; it’s followed August 22 by the Sundance smash Hamlet 2. By the end of the month, one imagines, he’ll be basking in the kind of adulation he’s received for years back home in Britain, for his TV shows featuring brilliant comic inventions like Alan Partridge and Tommy Saxondale. Americans will finally know who Steve Coogan is.
Or will we?
You’ve got two movies coming out this month. Do you mix them up when you’re discussing them?
Not really, no, ’cause I’m a big part in a small movie and a small part in a big movie, so it’s easy to distinguish, really.
Do you have any preference?
Obviously I like the one where I’ve got the bigger part, but Hamlet 2 is totally different. Tropic Thunder [in which he plays a talentless British director overwhelmed trying to make a Vietnam War movie à la Apocalypse Now] is kind of like a shotgun assault on the senses where you’re dying laughing at the end of it. Hamlet 2 [in which he plays a talentless drama coach in a Tucson high school trying to restart his career by mounting a musical sequel to Shakespeare’s play] is a bit more uplifting in a kind of life-affirming, feel-good kind of way.
So you think Hamlet 2 is more the feel-good movie?
I think so. There’s more warm fuzzy stuff.
It’s the least ironic character of yours that I’ve seen on screen.
That’s true. There’s a lack of cynicism about him, and that’s why I wanted to do it, to see if I could pull it off. Also, I like the fact that it’s smart and it’s got that edginess, but at the end, it becomes the thing it satirizes. It satirizes inspirational teachers and sort of becomes one at the end.
I actually thought the production of the Hamlet sequel was pretty good. I mean, it was better than Sweeney Todd, for example.
There are lots of disjointed bits that were written but that didn’t end up on the screen. I remember in an earlier draft there were lots of TV monitors on the stage showing excerpts from Smokey and the Bandit in the middle of the sequel to Hamlet, which I really liked, but it didn’t make the final draft. But lots of people have said they would like to see the whole play. Be careful what you wish for.
Do you think there are significant differences in taste and in what is acceptable between America and Britain?
It’s not really such a huge leap, but of course there are certain tonalities you’ve got to be aware of. One thing, for example, is the profanity of the C-word, which is a real no-go area in American comedy, whereas in Britain we use it like confetti.
Confetti being the c-word.
Why would you want to become a big hit in America? Think of the loss of privacy.
I got over that a long time ago. It goes with the territory. I’ve got quite a thick skin. As far as America goes, I’m not over here saying I want to succeed at all costs. I’ve got quite a comfortable living back in the UK. I do jobs based on my gut instincts about whether I think it’s interesting and whether I think it’s funny.
If this one is a big hit, they’ll ask you to do Hamlet 3.
I think that sounds terrible.
Well, welcome to Hollywood. Do you have any interest in doing the original Hamlet?
Not really. I’m too old. You have to be in your 20s for Hamlet. In your 40s, doing kind of angsty self-searching looks actually really tragic. Maybe you could do a midlife-crisis Hamlet, but who the hell wants to see that?