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Interview with Hamlet 2’s Steve Coogan

Written by: Mike Caccioppoli, Feature Film Critic

ImageCC2K's stalwart film critic Mike Caccioppoli recently sat down with Steve Coogan, the star of Hamlet 2, in which he plays a high school drama teacher in Tucson, Ariz. Coogan also appears in Tropic Thunder and is well known for his portrayal of talk show host Alan Partridge on the BBC.

Mike Caccioppoli: Have you ever known someone like Dana Marschz, your character in Hamlet 2?

Steve Coogan: Well, yeah, I think so, I mean being in the entertainment industry there are plenty of flamboyant, kind of extraverted type guys, especially in Hollywood. People that wouldn’t survive very long in some backwater, people that really are larger than life.

MC: People that are has-beens or never were anything to begin with?

SC: Sure, for every successful actor there are about fifty that are still waiting tables. There are some very enthusiastic, passionate people who don’t really have the talent to back it up- it’s kind of a tragedy.

MC: We’ve seen a lot of inspirational movies about teachers and students; your film is a kind of parody of those films is it not?

SC: It does do that but it kind of becomes an inspirational film at the same time, it makes smart choices about where it wants to take its characters. It’s not a super cynical film, I think it’s a smart, edgy film that’s still a feel good film in the end.

MC: As a writer of comedy do you sometimes question the material that you’re presented with, maybe second guess it?

SC: Well sometimes you do but there has to be a limit to that, you have to like the screenplay to begin with. But Andy (director Andrew Fleming) was very willing to accommodate different ideas. He also did a great job of letting me know when to stop trying to be funny and to make a scene more real. He made sure we nailed the dramatic stuff as well as the funny stuff.

MC: You’ve played so many different eccentric characters but you are well known for playing Alan Partridge, are you afraid of being pegged as “the Alan Partridge guy”?

SC: Well that may be the case in England but in the States people don’t know my very well so I don’t have that issue here. If people recognize me here it’s from independent films such as 24-Hour Party People. Working with people like Ben Stiller and Sofia Coppola, they take my body of work into account so I don’t really worry about being typecast in the States.

MC: I see that you are really keeping busy these days; do you find it necessary to work all the time?

SC: Well, I have periods of quiet; you can’t keep going all of the time because people can get sick of you. You don’t want to stop having things to say. Right now it’s one of those periods where everything seems to be coming together and happening at the same time.

MC: Without getting too much into your personal life I have to mention that there’s been a lot of press regarding your former drug issues, does seeing it in the papers bother you?

SC: Does it bother me? Yes, a little bit, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I just have to get on with what I do, and do my job. The reality is that everyone isn’t always going to say positive things about you. Unless something is particularly slanderous I just have to ignore it. I’m judged by my peers and by the work I do. I know what I’m good at and what I can control, and that’s what I focus on.

MC: Do you enjoy writing more than performing?

SC: That’s an interesting question. When you do live performance it’s an incredible buzz, an incredible feeling. It’s great to not have any filters. The writing process is a pretty close second. When you’re in a room and crafting something from nothing, that’s also a real thrill. Collaboration is really enjoyable when it comes to writing.

Red band trailer for Hamlet 2

MC: Looking at a few of the characters you’ve played it seems as though a common thread is that these guys are at a point in life where their best years might be behind them, they are sort of tragicomic characters.

SC: I’ve always found that playing characters that are damaged in some way is rewarding. I wouldn’t know how to play a guy that is the coolest or smartest person in town. I always seek out characters that have some sort of issue or dysfunction. If your audience laughs at a gag it’s one thing but if they laugh at something they recognize, you get a deeper laugh, a laugh from the gut. They go “that guy has shown me something from my life.” The audience doesn’t always have to like you; it can be off putting when an actor tries so desperately to be liked.

MC: Not to get too Freudian here, but it really seems as though you could be talking about yourself, and your personal life.

SC: That’s fair enough. Some people are so desperate for approval. It’s OK that I’m not liked by everyone all the time. I used to need that but I don’t anymore. As long as I’m not boring. I don’t want to come across as bland, or dull. If you try to make something that pleases everyone, it can end up being boring.

MC: Is your work better because of your prior problems, has it actually helped your work?

SC: I don’t specifically draw from my life. However anything that happens in my real life, good or bad, I know that it can be useful. Of course it has to be relevant to other people. I also watch what happens around me with other people as well.

MC: How do you feel about the comparisons to Peter Sellers?

SC: I thought Sellers was an interesting guy, but a much bigger fuck up than I am. He was kind of sociopathic in a way. He was a very, very tormented man, without much objectivity about his own life. He wasn’t a writer, and I think that was bad because he needed to be constantly fed material, he couldn’t create himself which made him vulnerable. I really enjoy writing, there is a humility that goes with it and that’s a good thing. It makes you more workmanlike, it’s the closest thing I do that can be compared to an honest days work. Sellers was a very funny guy, a great character actor but he died when he was fifty-three and I hope I have a few more years after that.