Steve Coogan: “If you get it wrong, you look like a total dick.”
HAMLET 2 directed by Andrew Fleming, written by Pam Brady and Fleming, with Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener, David Arquette and Elisabeth Shue. An Odeon Films release. 94 minutes. Opens Friday (August 22). For venues and times, see film times.
Steve coogan is finally breaking out.
A comedy superstar in the UK after creating the hilariously abrasive talk-show host Alan Partridge, Coogan channelled that character's uninformed pomposity into a proper acting career as the star of Michael Winterbottom's brilliant 24 Hour Party People and Tristram Shandy: A Cock And Bull Story.
On this side of the Atlantic, though, his career has been a little spottier. Art-house audiences noticed him opposite Alfred Molina in Jim Jarmusch's Coffee And Cigarettes, but his first starring vehicle was Disney's atrocious update of Around The World In Eighty Days, in which his Phileas Fogg played second fiddle to Jackie Chan's Passepartout. Oh, and he voiced a snake in the forgotten Anne Hathaway fairy-tale comedy Ella Enchanted.
Things are better now. Just seen in Tropic Thunder as the overmatched director Damien Cockburn, Coogan has a proper starring vehicle this week in Hamlet 2. He dons a convincing American accent to play Dana Marschz, a failed-actor-turned-Arizona-drama-teacher who dreams up the titular musical to save his job and, possibly, start coping with some massive childhood issues buried deep in his subconscious.
"It appears to be cynical, and satirizes those inspirational-teacher movies, and yet it becomes one at the end," says Coogan on a Toronto press stop, looking fit and comfortable in a T-shirt and trousers.
"The audience laughs at Dana, but halfway through the film they sort of become him - they start to see through his eyes. It's edgy and clever, but not cynical, and neither is the character, so at the end it's actually quite life-affirming without being cheesy."
Playing a bruised innocent is well out of his comfort zone, but Coogan saw it as a challenge.
"I'm used to playing characters who are dislikeable, generally. I made my name doing that. So I didn't know if I could pull off playing a character who's vulnerable and innocent. He's naive and stupid but has a good heart.
"What's hard is to make the audience like my character in a conventional way," he continues. "That scares me, because if you get that wrong you look like a total dick. You say to the audience, ‘Please like me,' and they go, ‘No, you're genuinely not likeable.'"
If Hamlet 2 doesn't vault Coogan onto Hollywood's comedy A-list, he can still look forward to a healthy career of supporting performances in movies like the Night At The Museum series (yep, his tiny Roman centurion will appear in next summer's sequel) and last week's blockbuster, Tropic Thunder, about which it's impossible not to ask for his opinion.
"To my mind, it doesn't quite have the charm of Hamlet 2," Coogan says, "but I think it's probably funnier. Tropic Thunder is so fucking laugh-out-loud funny - it's machine-gun from beginning to end. It's an avaricious movie. You sort of gorge on stupidity - clever stupidity."
On his need to constantly challenge himself:
On the appeal of the "Hamlet 2" screenplay:
On watching Tropic Thunder: