Steve Coogan may not be a huge name here in the US, but back in his native Britain, the multi-faceted star of TV and film is a household name. Yet here he is, sitting comfortably in the confines of Los Angeles hotel room, promoting his co-starring role in this very updated version of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days.
Well, perhaps it would be more accurate to refer to this version of the classic tale as Jackie Chan’s take on the tale first filmed in the fifties as a David Niven movie. Coogan doesn’t seem to mind being second banana to Chan, nor was he worried about following in the footsteps of some of Chan’s previous Hollywood buddies. “I didn’t really think of it like that. I was more concerned about playing the part of Phileas Fogg and trying to do that justice, than becoming preoccupied with the relationship between me and Jackie’s character on screen. I think sometimes you have to figure it out as you go along and you have to take a pragmatic approach to it and develop it as you move along in an organic way,” the actor explains.
Coogan’s other concern was in making his Phileas a tad too pompous and unlikeable. “Yeah, that’s the big issue in a movie of this nature. However many weaknesses or flaws your character has, he ultimately has to be likeable for the audience to engage in the picture. So yes, that was definitely a concern, but what I tried to do is have a little bit of pompousness because that can be funny and a little bit of pretentiousness, yet at the same time, show underneath a kind of weakness in the character, a vulnerability, and let the audience see that it’s a façade because people respond to that.”
As pompous as he is in the film, it is Coogan who carries the romantic weight of the film, something which surprisingly concerned him, he confesses pragmatically. “I’d done a couple things before like that, so I wanted to try and have enough charm so that when I kiss the girl, people don’t go for their sick bags. So I was concerned that I could pull it off because it’s a tricky thing to do. You have to be funny and pompous, yet have a little bit of charm which he needs to carry that stuff off. It’s a kind of balancing act. I was trying to get the balance right between all those things.”
Coogan remains pragmatic about Hollywood’s perpetual stereotypes of dry British comedy, despite frequent successes of the likes of Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love Actually. “I think that’s true to some extent, but it depends. I think there are lots of different kinds of British comedy. I think there is a dryness to it, but there’s also a very kind of surreal, mischievous element to it. Monty Python is not so much dry as it is just bold, energetic and surreal. But it’s true .there is that dry British comedy,”
Steve Coogan was born in Manchester, England on 14th October 1965. Throughout, Steve’s earlier years, he battled for attention, amongst his multiple siblings. As a child he would impersonate people from teachers to family – this audience appreciation spurred him on to develop his comical skills in the real world. He enrolled in Manchester Polytechnic, studying drama and gained his equity card though stand up comedy, As well, as acting and comedy performing, Steve Coogan is a commended writer. Some of Steve’s comedy/acting credits include Spitting Image, – ‘I’m Alan Partridge’ TV series and recent movie The Parole Officer, and the recent Ella Enchanted.
Coogan says that he would characterise his own humour as observational, “trying to show a kind of disparity between what someone is saying and what they really mean. I think the humour that I like to do is humour that comes from truth, rather than just being gags or contrived one-liners. People often recognize things about themselves in some of the work I’ve done in the past, certainly on TV and see things of themselves in those characters as well as human flaws, and weaknesses. I think those things are funny.”
Now at last, with his big Hollywood action film under his belt, it is Steve Coogan, action star? “Well, I wouldn’t call it a leap to action hero. I did do a little bit of action because Jackie did actually share a little bit. Really, part of the joke in the movie is that I don’t actually do any fighting at all. He does everything, even when it’s behind my back, unbeknownst to me, he’s still fighting. But at the end, part of the joke is, the final scene in the movie, one of the penultimate scenes in the movie, I rescue Jackie. It’s part of the joke of the film is he does all this fighting all the way through and at the very end, in a slightly ham fisted incompetent way, I go back and do something brave for someone else. Because all through the movie, I’m trying to win this bet and he’s trying to get back to his people in Lang Xao.”
Next Up for the intrepid British actor “is a thriller called The Alibi with Rebecca Romijn Stamos.” Talk about diversity!