This world loves bickering buddies. From Laurel and Hardy to Jay and Silent Bob, there’s plenty of fondness for comedies built around caustic and amusing back-and-forths between two people that, at the drop of a hat, either want to kill each other or cuddle. Michael Winterbottom, the man responsible for “Welcome to Sarajevo” and the harshly-and-unjustly-criticized “The Killer Inside Me,” saw gold in the relationship between his star Steve Coogan (“24 Hour Party People“) and friend/comedian Rob Brydon and amplified their personalities for “Tristam Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story.” The result was a riot, and things went so well that the three reunited for “The Trip,” a BBC2 series and movie.
The entirely improvised show aired in the U.K. in a six-episode arc, and the movie (which is essentially the series in 70 minutes) is being released by IFC Films on June 10th, but it’s currently rolling out at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival. Loosely plotted, Coogan is recruited by newspaper The Observer to tour the north of England and review particular high-brow restaurants along the way. The gig’s taken as a way to impress his foodie American girlfriend, though she bails on him and he reluctantly asks Brydon for accompaniment. Structurally, the film is a series of vignettes in hotels, restaurants, touristy spots, etc. made up of humorous quarrels and various instances of each funny-man one upping the other. We reviewed it earlier and really dug it, calling it “hugely enjoyable and wickedly funny” and were even taken by the emotional weight within, labeling it “a surprisingly moving portrait at loneliness.”
The Playlist had the pleasure to partake in a pleasant conversation with the two leads, Coogan and Brydon, and we spoke about the two different versions of the piece, their improv styles, and their future plans for these exaggerated personas. They also, of course, found time to take the piss out of one another.
The Playlist: Was there anything that was left out of the movie-version that you miss? Do you prefer one over the other?
Rob Brydon: Yeah, but you can’t fit everything in, stuff has to go. There are several moments that I’m fond of, but you know, that’s the nature of the beast.
Steve Coogan: I think it still works in a different way, it’s more cumulative. It builds over the course of the film, whereas the episodic nature of the TV series meant that you got these bite-sized chunks, and that some of it works better in that respect. But, I had a friend who saw it here and preferred it as a film.
It does work surprisingly well as a film considering it’s whittled down from a much longer TV series.
Coogan: Well, Michael did conceive it on the outset to be both a movie and a TV series. He chose something that wasn’t elaborately constructed so that he could assemble these two things. So I don’t think he would see it as cutting down anything, it’s more like getting everything we shot and figuring out how to make a episodes out of it, and then taking the same and working all of the bits into a movie.
Brydon: It’s all just raw material: it’s like having a mound of clay, you might make a jug but then you could go and then make a bowl.
Coogan: You better be careful being ironic like that.
Brydon: I was actually being quite serious. That’s exactly what it is, you know, you’ve got the raw material…
Coogan: It’s just when you got specific with the joke. It sounded ironic.
Brydon: It bears scrutiny. Doesn’t it?
In the same sense of losing scenes or bits you loved from the series to the movie, were there any bits that didn’t make it to either, such as certain impressions?
Brydon: Not really, in fact, I think we exhausted our repertoire of impressions.
Coogan: We did Al Pacino a lot… I was like, aye yaye yaye… we took one out in the movie version. Michael took a note of ours, which was simply “Get rid of that other Al Pacino.” It’s funny when he does it a lot but then it comes to a point when it’s just enough, it’s not that funny anymore.
Brydon: I remember seeing the Pacino thing and knowing there was too much with it, and I know that’s the joke that I do it all the time, but you know… is it coming across that there’s something wrong with me?
Coogan: I like the fact that you do impersonations at my parents’ house… and they look slightly uncomfortable.
Brydon: Yeah, I did it a lot. When we’re shooting, because of the improvisatory nature, you just throw in a lot of stuff and then it’s created and crafted in the edit. I think the way I work is a bit different than Steven, I think he edits more as he goes along. I tend to just throw a lot of stuff out there and know that it will be edited.
You edit yourself?
Coogan: Well I think Rob’s right, he lets himself go more, I overthink it slightly, trying to see how it will play out.
Brydon: He would often stop things while we were filming if he wasn’t happy with something. I would rarely do that, I would just keep going and say that we’d think about it in the edit. But Steven’s more likely to make decisions as we go.
Did that ever cause conflict?
Brydon: Yeah, definitely, because I’d get angry when he’d stop things. He’d go “That’s not going to make it,” and I’d get cross because I felt that he had broken it, and I would never do that to him if he were in the middle of a thing, but, you know, it’s not a big deal. But if I thought the same, as I sometimes did, about something Steve was doing, I wouldn’t.
Coogan: I’d see it sometimes as wasting time, or just, I guess that’s just my character.
Brydon: The way we are in the movie is broadly speaking true. The seeds of that are there, not to the extremes but the kernel of truth is there. So there’s an example of it, where I would be nicer and I wouldn’t cut him off, whereas he would with me. But the whole thing is under this umbrella of mutual respect and affection for each other. The real relationship is softer, warmer, we would not argue about the merits of Wales versus the North of England, and we certainly wouldn’t get into a big competition about impressions.
Coogan: I mean we do spar and take the piss out of each other, but it’s done in a more fun way. But the “fun” element isn’t as interesting, it would look too smug on screen. It needs a bit of conflict.
Brydon: I think that we’ve sort of discovered over the years on how our screen relationship works. It has elements of our real relationship but is different, like I’m a bit more vacant and happy than I am in real life and he’s a bit more curmudgeonly and pompous than he is in real life. But there are smaller versions of that that are true.
Coogan: We’re acting out what we know to be true, and cranking it up.
This is the second go for you two – the first being “Tristam Shandy” – are you looking to do a third?
Coogan: We might be [doing] one more in a different form, but we need to rethink or reinvent it. We don’t want to make a habit out of it, no.
Brydon: It went down really well in the U.K., so they want us to do more, but I think the three of us need to sit down and figure out what to do. Would we not just be repeating ourselves?
Coogan: I’d like to do something else with Michael before we do something like this again. Because I think that would feel like we’re doing it too soon.
Brydon: One of the reasons we were wary of doing it – and we had many meetings before we even agreed to do it – was that we were concerned about it being self-indulgent. We’d already played “ourselves” a few times before, and there’s a feeling of… if I do it again, am I saying – “Look at me, look at how fascinating I am!” – which is something I certainly don’t think. I’d love to do something scripted where we play characters that did the same thing – same dynamic.
“The Trip” will hit theaters this summer on June 10th, VOD on June 22nd and is currently playing at the Tribeca Film Festival.