Exclusive: Steve Coogan Puts on Hamlet 2


There’s a semi-funny story behind this double helping of Steve Coogan talking about his new comedy Hamlet 2 in case you want to hear it. If you read last week’s interview with director Andrew Fleming and co-writer Pam Brady, you know that this writer has seen the comedy a ridiculous number of times. One of those times was back in March when Coogan attended ShoWest in Las Vegas to preview the movie for theater owners and afterwards, ComingSoon.net sat down with the comic actor for a few minutes. Since that wasn’t really long enough for a decent interview, we decided to try and get more time with him when he came to New York in June but that was done “on camera” as they say in “the biz.” Put them together and you have a somewhat complete interview that can be read/watch in either order, but probably makes more sense if you read/watch them in chronological order.

The movie gives Coogan a chance to deliver an outrageous performance as Dana Marschz, a former actor now a high school drama teacher in Tucson, Arizona who has to put on a show to end all shows in order to save his drama program. That production is a controversial and outrageous musical sequel to Shakespeare’s great tragedy called… you guessed it… “Hamlet 2,” a production that brings together Marschz’ brown-nosing star students and a bunch of Mexican kids forced into taking his class.

So first, here’s our interview from back in March after the movie was screened for movie theater owners in Vegas:

ComingSoon.net: How did Andrew approach you to play Dana Marschz? It’s obviously a very distinctive character.
Steve Coogan: Yeah, he didn’t. My manager showed me the script and said, “What do you think of this? I think you’d be really good for this.” I think there’s was meandering around and had been stuck in development hell and I met Andy and Pam Brady, and I read it and loved it, so I wanted to do it. I met them and said, “Hey, what about me?” And I think it was just like whether anyone would make it funny, that was a question mark. I think they were considering me and taking me seriously, but I don’t think I was the only person in their minds for a while and I wanted to convince them. I met them and tried to make them laugh, so they’d give me the job because I liked it and thought it was funny.

CS: Did you have a lot of the characteristics of the character in mind?
Coogan: I thought I had an angle, and I felt that approximately, I knew what to do with it. I felt like I wanted to… no one’s ever certain about how well they can do something, but I felt that instinctively I wanted to do it, and I generally go on my instincts. They were trying to get someone to stop at the moment to do it, and Eric Eisner, who was setting up his new company, got familiar with my material. One thing I do have is I have a box full of stuff from England that shows what I do for anyone that wants to see it, even though I just started becoming known in the industry a year or two ago. Eric convinced himself that he was only going to make the movie with Steve Coogan, which was really good for me, and he was quite loyal to me. Not Andy and Pam, I’m sure there were other people out there who would have readily made it with someone else maybe.

CS: How long ago are we talking about?
Coogan: Well, I first met them two or three years ago? Yeah, about three years ago.

CS: Was there a lot of improvisation involved where they could just let you go and then choose if they wanted to use that stuff later?
Coogan: Sure, there’s lots of little improvised ideas, like me getting my pants off and stuff like that. That wasn’t in the script. I thought if I could get a laugh, I’d do it, so stuff like that was improvised. Doing things like being very emotional in the middle of a scene and trying a couple of emotions to make people laugh, that was an idea really. That had occurred on set. Can it be really emotional and be funny? Would it detract from the comedy or make it funnier, so there was a lot of stuff we tried out like that.

CS: The character is a lot more flamboyant than what we’ve seen from you in the past. You tend to do a lot more deadpan or downbeat humor, and this is almost the opposite of what you normally do.
Coogan: I like to move around and I like to do big… I like Jack Lemmon, he’s someone I really admire and he was able to do big performances and be truthful. I do very naturalistic stuff—and I don’t think this is not naturalistic—but I’ve done more downbeat characters but I wanted to do something that was more of a performance but a truthful one and something you can really get your teeth into and have some fun with it. Anything that stops you being pigeon-holed I like to do.

CS: As far as working with Andrew, did you generally do different versions of your lines with different levels of bigness?
Coogan: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yes, we would alter the tone. Sometimes I’d say, “Should I take it down? Should I take it up?” I tried stop it getting too camp, sort of veering into being too effeminate, tried to pull it back a bit, just ground it slightly but not lose the theatricality, but try to keep it real.

CS: I also wanted to ask about your next movie with Michael Winterbottom as well.
Coogan: It’s not really being shot right now, but it’s going to be shot. It’s one of two movies, but I’m definitely doing something with him.

CS: But it’s not going to be another comedy?
Coogan: There’ll be comedy in it, but I don’t think his films are ever big comedies or big dramas, that’s why everyone never knows what to do with them, but it’ll be another one of those.

And here’s our second interview with Coogan done back in June, a day after the weekend comedy battle between Get Smart and Mike Myers’ The Love Guru and the sad death of George Carlin (just to put you back in the right mood and setting for the interview):

Hamlet 2 opens in select cities on Friday, August 22, and then expands nationwide on August 29.