Interview: Rob Brydon Takes Us on a New Trip to Italy


When you talk about great filmmaker and actor collaborations, it shouldn’t take too long before you get to Michael Winterbottom and Steve Coogan, who have now made five films together starting with 2002’s 24 Hour Party People. The ones that have really stood out are the three that paired Coogan with Welsh comic actor Rob Brydon, particularly 2010’s The Trip which followed the two comedians around the British countryside as they visited various restaurants and hotels.

It may not be too surprising that the popularity of that TV show–edited down to a movie for non-UK audiences–as well as the fun the trio had making it, has led to a follow-up called The Trip to Italy. As you can safely surmise, it follows a similar journey through the country’s most scenic locations as the duo eat some of the best food they can find, while making jokes at each other’s expense. Of course, there’s way more to the movie than that, because once again, Winterbottom has fashioned a couple of ongoing story arcs into the film.

While Brydon hasn’t broken out here in the States quite the same way as he has in the United Kingdom and isn’t as recognizable here as Coogan, more Americans are becoming familiar with his brand of comedy, particularly his impressions, through these travelogue comedies, and he really gets a chance to shine in My Trip to Italy. spoke to Brydon and Coogan together for their previous two collaborations, but this time, we got Brydon on his own, talking to him on the phone last week and learning what it was like to engineer a sequel that doesn’t just repeat everything that worked the first time. I’m glad we got to speak for this since I’ve spoken to you for both your previous movies with Steve. First time I talked with you, Steve and Michael and the second time was with Steve and you and now it’s just you. Everyone’s dropping off and they’re saying, “Let’s just let Rob answer all the questions.”
Rob Brydon:
(laughs) Excellent. As it should be.

CS: Even more than the last movie, this really feels more like your movie. You have more going on in this one including having a love interest. You get a little more of the focus on this one than the first movie.
That’s right, yeah. Well, that was Michael’s idea and it was nice because it changes the dynamic slightly. It’s essentially the same but there are subtle changes, they being that the time has passed so that now rather than being a content family man, I’m now seeing the restrictions of having a small child at home. I go to Italy looking for adventure, thinking that with Steve I’ll be able to find it, but of course, he’s even more settled down, so that’s great. That gives us a little conflict with a small “c” and then the girl, Lucy on the boat. She had been in the first one as Steve’s assistant, where I drunkenly make a pass at her. All that kind of stuff I love, because it’s great how people react to that. Men and women react very differently. Women generally are appalled and men kind of go, “Yeah, well, you know…” (laughs) It just seems very honest and in the first one, where I make a clumsy pass. There’s nothing cool about it. It was horribly real and I think the same in this one. So that was attractive to me, to get to play that. I think I’m slightly more proactive in this one and not just hitting back so much. So that was a tough bit for me, although having said that, it’s essentially the same just in a warmer country.

CS: You were so judgmental of Steve in the first movie when everywhere you went, he was coming onto any pretty woman he met, so that was a funny turnaround.
Yeah, yeah, I like that. Comedically, it’s good, because it gives you things to play with. I know that there’s quite a few moments there with Steve, some lovely stuff where he’s kind of looking shocked at how I’m behaving, and I like that a lot.

CS: Did this sequel come out very organically? I don’t know how much of it is true in terms of writing article for the Observer or you were just doing it to do a follow-up to the TV show.
No, no, there is no writing. That doesn’t exist. There are no articles. That is entirely a fiction. I mean, the whole thing is a fiction and very constructed. As you may know, the meals take a long time to shoot and we do it three times for each course. This was a case of Michael coming back to us and saying, “I think we should do it again. I think it should be in Italy. I think it should be Byron and Shelley this time. I think as far as details, Rob should be a little more antsy in this one.” So that’s all Michael. He decides the poems we’re going to quote and he decides the restaurants and he decides the Alanis Morissette element. All that is him and then we color it all in, I suppose.

CS: Do you sit down together before shooting to discuss that stuff and Michael tells you his idea so then you can flesh it out while shooting. Is there a lot of preproduction in that sense?
No, no, there’s not a lot of preproduction. We went on a two-day “reccy” (reconnaissance) to a couple of the locations, just had a few meals just to get back together. No, no, we always know that Michael is the author of “The Trip,” far more than we are. He goes away at the end of the shoot with a ton of raw material and he fashions it into what he wants it to be. If there’s stuff we very much dislike, he’ll take it out if we really press our case. But really, it’s his voice that decides the lovely melancholic tone that’s in it. So there’s not a lot from our point of view. I was given a bunch of films to watch, classic Italian or American-Italian movies which I didn’t get around to watching, some of the details about the poets which I didn’t get around to reading, and I was meant to learn the poems, which I didn’t get around to doing. I learned the poems while they were checking the camera to get ready for the scenes. I would just cram the f*ckers in, but that’s just kind of the way I am really, a bit lazy.

CS: I was curious about that because as far as the Byron and Shelley stuff, it sounded like you really knew what you were talking about. But that was the same in the first movie, too, so that all came from Michael Winterbottom’s own interests?
Yeah, I know nothing about them. That’s just acting. (laughs)

CS: Very impressive. You could be spouting stuff that’s completely wrong and people would believe you.
Oh, I know. You can, can’t you? You can just make stuff up and people will probably believe it, yeah.

CS: This is pretty much you and Steve all the way through so when you’re at a specific restaurant with a specific meal being served, is there any sort of direction are you just eating and then one of you throws out something and you go with it? Does Michael tell you beforehand “Let’s do something like this?”
Well, stuff would come up. Sometimes, you’ll hit on something in the middle of a scene that’s unexpected and you’ll start to explore that, but sometimes, it would be stuff that we’d talked about the night before, but generally, for each meal, Michael would know what he wanted us to cover and then if we brought other stuff to it, then it’s all well and good. I’m trying to give you an example now. (There’s a long pause as Rob starts singing “Diddly-dee” and other things while he thinks of an example.) Oh, God, I can’t think. Well, the first meal, I think it was Michael’s idea to talk about Batman again and Michael Caine again and how the voice changed even more than in “The Dark Knight.” Generally, he would say, “We need to talk about this, this and this so it can be linked into this, this and this.” We would just have fun then exploring that and sometimes, stuff would come pretty quickly and other times, it was harder. You’d have to search more for it. But (it was) always enjoyable, because it’s such a lovely way to work, so self-contained and creative, a very small crew and the journey we did from the North to the South is the same as it is in the film. We are improvising a lot of it. It felt fantastically creative and rare in that sense. There’s no waiting in trailers. There are no trailers and we’re in every scene more or less, so it’s quite unique in that sense as an acting experience.

CS: A lot of people who see this movie will assume it’s a straight documentary, that Michael literally just captures what really happened when you and Steve went on a road trip, that you really meet a woman…
I know!

CS: When Steve Coogan’s son shows up later in the movie, I honestly thought that was his real son and didn’t realize it was an actor as is everyone else who shows up in the movie.
Oh, yeah, that’s a young lad who’s an actor. In reality, I have five children and they range from 20 down to 3, but in the script, I have the one child and all kinds of wives, so that’s all created. I’m often surprised that people often think it is a reality show, that they just followed us around and some people say, “I was just appalled by Rob Brydon’s behavior, how he could do that with that girl!” My instant reaction is “Don’t be stupid,” but then I suppose, to the casual observer, we’re using our own names, we’re referencing real things in our careers. Some invented things but a lot of real references, so I suppose in a way, we’re trying to have our cake and eat it. But I like the confusion around that as well. I think that adds to it in a way if people aren’t sure what is real. I think if you like “The Trip,” then that’s one of the things you like is trying to work out what is real and what is exaggerated and what is completely fiction.

CS: Going back to the conversations you two have, at the very beginning, Steve puts down his foot and says “No impressions” but the number of impressions you both do just keeps growing and growing as the movie goes along. You actually get a nice spotlight to do what you do in your shows. Does Steve ever get annoyed and say, “That’s enough of the Rob Brydon Show”?
It’s usually Michael egging us on to do more voices. I would never do that in a million years, be like that, sit there at the table and do these voices. I might do the odd one for pleasure but not like it is in the film, but that’s Michael. It’s quite funny because Michael has this reputation as this very edgy filmmaker but for a lot of the time, he’s like, “Do Sean Connery” or “Do more of this or more of that.” And we’re both like, “Fine, fine, if that’s what you want.” (laughs)

CS: So he’s obviously doing it because it amuses him but he must know that it also amuses everyone who saw “The Trip” to watch Steve acting uncomfortable. He also gets into doing impressions himself quite a bit.
In this one, there’s a lot of him genuinely laughing, which I think is very nice to see as well. I think people get a lot out of that.

CS: These movies are getting out there and people are seeing them, so if you were ever invited to a party and you walked in and already there were Michael Caine, Tom Hardy, Al Pacino and Alanis Morissete, would you go up and talk to any of them or would you be afraid they’ve seen these movies?
Well, I know Tom. Tom is a friend of mine and I’ve seen him since… I’m not sure if it had come out, but I think people had been talking about it in the press and I said that “we do you in it” and he was cool about it. I mean, good God, a career like Tom Hardy’s, I don’t think you’re going to be that bothered with people… I mean, it’s affectionate. I think all the impressions we do are affectionate. The only people I can do impressions of are people I like. It’s that thing about being the sincerest form of flattery. If you’ve become an actor so globally known that we’re impersonating you, then something’s gone very right. I know that Anthony Hopkins has seen it and I’ve met him since we’ve done this and he loves it and he laughs, so that’s great.

CS: From what I’ve gathered from meeting him, Tom Hardy has a pretty good sense of humor.
Oh, yeah. First of all, Tom is really talented and he’s the real deal and he does, he has a great sense of humor, he really does.

CS: Do you get the impression that Michael may want to do these indefinitely, that you just need to find new locations or do you think it’s a limited thing about how long you can carry on doing these?
I would have said previously that perhaps it’s limited, but I think the passage of time is a really important element in agreeing to it. There were four years or three and a half between these two and I love that you can see that we’ve aged. The way I feel at the moment is that maybe in another three years time, it would be nice to do it again because the obvious comparison, although it’s scripted, is “Beyond Midnight” and “After Midnight” and “Sunrise” but this is different. It’s quite appealing actually at the moment the thought of maybe doing another one in a few year’s time as long as we can keep the quality up, which I think we have with the Italian one. It’s interesting to see these two guys coming to terms with getting older and becoming less vital.

CS: It’s also nice that after two movies, these are characters you’re playing, so it’s like a TV show where each new season, you follow where the characters go.
A lot of it is me, but I think of it as a character. I’m able to step back and I say things I wouldn’t say, I do things in it that I wouldn’t do. I say a lot of things that I would say and do a lot of things I would do, but there’s enough of a distinction for me to find it interesting to play.

CS: It’s great talking to you again, Rob, and I hope that one of these days I’ll get a chance to watch the longer television shows, though I do enjoy the movies quite a bit.
I hope you do, too. They’re on DVDs, already out over here, but they have both the episodic and the movie cut versions so there’s loads more stuff including loads of outtakes as well. There’s some quite funny stuff on the outtakes as well that never made it in.

The Trip to Italy opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, August 15.