Comedian Steve Coogan, long known to British audiences for his moronic talk show host character Alan Partridge, along with a slew of other madcap creations, is now making his mark on American audiences. He has a hilarious cameo in Ben Stiller's big budget war comedy Tropic Thunder as the frustrated movie director who drops his actors behind real enemy lines before making a memorable, spectacular exit. Coogan is also the star of Hamlet 2, the indie comedy in which he plays Dana Marschz, a down on his luck actor who has ended up teaching drama at a high school in Tucson. Faced with the loss of funding, Dana comes up with the idea of idea of staging a sequel to Hamlet titled Hamlet 2. The subsequent production utilizes a battery of special effects, a gay men's chorus, and a number called 'Rock Me Sexy Jesus' that's currently burning up the YouTube charts.
Windy City Times spoke with the actor at the end of a long press day but Coogan, brittle, funny and insightful, was still game to talk about his starring role in Hamlet 2. Highlights:
WINDY CITY TIMES ( WCT ) : Did you have a teacher like Dana Marschz your character in Hamlet 2?
STEVE COOGAN ( SC ) : I did. I had a gay drama teacher, head of drama school actually. He was very, very, very effusive and very, very, very emotionally open. Not in a way that was necessarily constructive unfortunately ( laughs ) . He brought a lot of Noel Coward-like angst into class with him. But to be fair, there is a lot of that in the theatre in England anyway. I think Dana has a combination of that theatricality and a sort of West Coast naval gazing tendency as well. Being a repressed English person I really liked the idea of playing someone who was just very literal about the way they felt and passionate and demonstrative and child-like.
WCT: We see Dana in a series of God awful acting jobs at the outset. Have you had some of those I'm sure?
SC: I did a lot of voice overs that I felt unclean about afterwards and would try and shower and scrub my skin red raw. Ironically, I was the voice of Mr. Muscle kitchen cleaner and I'd do a voice for Ford car dealerships and I'd do this straight British voice. I'd also do student voice trying to get students to spend more money at the bank and I'd feel like I was manipulating people. The most fun thing I would do was dubbing the voice of some male model in a TV commercial. Maybe a guy playing a garage mechanic who'd have this ripped body and who would have a terrible voice. So you'd see some hot girl pull up in a car and he'd say something like, 'Do you want a ride?' ( does a cockney accent ) in this terrible voice and I'd have to go, 'Do you want a ride in my car?' ( does a deep sexy voice ) . They wanted his body and my voice.
WCT: The character of Rand, the drama queen, has an unrequited crush on Dana and Dana helps Rand find himself.
SC: In an indirect way. Skyler ( Astin – the actor playing the role ) was great with that. He really, really committed and his character is similar to Dana's – he's sort of annoying but you also really do care for him and you like the fact that he comes to term with his sexuality and learns to accept what he is. And it's done in a genuine way, there's nothing cynical about it.
WCT: He does accept who he is and you end up seeing him in a pink shirt going all out in the 'Rock Me Sexy Jesus' number.
SC: Rand, who is like 20, would come up to me and say, 'Why don't you try this?' and at first I was like, 'Who is this guy to make suggestions to me about what is funny' and then I realized that what he was saying was fantastic.
WCT: What did he suggest?
SC: Just a lot of tiny, nuance things about the character and then I'd run it by the director, Andy Fleming. He had great insight.
WCT: I want to know about working with the Gay Men's Chorus of Tucson who provide the solid foundation for the musical numbers in the movie. Did they ask you to join?
SC: No. And they're not actually the Gay Men's Chorus of Tucson. They were a gay men's chorus but not from there. They were the real deal. They were strangely conservative in their disposition but when they were singing when we were shooting it was quite delightful and really set the tone. I think my favorite part of the movie is when they're singing the Elton John song 'Someone Saved My Life Tonight.' It's a really touching moment and I know for Andy ( Fleming ) the director it meant a lot.
WCT: Let's talk about Tropic Thunder for a moment.
SC: I disappear 20 minutes in and it gets better from that point on ( laughs ) . I've got two or three pretty funny scenes and then, as you know having seen the film, I exit in style. I really do and that makes people laugh a lot. It's a far more guttural movie than Hamlet 2 but it's relentless and it's great. A lot of the humor in it is industry, 'in' humor but it doesn't suffer because of that.
WCT: It's a real tour-de-force for Ben Stiller.
SC: Yes, yes indeed. There are moments and jokes in it that you can't believe you're seeing in a $200 million dollar movie. You think those are the kinds of things you only see in weird, twisted, brilliant independent films.
WCT: Like Hamlet 2, say ( laughs ) ?
SC: I wouldn't be so churlish to disagree with you ( chuckles ) .
WCT: I want to ask you briefly about your Alan Partridge character who I've adored since you parodied Kate Bush's 'Running Up That Hill.'
SC: No jokes necessary. You don't even need to change the lyrics. I just sing the lyrics and act them out ( laughs ) .
WCT: You're going on tour with the character is that right?
SC: Yes, and six others – including two new ones.
WCT: Any gay ones?
SC: Yes. I play a gay rent boy called Keanu Reeves. He changed his name by default to Keanu Reeves because that's one of the people he likes. He has very, very modern hair and wears low cut jeans and scarves and stuff and he stares and tries to look pale and interesting all the time and introspective. He's normally on something and is a compulsive liar. I did him in two episodes of a series I did called 'Saxondale.' He's going to open the second half of the show. Keanu Reeves gets a guy up onstage – the straightest guy possible – and says things like, 'Why do you pretend you don't recognize me after all the nights we've spent together' and then he sings a song about why this guy should come out and tell his family because it will be better for him.
WCT: That sounds great. When is that happening?
SC: October 1st is the first gig.
WCT: Will you come through Chicago?
SC: It's a possibility. There's enough people in America, underground people, who know my stuff and would show up, so it's possible.