Andrew Dipper

The Trip To Italy: Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon Q&A

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Four years on from Michael Winterbottom’s foodie travel series The Trip, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are back, this time to eat their way around Italy.

Starting in Liguria, Coogan and Brydon head south to Tuscany, Rome, Amalfi and on to Capri as they talk about life, love, work and the many faces of Al Pacino. With an extra helping of impressions from Brydon, and – thankfully – a dollop of compassion from Coogan, The Trip To Italy is a televisual treat that looks even more scrumptious on the big screen.

This Q&A, screened live to over 180 cinemas across the UK, sees the pair talk about their Mediterranean jaunt, re-uniting with Winterbottom, their relationship on and off set, growing old gracefully and more.

Let’s go all the way back to how the whole first Trip come together; Michael Winterbottom, director – he saw you messing around and bonding on the set of [2005 film] A Cock and Bull Story?

Rob Brydon: I wouldn’t say bonding!

Steve Coogan: Messing around, yes.We were shooting A Cock and Bull Story and there’s a certain amount of improvisation anyway. We were doing what we call wet weather cover which is when it’s raining and you can’t shoot outside – so you have to do something else.

Michael [Winterbottom] said, ‘Let’s shoot something in the make-up trailer, and we just started improvising with each other in a sort of acrimonious, cankerous way, which is an extension of sort of what we’d do when the cameras weren’t rolling – and it sort of took off from there. This is where Rob takes up the story…

Brydon: Steve’s absolutely right. That’s what happened, and when we finished shooting that film Michael had an idea for another little bit which ended up on the end credits where we’re sat watching it and doing impressions, so that was that.

When it came out I think those two scenes were the ones that people commented on and most liked – and then three years later he took us out to lunch and told us about the idea for The Trip, and we both recoiled. He said, ‘Six and a half hours, mostly improvised.’ I said, ‘Six and a half hours? We could maybe, on a good day, get one half hour – but six?’ So we said no.

Coogan: We said no a lot. And he kept on us, saying, ‘We should do this.’ And I think we had breakfast at a West End hotel and I said, ‘Let’s just do it. Why don’t we just do it? We’ll see what happens. It won’t be terrible if Michael does it – it’d just be an interesting failure.’ So we gave in in the end and agreed to it.

Brydon: The thing that was nerve-wracking about it for me – the uncertainty of it – became part of its appeal because you weren’t quite sure what it was going to be. All the plot stuff was worked out, and some of the plotty scenes were written, but huge chunks weren’t. When we first sat down for the first one, which is where the Michael Caine stuff happened, we didn’t really know what was going to happen.

Coogan: If I could just take up the story, we were very concerned early on that… What I didn’t want to do – because I felt it had been done a lot in Curb Your Enthusiasm and Extras of course – was [do] celebrities satirising, which I felt was kind of a busted flush. If it was just going to be, ‘Get a load of us being cool laughing at ourselves’ I didn’t really want to do that, and Michael promised us it would be more than that.

And I think somehow Michael makes it more than the sum of its parts, because ostensibly it’s just us talking about stuff. After the first week of shooting on the first series I said to Rob, ‘I think this is going to be good’, because it certainly wasn’t like one of those series. It was definitely different.

What’s crucially different about it is that Rob and I [weren’t involved any further than the shooting]. We tried to talk to Michael and say, ‘Could you edit it this way? Could you cut it here and it’ll be a really good reveal and that’ll be really funny?’ and he just ignored all our advice.

And in some ways, actually, does rather counterintuitive things where he lets the joke, I think, go on when it stops being funny and it’s just a bit repetitive – but that makes it weirdly more authentic somehow.

What’s interesting watching the film version [of The Trip To Italy] is that it’s going to be much tighter and focused, but actually a lot of those scenes you’re talking about are still in there…

Brydon: It still plays very long. When I saw the first cut of the first episode – which is pretty similar to how it ended up being – I was kind of… Mortified is too strong a word but it seemed so slow.

Of course when we’re filming it you’ve no idea what the pace is going to be – you just do your scenes and stuff. And I was watching it on the sofa with my wife and looking at it thinking, ‘Bloody hell, no-one’s going to stay with this. Something needs to happen. But Michael was right and I was wrong – and I think that’s what’s interesting; two comedic minds with him.

Michael never manipulates the audience, and as a comedian that’s all you do. [Finding ways to make people laugh] is manipulation, and I think all those things coming together is why it’s been a success.

Coogan: You don’t feel like anything’s being prescribed to you and I think that allows the show to become slightly more poignant and it’s very counter to the notion that TV has to cater to that ADD generation of constant stimulus. If you get into it you get into a relaxed pace, and I think people like that because there’s not a lot of it around.

Brydon: It was very funny with the first series. Unlike this one, where we stayed in Italy, for the first one we’d go to the Lakes and come back home by train at the weekends. I’d be going home to my wife, saying, ‘I laughed so much; this is so funny, this is funny. Funny, funny, funny.’ Then I saw it with all this melancholy piano music, and us driving round the Lakes, and of course I had no idea about that when we were doing it. And again it gives it more depth.

Coogan: On the first Trip I’d sometimes get a phone call on the morning saying, ‘Can you dress in what you’re going to wear [on set] today, and can you drive yourself to the location, and do you mind if he shoots you in the car as you drive to the location with Rob?’ So basically we started work as soon as we stepped out of the hotel and into the car.

For Italy, we drove to the airport to catch the flight, and we were shooting in the car on the way to the airport, and then we pulled in at the airport and [Michael] said, ‘Cut. Right, go get on the plane!’ And someone else got in the car and drove it away.

But we never had any make-up on set, no wardrobe on set – it’s just not allowed. And yes, sometimes there are errors with continuity and sometimes there are mistakes, but what you gain from that is you don’t have somebody saying, ‘You’re not doing that quite right. Your collar’s not right’, which is totally needless.

You never get asked to hit a mark, you never get asked to find the light, which actors get asked to do – you sort of just let it go at its own pace and find stuff. Sometimes you can be talking and it’s just dull, and sometimes you hit a head of steam.

Rob; the first one touched on Steve’s character sleeping with women, but in The Trip To Italy it seemed like you’re being brought to the fore in that way and it’s playing on your persona a little bit…

Brydon: Yeah. Well that was Michael’s idea – that I’m past this period of being the happy family guy and I’m feeling a little restricted. I’m wanting to have fun and have an adventure, and it was appealing to play that character – so that’s what we did.

Coogan: Part of the tension of the series is that it’s a version of ourselves. There is some truth in it and other things are invented. My slightly precious pretentious personality in it… There is some truth in that, but I’m not quite as bad as that. We cranked that up for the purpose of the show. And Rob doesn’t constantly go round doing funny voices… Though he did do Michael Parkinson twenty minutes ago.

Brydon: It was relevant! I bumped into Parkinson on Monday and he told me that he’d seen it and that he loved it.

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