British funnyman Steve Coogan has quite a lot to laugh about right now with a small but pivotal part in the country’s number movie and a starring role in a possible indie hit.
In “Tropic Thunder,” which finally knocked “The Dark Knight” into the number two spot after four weeks, Coogan plays — funnily enough — a hapless British director who meets an explosive end when he takes fake actors Stiller, Black and Downey Jr. into the ‘real’ jungle.
If Tropic wasn’t that much of a stretch for Coogan, 42, best known here for his insufferable talk show personality Alan Partridge, then he certainly had his work cut out for the Sundance Film Festival hit, “Hamlet 2”.
Coogan’s name might also ring a bell from the Owen Wilson suicide affair, where the U.S. tabloids fingered him for supplying illegal substances to the “You, Me and Dupree” star. It’s a charge he denied then and does now.
“I don’t normally comment about that sort of stuff, but I had to make a statement because I didn’t want my silence to imply anything,” said Coogan.
“Sometimes a story emerges whereby there’s maybe a modicum of truth, but in this instance if it was possible to have a story with less than zero credibility then this was it.”
He added: “Owen will say exactly the same thing if you ask him. We’ve always been good friends and I’m looking forward to working with him on the sequel to Night of the Museum.”
Co-written by Pam Brady (“Team America”) and Andrew Fleming (“The Craft”), and directed by Fleming, Hamlet 2 is a satirical riff on those cloying, inspirational teacher/student movies and Coogan holds little back to make an ass of himself.
In fact, in one scene Coogan literally bares his butt for the cause.
He plays failed actor Dana Marschz, living a life of mediocrity and desperation as a high school drama teacher in Tuscon. A soon-to-be cuckolded husband to acid-tongued wife Brie (Catherine Keener), Marschz clings to his actorly ambitions making commercials for genital herpes relief and energy drinks.
Meanwhile, his drama productions, like a staged version of Erin Brockovich are about to get him canned from his job until he hits on the idea of staging a musical sequel to Hamlet where he will steal the show as a rock and roll Messiah singing “Rock Me Jesus.”
If you’re wondering what the son of man has to do with Hamlet you’ll just have to go with it, very much like how Coogan got the part.
“Pam and Andrew weren’t actually thinking of a Brit for the role, but set up a meeting because they were fans of my UK work,” said Coogan in Los Angeles recently to promote the film.
“But when I read the script the character of Dana immediately leapt off the page. He was so emotionally open and demonstrative, not something you find a lot in British people. I told them if they ever get the money to make it, I’m in.”
The actor, writer and comedian, who was born in the North of England, empathized with the character’s quirkiness. “I went to drama school myself, which is like a sanctuary for the terminally bewildered,” joked Coogan.
Along with the likes of Rick Gervais (“The Office”), Simon Pegg (“Shaun of the Dead”) and of course, Borat’s Sacha Baren Cohen, Coogan agrees that there seems to be a renaissance of British comedy.
“Yeah, I know all those guys and they’re hugely talented,” said Coogan. “It’s ironic that I came along before all of them in England and now I’m playing catch up. Simon is a very good friend and was the support act when I did a sold out tour ten years ago. I caught him at the right time because I couldn’t afford him now.”
Despite high profile British success in music, television and film — Joss Stone, American Idol and Keira Knightley — to name but three, cracking the Hollywood game can still be elusive.
Luckily, for Coogan, his insurance policy is a very successful production company called Baby Cow, which he runs with his business partner, Henry Normal.
“I am fortunate to have a comfortable career in Britain and it pays my bills so every creative choice I make here, can be exactly that,” said Coogan.
“Sometimes you get advice saying you should be working with this high profile person or that high profile person. Although, that might be good for your career, you have to believe what you’re doing is authentic.”