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Q&A: Steve Coogan

Britain’s Larry David on ego, Fox News and rock & roll

Steve Coogan

Steve Coogan at the AFI Fest 2005 at the Arclight Theatre November 10th, 2005 in Hollywood, California.

Mark Mainz/AFI/Getty

Aside from playing the title character in your new movie, “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story,” you also portray yourself, somewhat unflatteringly.
It’s actually quite liberating, People are so precious about the way they’re perceived. There’s a lot of celebrity bullshit behind the idea that there are no chinks in anyone’s armor. I’m imperfect, and I don’t have a problem admitting that. My main issue wasn’t to avoid seeming narcissistic or self-indulgent. My concern was, is this interesting?

But are you really as much of an egomaniac as you seem in the film?
I’m not as bad as that, but there’s some truth in it. I actually enjoy turning up the volume on those negative aspects of myself.

Were you funny as a child?
Odd more than funny. I once spent ages using fake skin to fashion a bullet hole in my head, and then I laid on the sofa until someone came and found me. Like in Harold and Maude, which is in my top five films ever.

Are those the characters you’re drawn to?
If there’s a common denominator between all the characters I do, it’s that I like people who are generally aspirant but feel cheated or malcontented. You do a contemptible character and that produces a lot of comedy. What’s hard is trying to do a character who’s basically a nice guy.

Do you think the British are drawn to a different kind of character than Americans?
Generally, I think British comedy tends to be about people who are failures, while Americans like people who are successful and funny. Also, I don’t think Americans like looking at ugly people. In Britain we think the uglier you are, the funnier you are. Whereas in America, you have Friends.

Any other pet peeves with America?
Sometimes I watch Fox News and I just can’t believe how fucking dumb the presenters are. They’re really confident in their delivery, but they’re certainly not clever.

You starred in “24 Hour Party People,” one of the best rock movies in ages. What music have you been digging lately?
Let me have a look at my CD collection. I just paid my niece to arrange them alphabetically for me. It’s funny, but in the U.S. the only time I ever get recognized is when I’m in a record store. People get all weird and go, “Oh, my God, are you Steve Coogan?” I recently bought a Jeff Buckley compilation, and some Nick Drake. I like talented dead people.

Jeff Buckley, Nick Drake — not to psychoanalyze, but it sounds like you’re depressed. Maybe I’m really just a sad clown. Excuse me while I go upstairs and paint a tear on my face.

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