In Michael Winterbottom’s meta-minded literary remake cum farce A Cock and Bull Story, Steve Coogan played an idiot, ego-freak version of himself, and Rob Brydon played the smarter, less successful sidekick who couldn’t help but rib his buddy, mercilessly. Winterbottom loved the two together so much that he cast the duo as exaggerated versions of themselves in the six-episode, hit British-TV mini-series The Trip. That series, in which the pair tour the restaurants of northern England while keeping a food diary for a British newspaper, has been reedited into a feature (“much the same, but shorter,” says Brydon) that just premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and will have its theatrical release on June 10. Gavin and Stacey star Brydon spoke to us about about the film, his incorrigible niceness, and the key to unlocking the perfect Michael Caine impression.
How is the feature different from the TV series?
I would say the shorter one is better for busy people. That way, they don’t have to invest quite so much time. But if there are people who have, perhaps, recently been made redundant or they’ve got a lot of time on their hands, the series is going to fill more time for them.
The recession edition.
Yeah. And for all the slackers.
The obvious question is how different from your real selves are the versions of yourselves in the film?
Well, we’re not as competitive. I think our relationship in real life is warmer and softer, and maybe more tired. I mean, I don’t do impressions all the time. And we don’t annoy each other like we do in the film. We would argue in a way that we wouldn’t in real life, like, about impressions.
I had maybe seven different people forward me the clip of your warring Michael Caine impressions.
It was great to see that take off, because, like a lot of the film, we just made that up on the spot. That’s the way my mind works, I’m afraid. I’m not an impressionist inasmuch as I’d never make my living as an impressionist. It’s really just a trick that I can do, and it’s fun. There was a time in my career where I was on a radio show and they gave me a cassette of voices they wanted me to learn, politicians of the day, et cetera, and I sort of resented it. Now, it’s almost sort of a love letter if I do an impression. And sometimes I can hear a bit of my voice in there, or the key, a little something that’ll just unlock the voice for you.
So, for Caine, what was the key?
I suppose the obvious thing is the younger sort of Italian Job or Alfie kind of voice. But I just noticed how it’s gone further back into the back of the throat — the nasal thing, and the softness. He has a theory I’ve heard him say, and it’s very true, that nervous people talk quickly and rich, calm, successful people talk slowly, because they can. Nobody is going to hurry them up. He’s like Christopher Walken; he’s got almost copyrightable speech patterns.
When you study voices like that, does it make you more self-conscious about your own natural voice?
Not really. When I don’t like my voice is when I hear myself off guard: Let’s say I phoned home and left a message on the answer phone or something for my wife, and I get home before her and I hear my voice. I always think that must be the real me. And I stand there saying, “Ugh, that sounds a bit odd.”
Some people have trouble being likable. For you, niceness has become part of your rep; the British tabloids are unusually kind to you.
It is funny when I read things that say, “No one has a bad word to say about him … ” I always feel like saying, “I could point you to a few. Why don’t you go and talk to so-and-so or so-and-so? They’re not that keen on me.” I don’t know if it’s because I sort of became successful relatively late, so maybe I appreciate it more. I mean, to make this kind of film with a filmmaker like Michael Winterbottom, I’d be stupid if I couldn’t see what a cushy deal that is.
And Gavin and Stacey has such a devoted following.
Well, that became huge — and people ask me about that almost every day, really. And the character, Uncle Brinn, is not a million miles away from me. I first sort of got known in the U.K. with this show called Marion and Geoff, which is a series of monologues in a taxi, and he was also a sort of very good-natured character. I suppose that seems to work for me.
I read that Marion and Geoff was the first time you and Coogan connected.
Yeah. I was a huge fan of Steve’s. When I was just doing voice-overs, he had this barn-storming kind of career, and I always looked at him because he’d started out doing voice-overs as well, and I always thought, Well if he can do it … I got a videotape to him with some characters, and one of them was the character from Marion and Geoff. Steve saw it, liked it, and Steve and his business partner got behind our pilot and campaigned the BBC and got it made.
I love how, in the film, Coogan jumps into bed with every hostess he meets.
Quite a few people have said, “But do you mind what people will think of you?” We both say, “No, not really, because it doesn’t really impact your life; it’s just telling stories.” If Michael genuinely filmed us, it would be very dull indeed: Us saying, “Mmmm, tastes good.”
Would you do another improvised film together?
Quite possibly. I know that BBC wants us to make more.
And what else do you have going on these days?
At the moment, I’m just finishing my autobiography, would you believe? That comes out in the autumn in the U.K. I do a chat show on the BBC, and then I’m doing my first stage play in September, October with Kenneth Branagh, a farce called Pain Killer, about these two guys who check into adjoining hotel rooms on the same day and one of them is there to kill somebody and the other one, me, is there to kill himself. It’s by Francis Veber, who wrote Diner de Cons, which turned into Dinner for Schmucks. I haven’t done a stage play since I was in college.
There’s just been such a crazy rush of cross-over comedians recently. Are you content to be a star on British television?
I’ve got a big family, and I’ve lots of children and all that, and I don’t really see how I’d do it. After A Cock and Bull Story, I did some meetings in L.A., but I found myself just missing home. It felt like I was worried I had left the tap running in the bathroom, in terms of my career in the U.K., you know? It was like I wanted to get back — like, Oh my God! I’ve left the kettle on!