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Exclusive: Steve Coogan talks new film 'Alan Partridge' out today

 Actor Steve Coogan attends the 'Alan Partridge' New York screening at Landmark's Sunshine Cinema on April 2, 2014 in New York City
Steve Coogan

Today, on April 4, Magnolia Pictures' "Alan Partridge" hits theaters. Many Americans might not be familiar with Alan Partridge. For those who don’t, the character, co-created and portrayed by Steve Coogan, has been a familiar presence on British radio and television for the last two decades, making appearances across various programs, including a sit-com centered on the character. His most recent appearance comes in the form of the feature film titled, simply, "Alan Partridge."

Alan Partridge was released last year overseas to great critical success, and now it finally makes it’s way to the United States. While the idea of going in cold to a movie based on a character with a twenty year history may seem off putting, it keeps alienation to a minimum, being perfectly accessible to viewer unacquainted with Coogan’s character.

The film is based around a situation that shouldn’t be funny: the radio station Alan works for has just been bought out by a big media conglomerate, and they’re looking to downsize. They fire Pat, an old-guard DJ that doesn't fit with the new company’s hip image. So, at the launch party that night, Pat comes back, gun in hand, and takes his former co-workers hostage. Alan, being the only one he trusts, now must serve as liaison between the police outside and his old pal Pat. Despite the gravity of the film’s set up, it is hilarious, smart, and witty, gleefully finding the comedy in the gravest of circumstances.

Read our exclusive interview with Steve below:

Q: Do you have a different approach when preparing for a comedic role versus a dramatic role?

They’re not the same preparation. I did "Philomena" before I did "Alan Partridge," and "Philomena" is like this long process, it’s more introspective, because it’s about more important themes and a nuanced performance. It’s about more substantial issues, whereas you do "Partridge," it’s more mechanical, it’s more brutal, because it’s about the number of laughs per page. It’s being as funny as possible, and any of that subtext stuff has to come second. It’s more of a, I think, mechanical process. It’s about rhythm. It’s more mathematical. So it’s very different, very different in the process. It’s about hitting those beats, making those laughs come hard and fast, and trying to give it an arc as well, but it’s very different.

Q: Do you ever hear newscasters now, hear them say something, and think, “Oh, that’d be a great line for Alan, I better write that down?”

Yeah. I watch newscasters all the time, and sometimes I think, “That’s funnier than anything Alan would say.” And I do sometimes write things down. If I see something that’s awkward, any awkward moments or stumbles that reveal where the polished veneer of broadcasters slips that’s always the funniest.

Q: Who do you think are dumber on the whole: American broadcasters or English broadcasters?

Well, it depends. I think British broadcasters are more acerbic, and I think the difference is British broadcasters assume you’re lying from the get-go unless you can prove otherwise. I think American broadcasters assume you’re telling the truth unless you say something that makes them suspicious of you. So they’re slightly more cynical in the U.K.

Q: What was it like meeting the Pope with Philomena?

It was tremendous. We were invited there by the Vatican. He was very nice to Philomena and said she was welcome there and was glad that she had come to the Vatican. He was pleased that she was there in the spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness, because the film is critical of aspects of the church. We went in there and screened the movie, and the Pope’s private secretary and senior advisor said they were really happy with the film, that they were comfortable with it, that it was perfectly inline with the Pope’s message. So, they basically sort of sanctioned our film. They said, “We are really comfortable with this movie. This is all on the record, you’ve got to tell people about this. It’s no accident we invited you to screen at the Vatican. We want people to know you screened it, because we don’t want it to echo.” I said, “There are some people in America, Catholics who have been critical of the movie.” And they said, “We are not those people.”

Q: What are your personal strategies for surviving a hostage situation now that you’ve done this movie?

Bond with your captors. Talk to them. Make them see that you’re a human being. And then when they’re not looking, you grab the gun and shoot them.

Q: Would you ever do "Veep" if they asked?

I’ve seen a couple of episodes. It’s very funny. Armando [Iannucci] invented Alan Partridge with me. He’s talked to me about doing something with him. It may happen. I’d do whatever he wants me to do. I’m a very obedient artist when it comes to doing other people’s stuff. As long as it’s fun and interesting. [American, British] I’d do either. I’ve done American, but I get a bit nervous there. I have a coach to make sure I don’t screw up. But yeah… It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility.

Q: Was it unexpected, the way it went down with the Pope? Was he dressed in the big hat?

Was he dressed in the big hat at all? We met with an audience. He greeted Philomena, was very, very, supportive of the film. In fact, his senior advisor said the Pope sanctioned the invitation. He wanted to send a signal to silence some of the skeptics in the U.S. who criticized the film.

Q: Was she very moved by that? Meeting the Pope specifically?

Oh, yeah. Philomena, she was delighted. It completed the circle for her story. She had had such suffering at the hands of church, and she brought her forgiveness, dignified by a simple favor. I think that’s what the Vatican realized. When I spoke to the Pope’s private secretary and the senior advisor, Cardinal Sanchez, they said quite clearly that they approved. They said this film is entirely in keeping with the Pope’s message. I pointed out that there is some criticism in the U.S. from certain quarters, people who claim to be speaking on behalf of the church. They said that we are not those people. We are very different from those people. I think it show that some of the critics in the U.S. were out of step with the beliefs.

Q: What do you do in the trailer when you’re waiting for your scenes?

What do I do? I get drunk and hide.

The New York premiere was held on Wednesday, April 2 at Land Mark Sunshine Guests sipped on Stella and wine prior to the screening and grabbed complimentary popcorn on the way into the theater. Anna Wintour, Janeane Garofalo, Caroline Rhea, radio personality Ira Glass, The Strokes’ Fabrizio Moretti, Jordan Klepper, Talking Heads’ David Byrne, Grizz Chapman, filmmaker Jim Sheridan, Mike Birbiglia, David Chase, filmmaker Jesse Peretz, Terry George, Melonie Diaz, Zadie Smith, DJ’s AndrewAndrew, Tennessee Thomas, Zach Wigon, Johnathan Fernandez, Keith Poulson, Chaske Spencer, Louisa Krause, and "Fall On Your Sword’s" Will Bates were in attendance.

Stephen Jones contributed reporting.

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