Alan Partridge is England’s beloved buffoon created 20 years ago by Steve Coogan (“Philomena”) and Armando Iannucci. At last he has come to the big screen. Examiner Dorri Olds caught up with director Declan Lowney on March 21, 2014 to talk about the film and his good friend Steve Coogan.
The comic U.K. character seems to have crossed over to U.S. audiences. The film won Official Selection at the 2013 New York Film Festival (NYFF) and opens in theaters in New York City on April 4.
The Magnolia Pictures release is directed by Irishman Declan Lowney and shows the latest madcap adventures in Alan’s life. Here we find him working as a radio DJ at “Shape.” His daily routine goes willy-nilly when the station is taken over by new management and a fired employee (Colm Meaney) goes ballistic and holds everyone under siege. Alan is enlisted by the police to talk the gunman down so he will release the hostages. As usual, Alan mucks everything up.
Steve Coogan is hilarious and director Declan Lowney is a big fan.
Dorri Olds: How would you describe Steve Coogan?
Declan Lowney: Steve Coogan does many things but his core is to make people laugh. He can make a character that you empathize with so even though Alan is a buffoon, we all feel for him. I think a lot of things that Alan says but I wouldn’t say them because I know it’s socially unacceptable to say them. I think that’s why so many people like the character. They’re thinking the things that he comes out and says.
How much leeway did you have as director?
If I said I needed something Steve [Coogan] would provide it but he is the best guardian of Partridge. A lot of times it was Steve who said, “No, no. That wasn’t right. I need to do more.” It was my job to keep him moving on because we only had a certain amount of time to shoot and he would just keep on doing that.
Did anybody get frustrated with the process? Were there heated debates?
Yeah, there were some. The producers were pressuring me to get the film shot. See, what happened is he [Coogan] did “Philomena” directly before he did our film. Judy Dench became available so then he had to push things back with our film to finish that movie. He came on our movie a week after he finished that one. Then, every day we tried to get things shot Steve would say, “No, wait, it’s not funny enough. It’s not good enough. I have to do more work on the script.” So we’d have to stop but we couldn’t stop. The producer was constantly pushing me to get things done and Steve was pushing to get more writing time so you’re in the middle of this creative bunch of really funny people and trying to keep it together and make it all work. We needed to be facilitators so Steve could do what he does so brilliantly.
Did anybody scream?
I don’t scream and he doesn’t scream. [Laughs] There were moments of tension and things got heated. Then Armando Iannucci, co-creator of Alan Partridge, was over here doing “Veep” while we were doing the shoot. So Armando couldn’t be here and when he came in to do the editing he and Steve had some debates about what was funny, what wasn’t, what should stay, but at the end of the day everybody was really happy with the way it came out. And, we’re all still friends. [Laughs]
How about your personal life? Do you have a wife and kids who all think you’re really cool?
They certainly think I’m really cool. I have a wife and kids who live in Brighton, England. I’ve got two boys, 19 and 16, and an 8-year-old girl. They love what I do.
Wow, you’re a lucky man. Do they show interest in show business?
My two boys were playing music for a while but they’ve grown out of it. I’m hoping they go back to it, and the middle one is really into filmmaking so maybe he’s following in my footsteps. I’d like that.
Did Steve Coogan request that you be the director of "Alan Partridge"?
Yes, very much so. I did a show called “Moone Boy” with Chris O’Dowd. It’s on Hulu. Steve did a cameo in that when we were shooting in Ireland. A few days later I got a call from Steve telling me he wanted me to go have a meeting with Armando to convince him.
See Part II
“Alan Partridge” opens in theaters on April 4. It is available now On Demand and iTunes. Rated PG. 90 min.