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THE SUNDAY CONVERSATION

A Brit accents U.S. comedies

August 17, 2008|Choire Sicha | Special to The Times

English comedian Steve Coogan stars in "Hamlet 2," a romp about a deranged high school drama teacher and his disaffected Latino students in Tucson, to be released Aug. 27. He also appears in Ben Stiller's "Tropic Thunder." He has starred in "Tristram Shandy" and is now off to shoot a bit in "Night at the Museum 2."

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This [video camera] is merely for the fabrication lawsuit that eventually will end our relationship.

There's a politician in Britain, he's kind of semi-retired now, he's like obsessed with recording, he records a diary -- but whenever he does an interview with a journalist he gets his own tape recorder out and puts it down. Even at his front door, he has a microphone about his front door. . . . His words have never been twisted in about 30 years.

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You're going on tour in October! Old school. Why?

It's been 10 years since I've done it. . . . I'm doing it because I want to do it, not because I have to do it, and I miss doing it, and it scares me. I'm excited by the prospect of doing it and terrified. . . . And also to get that immediate visceral reaction -- the good thing about when you perform live is there's no ambiguity. People either laugh or they don't.

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You have back-to-back American films right now. Is that part of the progress scheme?

It's just a nice, happy occurrence. There's no proper strategy other than I want to do work here with people I like who are funny and smart and interesting. . . . Here I'm kind of the new boy, I have some novelty value, I guess, people are starting to be aware of me. Where in Britain I'm very established but I'm kind of part of the furniture.

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You're not on your take-and-destroy America campaign.

In actual fact, because I have a comfortable established thing in Britain, I don't need -- I would like to be loved by America! But I don't need it to happen. I can sort of do it on my own terms. I never really have to make a choice to do something because I think it might be a break. . . . I've been offered things that I've turned down because I think, because I've thought the script stinks. Even though they've been quite big gigs. I've gone with my gut instincts. And I've been vindicated in the process by seeing what came out, but I won't say what they were.

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The sort of American big comedy movie, Jim Carrey vehicle -- it's sort of done.

All I do is look at the script and think: Is it interesting? I've read lots of comedy scripts which I find are formulaic and -- and not about anything. I think, unless you're a tour de force as a comedian, I like to see a comedy that has something different in it, something that is either about something or has some kind of edge or just excites you -- I've read a lot of depressingly dull frat-boy comedies, for example. There's lots of comedy scripts around about kinds of guys that are a little crazy, and they shouldn't really be behaving like that . . . it's just terrible.

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Hey, you're going to be shooting [Michael Winterbottom's new film] "Murder in Samarkand" soon.

No, that's not -- it's just looking doubtful, you know.... There's no money for it. Hollywood doesn't want a movie like that.

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["Hamlet 2"] is sort of a nice, unintended, perfect -- not sequel! -- but related project to "Waiting for Guffman."

A lot of people have said that, which is fine. I hadn't seen it for a long time when I did it, but people have pointed that out and I'm very happy to be considered in the same way as Christopher Guest, who's one of the auteurs.

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And I wonder if people are going to see "Tropic Thunder" as a really vicious Hollywod satire.

It's very powerful, especially with a big budget. You never see something like that. What's great is there's this very strong angry satire on Hollywood, and yet it's big-budget and the laughs are very accessible.

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Have you ever talked about American TV?

Well, I may be doing something for HBO soon, with Justin Theroux, who co-wrote "Tropic Thunder." We're uh -- watch this space, you may hear something soon.

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