A Little Camp

8.13.2008

By Alastair McKay

For a funnyman Steve Coogan is noticeably unamused by the suggestion that he tends to play camp men. 'It's bollocks,' he says quickly, before pausing to give the matter more serious consideration.

'Well, let's see,' he announces, a full two seconds later, before concluding abruptly: 'I don't think it's true.'

The English comedian and writer is best known in the United States for his starring role in 24 Hour Party People, which documented Joy Division and the Manchester music scene circa 1980, but in the United Kingdom he is a household name, thanks to his monstrous creation, Alan Partridge. A television talk-show host whose confidence was matched only by the banality of his speech, Partridge had a journey from undeserved success to a life of lost fame and quiet desperation that was a vicious satire of light entertainment and celebrity values as influential in British comedy circles as Ricky Gervais's The Office or John Cleese's Fawlty Towers.

Such success brought its own pressures -- having sold his Ferrari and discovered the cost of romancing Courtney Love, Coogan is said to be toxin-free and tamed by China Chow, daughter of restaurateur Michael Chow (of the Mr. Chow chain) and model Tina Chow. His Hollywood career is under way, with a supporting role in Ben Stiller's Tropic Thunder (as 'an out-of-my-depth, middle-class, slightly arrogant British film director') and his first starring part, as a camp ('very slightly camp') drama teacher in Hamlet 2 -- the hit of this year's Sundance Film Festival, where it reportedly sold for $10 million.

Hamlet 2 is directed by Andrew Fleming (who made his reputation with the 1994 film Threesome, about a partly gay college-dorm love triangle), and scripted by Fleming and South Park and Team America writer Pam Brady. It is, Coogan agrees, cheerfully blasphemous, not least in its showpiece musical number, 'Rock Me Sexy Jesus' (sample lyric: 'Immaculate conception really makes my day / But the dude's got lats that make me feel gay').

'I read a lot of comedy scripts,' says Coogan, 'so I'm slightly jaded. I can see the joins. But this script has a freshness to it. It wasn't supersmart. It was clever and edgy, but it wasn't cynical. But it certainly sails close to the wind. Even I was like, 'Oh, my God.' There's a song called 'Raped in the Face.' So I don't think people will be going, 'Coogan's gone and done some soft Hollywood movie.' But it's actually a quite warmhearted film, if you can imagine such a thing. They manage to do that sometimes -- especially TV shows like South Park and [films like] Team America -- which both have that edgy, blasphemous, radical side, but also, despite it, a kind of heart.'

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