A Little Camp

8.13.2008

By Alastair McKay

Just that kind of heart is open to speculation. The New York Times has suggested that Hamlet 2 is a fair-minded movie, in that it is offensive to Christians, gays, Latinos, Jews, the American Civil Liberties Union and Elisabeth Shue. But Coogan's role does mark a softening of his approach. 'He's not a bastard at all. I sometimes play people who have a nasty streak or a slightly dysfunctional side, but his dysfunction is that there's a weakness and vulnerability to him.'

Coogan has played gay -- in Don (The Opposite of Sex) Roos's ensemble piece Happy Endings, which also starred Lisa Kudrow and Maggie Gyllenhaal. 'I didn't want to do that thing that straight actors do when they play gay men, which is to not give [the role] any kind of campery at all for fear of it being a caricature. So they don't do anything that is remotely gay, apart from the fact that they kiss a man. I wanted to give him just a hint of being effete, without him being a camp caricature.'

Most of Coogan's characters have involved an element of caricature, he says, but 'there's got to be an element of truth in them for people to find them resonant and then find them funny, but they're not a mirror of reality. There's an element of performance in them that's not naturalistic.'

Working out where the ego ends and the performance begins is made no easier by the fact that Coogan has twice played himself -- in Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes and Michael Winterbottom's twisted attack on Tristram Shandy, A Cock and Bull Story. Neither of Coogan's versions of himself is sympathetic; both are vain and weaselly, but, he suggests, 'I don't think I'm as bad as I make out.'

And really, he isn't. For an ego monster, Coogan is happier discussing the technicalities of comedy than talking about himself, and he sounds oddly insecure about his reputation. Though tired of being pigeonholed in Britain, he is reviving Alan Partridge for a stand-up tour, and talks, slightly forlornly, about his desire to do some straightforward dramatic acting.

Since Coogan remains resistant to the word camp, I suggest to him that he specializes in soft men. 'They're all weak,' he agrees. 'They embody the frailty of the human condition. They all fail.'

Hamlet 2 is in theaters starting August 22.

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