The chance to see Steve Coogan starkers is only one of many reasons to catch Our Idiot Brother, a beguiling comedy starring Paul Rudd that opens this Friday (Aug. 26). The comic actor costars in an ensemble cast alongside fellow Brits Emily Mortimer, Hugh Dancy and Janet Montgomery, as well as Zooey Deschanel, Elizabeth Banks and Rashida Jones.
Coogan plays a documentarian married to Mortimer. When her gullible brother (Rudd, the movie’s title character) catches a two-timing Coogan stripped down to the buff alongside a gorgeous ballerina about whom he is making a movie, the filmmaker claims that it’s all part of his technique. How can he ask a subject to bare herself emotionally, Coogan demands, if he isn’t naked himself?
The role makes perfect use of Coogan, 45, showcasing his weaselly appeal while serving him up in limited doses. A little Coogan – pace, Alan Partridge fans – goes a long way.
Oddly enough, it’s when Coogan is playing comic variations on himself that he is at his most engaging. He has done so three times on the big screen, first in 2003 in a hilarious vignette in director Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes. He and Alfred Molina popped up as expats in Hollywood who compare notes over a pot of tea: “I have this fantasy where if I ever won an Academy Award or a Golden Globe, I’d tell the Yanks how to make a decent cup of tea,” says Coogan. You can take a look at it here.
And he has twice played versions of himself for director Michael Winterbottom, first in Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, a 2005 satire about moviemaking in which Coogan supposedly is starring in a film adaptation of the nine-volume 18th century novel. (Coogan admits to never having read the book.)
He also showed up as “Steve” in Winterbottom’s The Trip, a BBC mini-series released as a movie earlier this summer in the U.S. In the road comedy, he and fellow comic Rob Brydon travel through England’s north country, enjoying gourmet meals and launching into dueling Michael Caine impressions.
In all three films, Coogan willingly comes across as a self-involved, womanizing semi-jerk who hungers for mainstream Hollywood success. In cinema, veritas? Coogan was asked exactly that – how much of what’s on screen is really him – during an audience Q&A in New York last spring after The Trip showed at the Tribeca Film Festival. “There’s a kernel of truth and a lot of hyperbole,” he said.
At which point, Brydon, who was also on stage, coughed loudly and rolled his eyes.
What’s your favorite Steve Coogan movie?