Steve Coogan's 'Had Worse Days' As His Film 'Philomena' Receives Four BAFTA Nominations

The Thing That Steve Coogan Is Surprisingly Bored Of...

It's been a good day for Steve Coogan, as he wakes up in New York to the news that his labour of love, 'Philomena', has been nominated for four big BAFTAs - including Best Film, Best British Film, his leading lady Dame Judi Dench, and his own screenplay, which he adapted with Jeff Pope.

"It's better than a kick in the teeth," he agrees. "It's the icing on the cake."

Steve's own performance also helps carry the film along, but has been overlooked this time around. Is this a sore point? "I have to be careful to keep my glass half full," he admits. "I'd rather the film did well than my performance. I've had plaudits from people I admire, so four big ones... I don't want to be greedy."

'Philomena', starring Dame Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, has been nominated for four BAFTA Awards

It seems a long time since I interviewed Steve Coogan in Australia, four years ago. Back then, he was in the midst of a gruelling live tour with his alter ego, but was already keen, it was evident, to flex other muscles..

"“Being on stage is not really vulnerable," he said then. "They might not laugh, they might not like my jokes, but that just means it’s not a very good comedy show. But something that’s got an emotional dynamic to it, that can make you vulnerable, but in that way, it also empowers you."

Which could almost be the press release for 'Philomena', the true story of Philomena Lee, the Irish girl whose son was taken away from her by nuns, and later sold to an American family. When Philomena decided to hunt him down, it was writer Martin Sixsmith (played in the film by Coogan) who helped her, even as he grew increasingly frustrated with the religion that had caused these events to play out so tragically.

It turns out Steve first laid eyes on Sixsmith's story just around the time of that interview in Melbourne, and he remembers that period of his life well. "I was definitely hunting for something, and I found that, and I thought, 'this is interesting and important, it'll do.'"

Steve could be forgiven for resting on his laurels after the success of Alan Partridge, with the long-awaited feature film satisfying Partridge's many telly fans this summer.

Coogan in Partridge mode - "there'll be comedy in everything I do"

"I had a bit of problem," he reflects today. "All my life, I'd wanted to write a hit sitcom, make people laugh, and then I'd achieved it. The problem became what to do next. I needed to change things up.

"I'd worked a lot with Michael Winterbottom (director, The Trip, 24 Hour Party People, Tristram Shandy, The Look of Love), so I've had that lifeline to the world of drama and always loved it.

"You don't want to complain, but I don't want to be typecast. So the answer becomes, you just have to roll your sleeves up, ignore those preconceptions and work hard on something that matters to you."

What matters to Coogan these days is a mile away from the sneering, insincere characters with which he first made his name...

"As a punter, I've become bored with irony. There's a danger of become too detached, too cynical, basically too cool for school.

Steve Coogan is tired of irony, of the danger of being too detached, "too cool for school"

"I want to do British dramas, that aren't period costume dramas. I think the US has had the monopoly on this for too long. There'll be comedy in every thing I do, but I want to use comedy for the right reasons, to move people, and seduce people into thinking about the stuff I think is important.

"So, basically, I want to make people laugh, and think, and cry a bit."

For her role of Philomena, Dame Judi Dench has been given a BAFTA nomination for a record fifteenth time. Asked for her reaction, she said with typical self-deprecation, "That shows how old I am!"

The EE British Academy Film Awards will take place on Sunday 16 February 2014 and will be held for the eighth year running at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Hosted by Stephen Fry, and sponsored by EE, the Awards will be broadcast exclusively on BBC One and BBC One HD that evening, preceded by a red carpet show on BBC Three.


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