Steve Coogan on playing a fancy pornographer in ‘The Look of Love’

Steve Coogan stars as nudie mag owner Paul Raymond in "The Look of Love." Credit: Getty Images
Steve Coogan stars as nudie mag owner Paul Raymond in “The Look of Love.”
Credit: Getty Images

Thanks to films like “The Trip,” the actor and writer Steve Coogan has risen in stature in the U.S. But he’s a legend in England. His latest film concerns another British mainstay: “The Look of Love,” which reunites him with director Michael Winterbottom (“24 Hour Party People,” “Tristram Shandy,” as well as “The Trip”), is a biopic on Paul Raymond, a strip club and nudie mag owner who was at one point England’s richest citizen. Coogan also has coming out the long-rumored, now-completed film on his most famous creation, the incomparably foolish Alan Partridge, called “Alan Partridge in Alpha Papa.”

How aware of Paul Raymond were you before this film?
As a teenager growing up, you’d go into the newsstand and get up on your tiptoes and try to grab the soft porn magazines on the top shelf. He was always on the back cover, surrounded by semi-nude women. You’d think, “Who is that guy? He’s obviously living the life.” I knew his daughter had died. He was a tabloid figure, a bit eccentric, always immaculately dressed. He had a weird hairdo, almost as weird as Donald Trump’s. I met him once, but I just shook his hand. I was doing a comedy routine at a club of his that was being used as a TV show. But I never know him at all.

What is your take on him now?
He behaved like an aristocrat in some ways. I think his image was a figment of his imagination — he created this character. He had the clothes, he had the car, he had the house, he had the girls — he had all those things that are supposed to make uncomplicated men happy. It didn’t really make him happy. I think he wasn’t really into sex. It was a business to him. He’d have these threesomes, but he was almost going through the motions, like he didn’t’ really enjoy it. It was just a thing you were supposed to do if you’re living a wild life.

He was like the last one at the party.
You can enjoy a party, but if you’re the last one there, you’ve made a mistake. He didn’t know when to quit. He was very successful, he challenged a lot of social mores about sex, he kicked against the conservatism of his times. Not that he was doing it for noble reasons. He was trying to run a business. There’s something Shakespearean about him — he built a kingdom that brought him sadness.

What was your initial angle on the film when you pitched it to director Michael Winterbottom?
Michael gravitates towards things that are not obvious. We thought that no one talks about sex anymore in movies — not explicitly. People don’t know how to handle nudity, so we end up with “Showgirls.” Americans don’t know how to handle sex. They laugh at it, snicker at it, or they’re very, very serious about it, and you get films with soft-focus shots of people making love in a very dignified way. Both sides are untruthful. We thought this would be a little spiky, fun and also kind of sad. We didn’t want to do a finger-wagging thing, like if you watch too much porn you’ll go blind. We didn’t want to do something that was self-important either. We wanted to try to be more truthful.

You often play awful people, but you also play nice characters. Tommy Saxondale, from “Saxondale,” is generally a good guy. Raymond isn’t bad, but he’s not good either.
I like to make complicated characters likable. I always found playing someone who’s likable very difficult. There’s some great actors who ooze integrity and you trust them and you like them in films. I don’t know how to do that. I would quite like to be able to do that, but it’s a challenge for me to make a character like that interesting. People who are shades of light and dark are more dynamic and more interesting. What keeps someone watching a character sometimes is they haven’t made up their mind about them, whether they like them or not. If you’ve decided if some guy is a good guy, then it’s a challenge to make that compelling. I’d like to play some nice people and not be boring.

You’ve brought Alan Partridge back recently, after a long hiatus. What has it been like returning to that character?
I brought the character back because I found these two writers who brought new life into him, who really got him but also made him fresher. And I did it because I was doing other work alongside it. I couldn’t embrace Partridge if it was the only thing I was doing. I’d feel self-conscious, like an old band reforming for money. But because I’m doing these other things, I can enjoy it. Partridge, he makes me laugh. I never do anything because I feel I ought to or to make money. I do it because I have the creative impetus to do it. Alan’s like a relative or an old friend you like to hang out with him, but you don’t want to spend the rest of your life living with them.

Do you find yourself becoming more sympathetic towards him as you get older?
Yeah. We used to make him a lot more reactionary and right wing. We found it funnier to give him some liberal views. It’s like, if someone says something racist, it’s not funny. But if someone who tries to say the right thing and accidentally says something racist, that’s funnier. We just go with what makes us laugh.


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Florida man charged with murdering son to play…

A Florida man annoyed that his 16-month-old crying son was preventing him from playing video games suffocated the toddler, police said on Friday.

International

Powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake rattles Mexico

A powerful earthquake struck Mexico Friday, shaking buildings and sending people running into the street, although there were no reports of major damage.

News

OMG! Exercise can make skin (and butt) look…

A moderate exercise regime can turn back time and actually reverse the skin's aging process, according to new research. The study showed that a minimum…

International

Jews in eastern Ukraine ordered to register, Kerry…

Secretary of State John Kerry condemned reports that Jews in eastern Ukraine had been ordered to register with the authorities "or suffer the consequences."

Entertainment

Whoopi Goldberg makes her debut as marijuana columnist

"It helps my head stop hurting, and with glaucoma your eyes ache, and she takes the ache out. It's wonderful," she said.

The Word

Kate Middleton made fun of Prince William's bald…

Kate Middleton and Prince William are in Sydney, Australia, right now, and it sounds like that brash Aussie sense of humor might be rubbing off.

The Word

Is Tom Cruise dating Laura Prepon?

"Mission: Impossible" star Cruise is said to be dating Laura Prepon, star of "Orange is the New Black."

Television

'Scandal' recap: Season 3, Episode 18, 'The Price…

Sally is Jesus, Olivia caused global warming, and Mellie's still drunk. Let's recap the Scandal finale. A church full of Washington insiders is about to…

NBA

Deron Williams leads Nets over Raptors in Game…

The Nets traveled to a raucous Air Canada Centre but came out with an important Game 1 victory over the Raptors.

NBA

Carmelo Anthony agonizing over Knicks future as season…

There’s still the cloud hanging over the franchise’s head as to the pending free-agent status of All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony.

NFL

Jets host players with eye toward NFL Draft

The Jets hosted a number of NFL Draft hopefuls for workouts on Thursday, with an eye toward some under-the-radar players.

NFL

Chris Johnson: I wanted to go to 'a…

Now that Chris Johnson is a Jet, the team has to figure out if one of the most explosive players in the NFL over the last half decade has anything…

Tech

VIDEO: 'Vein-scanning' may become the future of paying

Designed to make transactions quicker and easier, the technology works by scanning the unique vein patterns in each person's palm.

Tech

#FollowFriday: 10 of the smartest Twitter accounts

Spending lots of time on Twitter? You might as well learn something. Here are some of the smartest accounts to follow.

Style

Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.

Wellbeing

Why is dance cardio taking off in NYC?

Instructors at some of the city's hottest classes explain why.