The Version Interview... Steve Coogan on Sky Atlantic's The Trip to Spain

Director Michael Winterbottom brings the BAFTA Award-nominated series to Sky Atlantic, reuniting Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon on a culinary coast-to-coast odyssey. Just as Don Quixote undertook three journeys, so Steve and Rob will set off on a third jaunt of their own, this time travelling over 1,000 miles down the entire length of Spain. Following in the footsteps of poet and novelist Laurie Lee, Steve and Rob’s semi-fictional alter-egos hit the road in search of culture, history, breathtaking vistas and, of course, some of the finest food in Europe.

All the while serving up sparkling, free-flowing conversation, peppered with barbed back-andforths, in-car singalongs and their peerless trademark impersonations. The pair also reflect on life; as two gentlemen just entering their 50s, they contemplate love, family, respective successes thus far (Steve was nominated for an Academy Award® for Philomena, you know) and what lies beyond. The result is a poignant but always convivial pilgrimage of selfdiscovery and the pursuit of the perfect Mick Jagger impersonation.

 

How easy a decision was it to agree to series three?

Rob and I already have a modus operandi. We’ve done it twice before, we all enjoyed doing it and we knew how to do it so it was a very easy decision.

 

How impressed are you with the inimitable mark Michael Winterbottom leaves on the series?

It’s always more than the sum of its parts. Michael manages to make some sense out of our mad ramblings. It’s always hugely impressive because he makes it seem to have more scope and gives it a depth that goes beyond just the funny voices, barbs and exchanges. It has a more universal, expansive feel to it that makes it look wonderful, with a sense of the geography and where we are that plays a huge part in the series and stops it just being talking heads.

 

Is it as enjoyable as it looks to make?

Yes it is. I mean, you have to apply yourself. One part of you is shooting the breeze and thinking of things to say, but the other is planning things all the time. You have to be on your toes and realise what will be a fruitful area, because you’re improvising within the structure. So Rob and I will sometimes talk between takes about what we should speak about and also plan ways to react. Rob will sometimes suggest lines for me to say and I will sometimes suggest lines for him to say and ways to create funny barbed exchanges. So it’s a very organic process. It isn’t just me and Rob eating food and talking. All three of us – Michael, Rob and me – put our heads together and talk about what’s most fruitful. Michael always makes sure we stick to a kind of approximate narrative but we have a lot of free rein. We’re much more cooperative behind the scenes than it seems on camera.

 

Do you enjoy being given a licence to improvise in this way, compared to having to stick to a precise script?

It’s very enjoyable. You have way more scope than you’d have in a normal scripted film where you really have to stick to what you’re doing. Rob and I really trust each other and if he goes off on a tangent, I will follow him, or he will follow me, so it’s a lot of fun. But I wouldn’t like to work like that all the time. It suits that project, whereas when I’m doing a film where there’s a script, or something I’ve written, then I like to stick very closely to that. It’s just a different way of doing things. It’s a nice change.

 

What preparation do you do? Do you brush up on certain impressions?

In between takes we might discuss doing a new impersonation or throw in a new one but I don’t stand in front of the mirror practising impressions. Rob does a good Barry Gibb which made me laugh a lot between takes so I said to him that he should do that on camera. We were doing Tom Courtenay impressions for some reason which made us laugh. So we’ll do those and coach each other in between takes to try to perfect them. In terms of preparation, we might learn quotes from books that we’re supposed to be referencing, like Laurie Lee, that we can throw into conversation the next day. So occasionally we’ll do a bit of prep.

 

Is it easy to switch from your character back to your normal self?

When the cameras aren’t rolling we just have proper conversations that are actually quite dull. Sometimes we eat with each other in the evening and we end up having much more civilised conversations. When the cameras are rolling it’s almost like we’re sparring. You put your gloves on and your gum shield in and we have a little round of sparring. It’s quite frenetic, the pace of the whole thing, but it’s also very enjoyable and we got to see a lot of Spain, so what’s not to like?

 

What does the series say about aging and being middle-aged?

There are a lot of universal issues. If it were just about Rob and me it wouldn’t be as strong. It has to mean something to other people, so yes it’s about middle age and getting older, life and family life, love and unrequited love. For me, my character is a bit more settled and trying to rekindle an old relationship and bring it back to life. I’m more lost in this series. Rob is more settled, so we make sure there’s a little emotional journey and an arc throughout the series.

 

The Trip to Spain debuts 10pm, 6 April, on Sky Atlantic.