Actor Rob Brydon takes one final ‘Trip’ with Steve Coogan
Over the last decade, director Michael Winterbottom’s series of films starring actors Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan has become something of a quiet phenomenon. Whether you’ve seen any of The Trip films, such as the 2010 original, 2014’s The Trip to Italy, or 2017’s The Trip to Spain, or are merely familiar with the myriad impersonation contests between Brydon and Coogan, you’ve been charmed by the fictionalized, stylized take on these two actors as they wind their way through a series of gorgeous setpieces while eating what looks to be delightful meals.
The forthcoming The Trip to Greece, due out this Friday, May 22, from IFC Films, will be the last excursion for Brydon and Coogan, which is a shame, but it certainly goes out with a gorgeous film. I spoke by phone with Rob Brydon about the end of the series.
The Pitch: What I find most interesting about The Trip to Greece is that a film being released about two friends spending time together traveling is almost indescribably exotic at this point in time. Are you finding that that’s sort of the reaction from the folks you’ve been speaking with?
Rob Brydon: Certainly, I’m aware of that, yes. It’s a very curious thing. I mean, you can even look at a photo on your phone of yourself and a few friends indoors and that looks alien, so I’m hoping that this will add to the appeal of the film, because it’s become even more escapist, and I do think that this one is probably the prettiest to look at. It’s beautifully shot and Greece surprised me, you know. Greece was a lot greener and more verdant than I was expecting. I’d known some of the islands I’ve been to, but I hadn’t been to Athens before, but we covered a lot of ground. I went to some truly beautiful places.
It does pop, visually: the greens and the blues and the bright whites of all of the marble. When you’re traveling through this, I think a lot of folks wonder as to whether or not this is as much a vacation as it is a working trip for everyone involved?
Well, in some ways, but a lot of the stuff that looks effortless isn’t effortless. I’m often asked about the meals, you know, and which meal was good, and what does this mean and I often say, “Well, I can’t remember,” because when we’re having the meals, all I’m thinking is, “What am I going to say next?”. because we largely improvise – certainly the funny bits. There’ll be stuff that Michael [Winterbottom] will have written to convey a point or something, but all the bits – all the risks and what have you – are improvised, so you’ve got to be on the front foot to do that.
It’s very interesting, because I was thinking about it the other day, and really looking back very fondly on the four of them, and the time I had making them, and within them, there is something quite interesting. We do a lot of miles so between one location to another, we’ll still be in the Range Rover, and maybe somebody else in to drive it. Steve [Coogan] and I will do a few hundred miles on one journey and it’s very peculiar, because then, you’ll also be filming in that same car, so it’s not like a normal production where there’s a clear delineation.
We’re usually in the same hotel, he and I, and the crew will usually be somewhere else, so we will have breakfast with each other and maybe say, “Oh, what are we going to say?”, but more often than not we won’t say that. We’ll just talk about whatever, then we spend the day together filming, and then, often he and I will eat an evening meal together. That’s unusual with most filming jobs, so you look back on them, and they mix, your memories of them. Sometimes, it does feel like you’re thinking about a holiday, and other times it seems like you’re remembering a job, but it’s unique in that sense.
What’s also sort of unique about this series over the last 10 years is that, for American viewers, this has really sort of like introduced them to you in a grander sort of sense. Another aspect of it that I find sort of funny is that the series is also predicated on you being a version of yourself. The premise for people stateside is almost sort of like when Russell Brand first showed up over here, where it was just, “I’m very famous across the sea, and you don’t quite understand.”
Well, I suppose the difference between our real selves and how we portray ourselves in the film is all just to serve the comedy and the drama of it. It’s a curious thing, because the main difference is there’s not the competitiveness – there’s not the niggling of each other. I get some people in America who know me from The Trip, but very, very few. They’re just people who seek it out, as it were.
I think, prior to The Trip, that maybe your nerdier American fans might have had a better idea of who you were thanks to your work on the original Flight of the Conchords radio program, as well as your voice work for the Discworld video games. I think the overlap between those two crowds are is probably almost a circle, in terms of a Venn diagram.
Yeah, that old Discworld thing comes up quite a lot on social media. I noticed people either saying, “I’d forgotten that that was Rob Brydon,” or actually, more often saying, “God, I just went and revisited it and I had no idea that Brydon did that.” I mean, I’ve never played it – I’m not a game person – but I remember going in and doing it. It lasted forever. I used to do a bit about it in my live show, where I would say it’s a thankless task, because you have to give vocal options for every option.
Say you need to say something like, “I see you want to open the casket of Fordor,” and then you’d also have to say, “So, you don’t want to open the casket of Fordor?” and then you’d also have to say, “Can I interest you in the casket of Fordor?” and you probably also have to say, “Have you noticed the casket in the corner?” and I did a lot of different voices in it, and each one would have these alternatives, so the script was absolutely immense.
As part of it, did you ever get to work with Sir Terry Pratchett himself?
No, no, no. It was at a little studio somewhere in South London. It was a long time ago – more than 20 years ago at a little studio, where there were very nice people, but very nice people who are all really into it, and I’m not. I’m an actor who’s being booked to do a job, because I’m good at voices and I haven’t realized quite how much speaking I’m going to be doing on this job and quite how long I’m going to be in this padded room in front of the microphone.
Those jobs are kind of labors of love for those guys, and I sometimes have read over the years people involved in it talking about it. Obviously, it was a huge thing for them. It was their world, you know, and I just went in very nonchalant and did some funny voices.
In terms of voices, impersonations have become a hallmark of The Trip series, with The Independent doing a top 10 list of all of them where, unsurprisingly, the Michael Caine trade off from the first installment coming in at number one. That’s actually how I became familiar with The Trip – when that clip made its way around social media and YouTube. Did you anticipate those becoming quite as popular as they did?
Certainly not the first one. I used to do that bit in my live show, talking about how his voice had changed: how it went from The Italian Job sort of thing to Batman – you know, from high to low, and the delivery slightly changed. I used to do a bit about that and I think that’s what we were referencing in the first Trip. Then, as it goes on and obviously, as you make more of them, you realize you then know what people like, so you can anticipate it all.
So, when we’re in The Trip to Spain, we did the stuff about Mick Jagger – which was a true story about when i met him at this thing and he did, genuinely, shout down to me, and he did the Michael Caine impersonation to me – but then, we start talking about that. Then, you think in the back of your mind, “Do you think maybe this will catch on like the last one?”
The reality and the difference between real life and The Trip is that we would never argue over who does the best impression. I’m always saying, “Do this voice. Do that voice,” I don’t really mind if somebody does it better. I mean I’m just not the sort of person. I’m not very binary. I always react badly when one thing is better than the other. In print journalism, if the journalist wants to praise somebody, there often has to be a bloody victim, as well, so they’ll say, “Susan So-and-So – isn’t she wonderful? She’s so good in this role, and so good in that role, and so much better than Amanda Somebody.” There’s got to be somebody that, and you go, “Well, why bring opinion into it?” Just praise the first person well, if nothing else.
After 10 years of The Trip and the fact that Michael Winterbottom said at the premiere that The Trip to Greece would be the last one, are you sad that there won’t be another one, or are you glad? It does seem like it’s had like a very nice arc over the decade.
No, I’m really glad to quit while we’re ahead. People still like it, people still want more, and I’m a big follower of the old showbiz attitude, “Know when to get off.” I think it’s much better for people to be saying, “I wish they were doing more,” as opposed to, “When are they going to stop?” I mean, it’s a shame not to not to be going on those travels, because they’re very enjoyable, but leaving it as it is, I’m very pleased to have made these four. I think they all stand up and so, that’s a source of pride.
It being Hollywood and the entertainment industry, it’s not as if you and Steve Coogan won’t have many opportunities to possibly work together in the future.
What we’d like to do is something where we are actually playing characters, because when Michael brought this to us initially, we said, “No.” It seemed self-indulgent to us and I remember saying, “Well okay, maybe we’ll do it, but can’t we be characters?” and he was very right to say, “No.” He was very right to say it’s better that we are these versions of ourselves because I think the people who do like the shows and who do like the films – that becomes a tantalizing aspect of it.
I must admit, I’ve always – maybe foolishly – been surprised when these questions come up as to, “Is it really you” because, to me, it’s obviously not and people who view it almost as a reality show – as if cameras were just following us around. To me, it’s very clearly a construct but then – if I step back a bit and I see, we do reference things that really have happened in our lives, and we mix those in with things that haven’t, I suppose it’s understandable, in that sense.
The Trip to Greece is available in select theaters, digital and cable video on demand starting Friday, May 22.