Comic drama

How to act the Steve Coogan way: an interview with the Hamlet 2 man
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Rock me, sexy Jesus — I mean, sexy, sniffle-y Steve Coogan. With a little luck, the British actor's latest comedy will soon place those lyrics on the lips of teenaged malcontents — the same ilk that Coogan's hemorrhoid-commercial thespian and high school drama theater Dana Marschz haplessly mentors in Hamlet 2. As a parody of inspirational teacher flicks, Hamlet 2 (see our review) is a rousing success — the type Mr. Holland would toss his opus for. It's almost completely due to Coogan. In contrast to his brief, blotto turn through that other cinematic lampoon in the theaters, Tropic Thunder, he klutzes, kibitzes, and futzes, hilariously, through nearly every frame.

Hamlet 2 finds Coogan playing an American mired in a monochromatic Albuquerque. Marschz is a pathetic synthesis of ditziness, show-must-go-on hope, and ambition — writing Hamlet 2 seems the perfect way for him to exorcise his own fatherly ghosts and put a feel-good spin on that downer play. Yet it was the character's bare-faced vulnerability that Coogan — known in the United Kingdom for his TV commentator Alan Partridge and stateside as an independent actor who has appeared in films by Michael Winterbottom, Jim Jarmusch, and Sofia Coppola — found most daunting.

"I think I'm going to fall flat on my face in everything I do, really," allows the actor, congested and "bunged-up" during the San Francisco stop of a press tour. "I'm used to playing comic characters who are often unpleasant people and who you somehow have some kind of empathy for. This guy isn't awful or nasty. He's vulnerable and foolish and slightly self-delusional. I could see how you could make him funny. [The trick is to make sure] the audience would care enough about him to see it through to the end. That was the tough thing."

Coogan meets the challenge. Now perhaps kids in music stores will call out for the actor's drama geek or rocker Christ figure as much as his smirking, überhipster version of Tony Wilson in 2002's 24 Hour Party People. "I feel very, very close to that film," Coogan says of Wilson, partly because he grew up in Manchester, where he often slipped into Wilson's Hacienda nightclub. "All the events in that movie, I witnessed as a young teenager. When I did the movie, I felt like I was reliving my youth — except I was playing the guy at the center of the events, rather than the spectator."

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