INTERVIEW: ‘Philomena’ writer and star Steve Coogan on the season’s best film

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Judi Dench and Steve Coogan in ‘Philomena’

The really unmissible film to see over the Thanksgiving weekend is certainly Philomena. It has everything: Old people (especially an enchanting Judi Dench) for mom and dad; a gay subplot for you; humor, tears and the structure of a detective novel. And it’s all thanks to Steve Coogan.

Coogan is a familiar face whose name you probably don’t know, appearing, as he says, “as Part No. 4 in someone else’s movie.” But the British comedian has also written some funny stuff, including The Trip, which you should check out if you haven’t already.

Coogan co-wrote and co-stars in Philomena, and sat down with us when he was in Dallas earlier this month to talk about how he discovered the true story of BBC reporter Martin Sixsmith and his travels in helping an elderly Irish woman (Dench) find the son she gave up for adoption.

Dallas Voice: How did you find this story?  Steve Coogan: I was just treading water [in my acting career], so I was looking for a project that was different for me — and outside comedy, because I wanted to do more nuanced stuff. No one was giving me a break, so I decided to create a break for myself. [I happened upon a magazine article about Philomena], and I thought I could turn it into some kind of drama.

You play Martin, a disgraced BBC reporter who’s quite cynical when he agrees to take on this “human interest profile” and gets transformed by Philomena in unexpected ways. Did you understand him? Yes. They say write what you know about, and I felt a connection to Martin — a liberal intellectual – but I also knew who Philomena was: A working class Irish woman. And her story could have happened to anyone. And I liked the idea of showing that older people were once young people. There were lots of reasons I felt connected to it.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Queer Clip: ‘Our Idiot Brother’

If Jesus came back today, I think he’d be a lot like Ned Rochlin (Paul Rudd) in Our Idiot Brother, stumbling through life while erring on the side of putting too much faith in humanity … kinda like the first time around.

After eight months in prison for a dumb mistake, Ned finds himself with no home and no money. Life with his (s)mother (Shirley Knight) is unbearable so he moves on to his three sisters, wrecking each of their lives in the process.

Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) is a “former bisexual” in a lesbian relationship with a lawyer (Rashida Jones), while Liz (Emily Mortimer) has a sleazy husband (Steve Coogan) and a son and Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) is a writer nearing a career breakthrough.

Ned’s experience with his more worldly siblings leads to mixed results. When he’s unable to function in a three-way with a woman and another man, Ned feels guilty about it until a neighbor (Adam Scott) consoles him: “Just because you’re straight doesn’t mean you’re homophobic.”

How the women deal with their brother — the sweetest, most honest guy in the world — makes for pleasant entertainment. It introduces so many good characters it could be a sitcom pilot … if any network could afford that cast.

— Steve Warren

In wide release.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens