HAMLET 2 Interviews with Steve Coogan, Screenwriter Pam Brady and Director Andrew Fleming

     August 20, 2008

Written by Charlie Mihelich

Sometimes in the heat of the moment, you forget exactly what it is you’re supposed to be doing. The other day I wrote a rather lengthy diatribe regarding the state of roundtable interviews, and why I feel they are the least likely to produce anything worthwhile in terms of any personal connection. While I absolutely meant every word I wrote, I neglected to discuss the movie I was referring to, and worse, I neglected to even mention it by name. Luckily, the pictures posted to accompany the story helped indicate that the movie was, indeed, “Hamlet 2”, and here is where I will actually discuss the movie and the interviews that were conducted.

Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan) is a failed actor who has retired to Tucson, AZ, where he teaches the local high school’s drama department. He has two students, and every semester the drama department produces one of Dana’s adaptations of popular Hollywood films (the film begins with the staging of “Erin Brokovich”). As usual, Dana receives a poor review from the school’s drama critic, who is a less-than-five-feet-tall ninth grader. Dana is devastated, which further exacerbates problems at home with his wife (Catherine Keener) and roommate (David Arquette). At the beginning of the new semester, Dana enters his drama department to find it filled with new students, all of whom were placed because every other arts department on campus was cut from the budget. Many of them are “ethnics”, and Dana must search for a way to connect with them and keep the drama department alive. In a sudden moment of inspiration, he divines a sequel to Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, featuring a time machine, Jesus, a handjob and several original musical numbers. Dana must battle with local parents, the school administration, his dormant alcoholism, and his manic-depressive personality to succeed in the staging of his new play and to succeed for once in his pathetic life.

The movie is very funny, with Steve Coogan turning in a fantastic performance as Dana. The guy is huge in his home country of England, but with “Night of the Museum”, “Night at the Museum 2”, and “Tropic Thunder” under his belt, I can really see him becoming a giant of comedy stateside. He plays the role exactly as it should have been played, with no inhibitions and a completely believable character arc. The man can seriously carry a film on his own, and while the supporting cast all hold their own, Dana is the star of the show.

The movie was written by Pam Brady (“South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut” and “Team America: World Police”) and Andrew Fleming (“Dick”, “Threesome”). Fleming directed the movie, and we got to talk with both of them in our first roundtable interview.

Q: Did you originally write the Dana character as British?

PB: We did, we did. I think everything just sounds better with a British accent, but Steve had a great creative point. He said he never believed that a British person would be in Tucson going through this experience. This would be a uniquely American…I’ll say North American to include Canada because the character is from Canada.

AF: We kept talking about it and eventually Steve just said “Look, to have a character with this much enthusiasm without the intelligence to back it up, it just doesn’t exist in Britain, so he’s got to be from over here.”

Q: How did Elizabeth Shue get attached to the movie. Did you write the part for her?

AF: No, we just had it as “Famous Actress”. It was really weird for the read through, because it was “Oh, I loved you in ‘Famous Movie’”. We were going for kind of a cheesy 90’s actress, but she worked out great. She’s very, very funny.

PB: She had to read it first. Once she read it, she was gung-ho about it, but she had to read it first.

Q: The movie is Rated-R, which is rare for this type of movie. Did you have to fight to keep it R?

PB: No. Luckily, since it was independently financed, we got to do whatever we wanted. We knew it always had to be R, so R is what we made.

Q: Where did the idea for “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus” come from?

PB: We were watching Madonna’s last tour. The one where she crucified herself and did all that stuff that came off as tasteless and desperate, and we thought this would be a great way to show a similar sort of desperation.

Q: So what’s in store for the future? Do you two have any other projects together that we should know about?

AF: We do, we’re working on something, but we can’t really say anything about it. It’s super top secret, but I’m sure you’ll find out soon enough.

PB: I’m also working on “Dallas”, so we’ll see how that goes. It’s a comedy, and it’s set in the present day, but expect big hair and all that.

Next we were given a half-hour with Steve Coogan, who talked to us about playing an American, his departure from strictly British comedy, and distancing himself from his most famous character, Alan Partridge.

Q: So we hear you didn’t want to play this English. We asked (Pam and Andrew).

SC: Oh, that’s right. No I didn’t, um, for two reasons: well when I read the script, what was coming off the page to me was quite clearly someone who was American. When you read the page, an accent comes across. The fact that he was so openly emotional and demonstrative is very typical of the West Coast of America. This character Dana would avidly consume those self-help books you find at the airport. I also thought I wanted to play something other than British so I don’t end up only playing bad guys and butlers.

Q: In this movie you get to swear at children, you get to show your ass liberally, and you get to play Jesus. Was that just kind of a dream trifecta?

SC: Yeah, I mean I do sort of like to see what it is you can get away with, not just in terms of trying to shock people, but you need things to make sense and be funny at the same time.

Q: I feel like we’re going to be seeing more of you stateside. You’ve got “Hamlet 2”, “Tropic Thunder”, “Night at the Museum”, then “Night at the Museum 2”, are you interested in working over here more?

SC: I love it over here. I love working in America, and I feel as though I kind of became a victim of my own success over in England and associated with Alan Partridge, so everything I did was measured against that. Working with Americans gives me an opportunity to do something different, and it let others see my work other than Alan Partridge. I don’t get offered much work in England, mostly because people assume I’m doing my own thing, or I have too many of my own ideas.

Q: Have you had any feedback on the “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus” song from any parent groups or anything?

SC: You know, there have been rumblings, but once people see the film I don’t think they’ll mind. It’s tasteful and it’s actually quite respectful. People get all hot and bothered over the word “sexy”, but I mean if you look at the representation of Jesus in the Sistine Chapel, you’ll find that Jesus is actually quite attractive.

Q: Anything coming up in the future that we should know about?

SC: I want to do a movie with Owen (Wilson), and I think we’re actually going to do it. I don’t know what or when, but we’ve been talking about it and I can’t wait to do it.

“Hamlet 2” will be released on August 22 in wide release.

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