In July, British funnyman Steve Coogan signed a deal to have his Baby Cow production company create shows for NBC. One being planned is a remake of his recent BBC2 hit, Saxondale. Following a brash roadie-turned-exterminator, the series debuts stateside tonight on BBC America (11 pm/ET). The project was a welcome change for Coogan, who is best known for playing Alan Partridge in the shows Knowing Me, Knowing You and I'm Alan Partridge. TVGuide.com spoke with the Manchester native about his new creation and about the upcoming film Marie Antoinette, in which he plays Ambassadeur Mercy.
TVGuide.com: You had a lot of success with Alan Partridge. Why was it important to play a very different character in Saxondale?
Steve Coogan: Well, I wanted it to be different in terms of heart and pathos. I wanted to have a guy who, despite his faults, is basically an OK person and is for the most part likable. Tommy Saxondale would be perfectly happy chatting with you and having a beer, while Alan probably would be trying to find an excuse to leave.
TVGuide.com: Suburban life doesn't quite suit Tommy. Do you see him as having anger issues, or is the world around him really the problem?
Coogan: That's a good question, and it's one that I deliberately don't answer. Sometimes you laugh at him and sometimes you laugh with him, but sometimes he's right. Along with his faux pas and mistakes, sometimes he's right on the money. When that happens, the audience shares in his frustration, but they also think that maybe he should learn to process it in a more mature way.
TVGuide.com: Tommy also boasts an encyclopedic knowledge of classic rock. It seems like you often write and play characters who have a close relationship with music.
Coogan: I do love music, but I have to say my cowriter Neil MacLennan is the font of all knowledge, musically. I know my stuff pretty well, but he's hardcore. Sometimes I'll be writing with him and I'll go, "Who the hell are they?" It works out, though, because we'll balance a few esoteric references with broader references.
TVGuide.com: Saxondale has a real fullness to it as opposed to a lot of comedies that look for an easy laugh and are quickly forgotten as soon as you change the channel.
Coogan: Absolutely. It's the kind of comedy where when we're writing, we'll say, "People might not get that, but the people who watch it again and again on video will enjoy that each time they see it." It's like trying to write an album track people will love, rather than trying to write a pop single that's kind of disposable. Some critics spotted that in England. At first they weren't sure about it, then later they said, "This is actually a real grower and it stands repeated viewing." That's what we were trying to go for.
TVGuide.com: Your humor is based more on character than situation. Why are you more comfortable with that style?
Coogan: I think it's just what I understand. I love humanity and I like the minutiae of situations rather than huge contrived set pieces. Having said that, I love physical comedy and there is some of that in Saxondale. But I am driven by character. One of my pet peeves is when characters say lines that are too smart for them to have thought up. It has to come from truth.
TVGuide.com: Any future plans for the U.K. version of the series?
Coogan: I'm currently writing the next [season]. We've decided to do six more.
TVGuide.com: After handling producing, writing and starring duties on projects, was it nice to simply be an actor in Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette [in theaters Oct. 20]?
Coogan: It was very enjoyable, because all I had to do is get my lines right and not bump into the furniture. I like to mix it up a bit. I like to invite people to my party, but I also like to be invited to their party.
TVGuide.com: I had heard that the Marie Antoinette screening at Cannes stirred up some controversy.
Coogan: No. That was something that was leapt on by the press. The actual screening at Cannes was very well received and got a huge ovation, but there was a little press screening during the day where some French journalists booed. Any comments on France by an American, de facto, is going to get that kind of reaction from some French journalists for whom America will never do anything right. It's slightly unsophisticated. The more sophisticated French journalists could see the aesthetic value of an auteur like Sofia.
TVGuide.com: Right now, you're spending a few months in the States developing shows for NBC, including an American version of Saxondale. What makes you think it will translate?
Coogan: I think it will translate because the character is already quite an American character. He's got that American sensibility in that he's very much an individual, he's a bit of a libertarian, and he's a maverick. He regards himself as his own island. There's nothing certain in the world of television comedy, but I've got a good feeling about it.
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