Michael Winterbottom's journey through various idyllic European cuisines becomes a literal odyssey in the fourth and final film, The Trip To Greece. The series, which started as a British television sitcom in 2010, follows comedic actors Steve Coogan (This Time With Alan Partridge) and Rob Brydon (Holmes & Watson) as fictionalized versions of themselves who have been commissioned to do a restaurant tour of different European countries.
Every season has been edited into a film for overseas consumption, and the latest film will be available on digital and video on demand starting May 22. Not only does The Trip To Greece feel like a true closing of a chapter, it also heightens its literary allusions more than every by paying strong homage to the ancient Greek tale of Odysseus.
Rob Brydon, who plays the fun-loving and impersonation-obsessed version of himself onscreen, spoke with Screen Rant about the experience of the crew's final trip. He shared how much homework he didn't do for the role, which parts felt closest to and furthest from his real self, and where he'd like to visit next on a trip of his own.
You, Steve and Michael have created a whole universe of the fictionalized Steve and Rob which dates back to A Cock and Bull Story in 2005. How have these caricatures of yourselves developed, and how different from you would you say they are?
Rob Brydon: Well, I think they're essentially us, but they're just exaggerated to serve the comedy and to serve the drama. It's just taking it and stretching it here and there. So, it's essentially who we are. You know, Steve is more driven and ambitious, while I'm more easygoing. But then we just exaggerate it for comic effect.
The Trip feels like it could go on forever, with both of you visiting different locations. Why was this the right time to make the fourth installment its final one?
Rob Brydon: I think that, for me, it's always been a concern going back to it. I have a comedian's instinct for getting off the stage while they're still laughing. This was the fourth one, so it was slightly born out of fear about overstaying our welcome. You know, leave them wanting more.
And then with this one, because it's Odysseus - we're following Odysseus' journey, and it's about homecoming. It seemed right, and it was a sort of consensus between the three of us that it would be a good time to end it. I can't overstate the importance of leaving people wanting more.
I thought it was fascinating how Trip To Greece broke up the story of Odysseus. Steve's story is that of a son searching for his father and vice, and then Rob is returning to his wife after a voyage. What kind of conversations led to that being the overarching element of the film?
Rob Brydon: Well, no conversations at all. Just Michael Winterbottom saying to us, "This is what we're going to do." Michael is the one who writes the story; Michael decides where we're going. We really do, without being glib, just turn up. Michael has drawn the pictures and we color them in is how I would put it. All the plot decisions and things that happen are entirely Michael, and the literary allusions are his. But then all the riffs and all the funny bits are ours.
In order to keep up with all the literary allusions that like Steve is throwing at Rob, were you assigned any research by Michael that you needed to do? Or did you fly by the seat of your pants since Rob isn't supposed to know as much anyway?
Rob Brydon: He does send the stuff, and Steve read up a little bit. I didn't at all. And generally over the four films, I haven't done the homework that I should have done. This time I said to myself, "I've got time." Let's say it was about four months before we were going to be shooting. I said, "I've got time now. I'll read the Odyssey. I'll really start to know, and then it'll be interesting. It'll be different, because when Steve says things, I'll be able to dazzle him with facts."
But, true to form, I just never got around to it. And I think it's probably best, because comedically it just works better if he's trying to impress you with all this knowledge, and he's wearing it so heavily. And I'm just breezing through it, and I know more about Grease the movies than Greece the country.
How would you characterize your working relationship with Steve and Michael? What draws you to making films together?
Rob Brydon: It's probably the most creative that I feel in everything I do, because it's a very small crew. And because we shoot chronologically, that adds another dimension to it. You feel like a wandering minstrel or a troubadour or a player in Shakespearean times, roaming the country. Because wherever we go, we perform. It's a very small crew and because we improvise so much of it, that gives you this huge feeling of creativity which is very, very enjoyable.
There's pressure, obviously, in as much as you've got to come up with stuff. You've got to improvise it. It's not all there on the on the page, and sometimes, that's easier than other times. But you do learn with experience that if nothing's coming, then you really just wait. You don't panic; you just relax. That's really important. And eventually something will come.
Is there any improvised banter for this trip or any meal in particular that stands out most in your memory?
Rob Brydon: That interesting; let me think. From this one, I enjoyed the bit right at the beginning. And I think it's in the film cut, because of course, it's a series over here. Sometimes I mention something and it's not in the movie cut, but there's a bit where Steve talks about going out with a blanket into his garden to read a book, and there were flies and he has to go back indoors. I did enjoy that.
That was very much my kind of humor. That's right up my street, that sort of thing. I'm impersonating a very famous British talk show host called Michael Parkinson, which I think I did in The Trip To Italy as well, and I like that very much. It's quite a nice device for us, that Steve talks and talks and talks and then I try and pull the rug out from under him. So, I do remember that one being very enjoyable.
I know that Steve's father being ill in the film was probably a sensitive topic in real life as well, and Michael said that he was also inspired by the death of his own father. How was that process for you, both as an actor on the outside of that and the character who support his friend silently through it?
Rob Brydon: Well, that's interesting, because to a degree I've done a lot more comedy than I have tragedy and I feel a lot more sure-footed around the comedy. And then you come into these scenes. So really, for that sequence in which we're driving to get back to the port together and then we're on the boat together, I'm just trying to feel it. I'm just trying to be instinctive; trying not to do too much; trying just to be. Because, of course, it's very much Steve's story then and we're focusing on him. And I really did just try to think, "What would I do in that situation?"
So, there's an example where it's very much just been ourselves. There's no, there's no edge to that; there's no angle to that. That is, pretty much, how I imagine I would be.
Meanwhile, Rob's scenes with his wife paint a very loving picture of his home life. How would you describe their dynamic?
Rob Brydon: Unrealistic. I'm always saying to Michael - when Rebecca talks to me on the phone and when we have scenes together, it's as if I'm the loveliest person in the world. Which of course what Michael wants to contrast [Steve], but that that is not my situation.
Rebecca's delight with my impersonations couldn't be further from the truth. I mean, I don't do them - in The Trip, I even do them in bed. I mean, good Lord, I certainly wouldn't do that in real life. And if I did, it certainly wouldn't be indulged; it wouldn't be met with laughter and delight.
So, I always find those scenes quite difficult to play, because they bear no relation to my reality whatsoever.
I know this is the final series and film, but if you were to work on something else with Steve or Michael, where would you want to go? Once were allowed to go places again, that is.
Rob Brydon: Just before we shot this last year, I had been touring with my stand up show in Australia and New Zealand. So, either of those. I've been to Australia before; I've never been to New Zealand, and I fell in love with New Zealand. I would love to find a reason to go back there at someone else's expense.
The Trip To Greece is available on digital and through VOD starting May 22.
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