We sat down with the King of Chat Alan Partridge (aka Steve Coogan) to get the lowdown on his big screen debut Alpha Papa. He discussed the difficult transition to making a movie, what it is he likes about Alan Partridge and how the Norwich DJ closely resembles David Cameron.
Sky Movies: Alan has made it to the big screen - what's he doing?
Steve Coogan: Alan is a disc jockey at Radio Norwich. The radio station - which is North Norfolk Digital now - gets taken over by a faceless, multi-national media conglomerate who go in, buy TV stations and try to establish a monopoly where they can control the media completely. Anyway, they do that and suck all the identity out of the local radio station.
The DJs that are there are either kept or discarded...and Alan Partridge hangs onto his job by the skin of his teeth while another DJ - who is regarded as being unfashionable - is made unemployed. However, he doesn't take it lying down and gets very angry and decides to take everybody hostage in the radio station. A siege ensues and Alan Partridge acts as the go-between."
SM: You've got a lot of input into the character with writing et cetera. How did you go about making the transition from the small to the big screen?
SC: That was very difficult because we had to try to invent a story that was dynamic and interesting enough to sustain a 90-minute movie. So we had to flesh the character out in some ways. But we also had to do that without losing the charm and small world myopia that Alan really exists on in TV and radio. So we had to balance those two things really and not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
SM: You've lived with him for twenty years now...do you actually like him?
SC: It's a very strange relationship because, on the one hand, I find some of his views odious and infuriating. But I also quite like him. I sort of feel a bit sorry for him and I suppose what I think is that Alan's a bit of an idiot in some respects, a bit unselfconscious, a bit unaware but there are a lot of people who are a lot worse than him. I think he does ultimately have a conscience. He's a small-world, little Englander who is - at heart - a decent person,
SM: For the movie, some old faces have come back. Can you tell us what they contribute?
SC: Well, Lynn, Alan's assistant, played by Felicity Montagu, was very popular in the television series. She's his sidekick who was often slightly bullied by Alan but ultimately wears the trousers in the relationship. She appears to be put upon but, in fact, she's often the architect of things. The other character, played by Simon Greenall, is Michael, the Geordie, who's a slightly lonelier figure even than Alan, who hangs out with him to give him a sense of superiority. One of the new characters that came along in the webisodes we did is Tim Key, who played sidekick Simon and is a new addition to the Alan family. He lends another dynamic to Alan's character.
SM: The other main introduction is Pat (Colm Meaney)
SC: Ah, he's the main supporting role and has a real presence. We needed a real, heavyweight actor with a lot of screen experience and Colm Meaney was fantastic in the role. He was able to convey a sense of loneliness and inadequacy while also adding an element of threat.
SM: What's new about Alan in the movie, because you've always continued to flesh him out?
SC: Well, you can't have the character standing still, you have to develop the character. To some extent, Alan Partridge reflects the zeitgeist, whatever's going on. He's become slightly more liberal, slightly more modern. He doesn't wear blazers anymore. We can't just repeat what we've done before, we have to update it somehow. That's because people like Alan do change over the years. He's divorced now, he doesn't have a girlfriend, he's a single man so he dresses in a slightly sport way, mid-life crises kind of clothing.
He also has a sense of those liberal sensibilities that have become the norm that were one time radical. In that way, I think he reflects the David Camerons of the world. Alan was an old school Tory and now he's more like Cameron. Cameron embraces gay marriage and that's something 30 years ago a prime minister would not have done publicly. So Alan's a little more trendy than he was.
SM: Armando Iannucci's notoriously got this book of 'Alanisms'. Is it empty now...or is there a future for Alan?
SC: He sort of had what we call a dustbin of ideas that were cast aside. I don't think he has a great big tome that's leather-bound. But there's a bucket of bits and bobs that he raided to help with the film but I'm sure there's more ideas there. The key to the new ideas was when [screenwriters] Rob and Neil Gibbons came along. They gave it some new DNA and refreshed the gene pool, if you like.