Martin Sixsmith’s book Philomena has become an award-winning film by screenwriter and actor Steve Coogan and the director Stephen Frears. Alan Yentob begins by challenging the two of them as to the authenticity of the story as it appears on the screen.
Frears is happy to admit that parts of the story are invented and believes this makes the telling better. Coogan on the other hand fiercely defends the accuracy of the central tenets of the film. Coogan he was making Philomena and Alpha Papa the return of Alan Partridge at much the same time and it was a challenge. “Alan Partridge is a middle Englander, typical Daily Mail reader but he’s not a Ukip voter”. Looking back at the early incarnations of the character Coogan finds him one-dimensional but believes that over 20 years he and Alan have become more and more alike “by the time I die we’ll be the same”.
Yentob moves on to talking about Rob Brydon and The Trip – the series were the two actors play versions of themselves exposing their genuine character flaws “we had an unwritten rule that we were allowed to push each others buttons”, but there were things that Coogan did not want included and would say “I’m not doing that in the middle of a take”. Coogan likes The Trip but not as much as others do.
Frears is responsible for an incredible catalogue of films; ‘The Grifters’, ‘My Beautiful Laundrette’, ‘Dangerous Liaisons’, ‘High Fidelity’ and going further back ‘If’ on which he was Assistant Director. He tells Yentob that the breadth of films is because they had good writers and he took what he was offered “no-one encouraged me to be an auteur”.