Even with only one half of The Trip to Greece’s stars on the line, the mercurial wit of Rob Brydon is enough to derail the best-laid plans.
Minus screen sparring partner Steve Coogan, he joins director Michael Winterbottom on the call.
“What’s it like, working with two hot guys?” Brydon interrogates Winterbottom.
“Do you feel that you have to tone us down onscreen? Because I do feel that the sort of the weightiness of the trip will be lost if it’s just treating us as eye candy.”
Winterbottom, it seems, is just as nifty with his comebacks.
“It’s normally just the temperature,” he responds, deadpan “and you moaning about how it’s too hot to work.”
Brydon claps back, recalling a seaside feast in Macedonia.
“Remember when we did that stuff about Ray Winstone as Henry the Eighth? I was sitting in my own juices. Absolutely unpleasant in the extreme. Very hot in my underwear. I’m thinking seriously about washing them.”
The fourth movie in a much-loved TV series that’s cut down for cinemas – or living rooms, as it happens, in these days of COVID – the Trips have so far covered England’s Lake District (2009) and the more salubrious surrounds of Italy (2014) and Spain (2017).
Brydon notes how surreal the latest feels in lockdown.
“It was already escapist when we filed it a year ago, but to watch it now, it seems like the great escapist. This idea that two guys could drive around and pull into a restaurant and chat to different people,” he told The New Daily.
Partly fictionalised and largely improvised, the films feature exaggerated versions of Brydon and Coogan dealing with imagined drama in their personal and professional lives.
Winterbottom got the idea after casting them in Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, a meta-textual take on the ‘un-filmable’ Laurence Sterne novel.
“Travel writing was very popular in the 18th century, and Sterne does a fictional version of himself having semi-erotic escapades and mishaps,” the director explained.
The Trip to Greece picks up on the fact it has been a decade since the original.
It traces the 10-year mythological route of Odysseus, King of Ithaca, home to Greece after victory in the Trojan War.
As hilarious as ever, it also leans on the fact the stars are in their 50s, musing on mortality.
Are they mates in real life?
“We spend a hell of a lot of time together filming, and when it’s finished, I don’t see much of him,” Brydon said, though it’s hard to tell when he’s being serious.
“He’s very driven. I’ve got five children and two of them are still at school. Steve has a grown daughter, so his life is very creative. He’s constantly thinking about a new project.”
Of course, there are impersonation battles, taking on acting greats like Alec Guinness and rock stars like Mick Jagger.
Of all their attempts, Brydon rates Coogan doing Michael Crawford’s character Frank Spencer from the sitcom Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em best.
“I like Steve doing any impersonation, because I know he’s not enjoying it,” he said.
“So I get a lot of pleasure from knowing that he feels he’s belittling himself.”
Brydon’s happiest with his take on fellow Welshman Anthony Hopkins.
I had hoped to cop an earful of his Michael Caine – jump online and it’s a 50-50 battle who does it best, him or Coogan – but it was not to be.
Instead, I got Brydon mercilessly mimicking his co-star.
“The other day I had to do a Zoom interview with him and he spent about five minutes talking to me about what he’d been doing with his beard and how he was dressed,” Brydon said, doing his best Coogan mumble.
“He looked a bit like an explorer from the 1920s and I just thought, ‘Wow, you have the time to be having those thoughts,’ because I don’t. I’m corralling children into different states that they don’t want to be in.”
Playing up their on-screen rivalry, it’s clear Brydon deeply admires, maybe even loves Coogan.
Winterbottom dotes on both.
“I admire everything about Rob,” he says, to which Brydon goofs, “I admire very little about Michael. Admire is too strong a word. I acknowledge Michael, certainly. I would say that I admire his understated fashion sense for the older gentleman.”
This sets Winterbottom guffawing.
Whether this is the end of The Trip or not is questionable.
Brydon’s already musing about returning to the series in 10 years. Where would they travel to then?
— Herald_Verniere (@Herald_Verniere) May 22, 2020
Winterbottom suggests Australia, and the star agrees.
“The food’s great out there and the scenery is absolutely breathtaking,” Brydon said.
“But I have to say, I do have that comedian’s instinct of getting off the stage while they’re still laughing.”
And it is a hoot.
Asked to explain the series’ success, Brydon offers: “For as long as we can remember, audiences have always got a kick out of two hot guys doing their thing. Michael, would you agree?”
To which the director resignedly concurs. “Yeah, I agree. I always agree with Rob.”
The Trip to Greece is available to download from all major platforms, including iTunes, now.