Film interview: Steve Coogan

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Steve Coogan tackles porn baron Paul Raymond in his new film The Look Of Love. But don’t expect it to be all about the laughs. Albertina Lloyd reports.

It’s lonely at the top. That seems to be the message of new movie The Look Of Love. Superficially, the world of Paul Raymond’s Soho strip clubs seems glamorous and exciting as the champagne corks pop and sequins sparkle.

But when the lights go up and everyone has gone home, the reality feels seedy and cold.

It’s a world that Steve Coogan has chosen to examine as he plays porn baron and strip club owner Raymond in the biopic which charts his rise to success as ‘The King of Soho’.

The movie follows his relationships with his wife Jean, his porn star mistress Fiona Richmond and his beloved daughter Debbie.

Raymond lived his life in a hedonistic whirl of sex, drugs and parties. But he lost his wife and girlfriend as they tired of his endless philandering, and his drug-addict daughter died of a heroin overdose.

“It’s a bit grubby,” admits Coogan. “It became exhausting playing him.”

“He seemed to live the life of a vampire. He hardly ever ventured out into the day, and at the end of it I just wanted to see some daylight.”

It was Coogan’s idea to make a film about Raymond. So he approached director Michael Winterbottom, who he’s worked with several times before (on 24 Hour Party People, A Cock And Bull Story and The Trip) and they researched whether the story could work on the big screen.

“It’s a very un-celebrated story, because it’s largely about sex – something that ironically makes a lot of British people clench their buttocks,” Coogan explains. “The discomfort of the subject matter is, paradoxically, what attracted me to it.”

The world of striptease and the playboy lifestyle appears exciting to begin with, but the troubled life of Raymond’s daughter Debbie, portrayed brilliantly by Imogen Poots (28 Weeks Later), and the touching relationship she has with her father, adds a sadder dimension.

“We wanted to avoid it just being titillation. Literally and metaphorically, titillation,” says Coogan, who can’t help smirking at his own joke, and says it again for good measure. “Because there’s a lot of titillation in it.

“But then, in actual fact, what rapidly became our concern was that it was too dark and too sad. So we had to try and put a bit more joy into it actually.

“We wanted to show there’s an element of fun to it, but inevitably there’s a sort of Faustian pact that he makes with the devil by just purely pursuing this unhindered hedonism.”

Despite its bleakness, The Look Of Love presents a fairly rose-tinted view of Raymond’s life. Actresses Anna Friel and Tamsin Egerton play his wife and mistress as strong and independent, and there is never a hint that Raymond took advantage of or was derogatory to women, despite his profession.

Coogan observes: “The bottom line is that he was a businessman and he could only measure success in terms of material wealth and, like many people, he didn’t recognise that you don’t achieve happiness in the same way.”

The film is packed with cameos from famous faces of British comedy, including David Walliams, Matt Lucas, Chris Addison, Simon Bird, Stephen Fry and Miles Jupp.

But 47-year-old Coogan warns: “If people are expecting a Carry On film, they’ll be disappointed. It’s funny but it has a sort of bleakness to it.”

Either way, it’s a far cry from his best known alter ego, the narcissistic and embarrassing TV and radio host Alan Partridge, who made Coogan a household name.

In more recent years, however, Coogan’s reputation for great comedy has been slightly eclipsed by his personal life. He found himself the subject of a string of salacious stories in the tabloid press, and last year volunteered to give evidence at the Leveson Inquiry.

Coogan complained about the media intrusion into his personal life and claimed he had been misrepresented by various racy stories about him.

Was this something he identified with in Raymond? “You can draw parallels with some of the effects that Leveson looked at. In so far as Paul Raymond gave the public what they wanted, which was this sexual thing, and was often judged by the media for being sexually excessive.And yet at the same time, they revelled in his notoriety.

“At their worst, some newspapers are hypocritical because they’re both sanctimonious and judgmental but at the same time revel in the sordid details of their stories.

“But that’s not really why I did the film, I did the film because it’s an interesting story.”

Coogan has another film on the way too – the long-awaited Alan Partridge movie Alpha Papa, which will finally be unveiled to fans this summer.

He’s admitted in the past that he sometimes resents Partridge’s popularity because the character became impossible to escape. So how does he feel about bringing him to the big screen?

“As long as I’m doing other interesting things, then I don’t mind talking about him, or doing him in fact. And really I’ve only ever done Alan when I wanted to do him,” he says.

“We didn’t need to do it, that’s the important thing. It wasn’t as if I was kicking around and thought, ‘Well I’d better bring back Alan...’

“We did it because we wanted to and we thought it was funny. It made me laugh, and hopefully it will make other people laugh.”

The Look of Love has just gone on general release at cinemas across the UK.

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