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Eating and Acting

May 17, 2011 | by

Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan from The Trip.

The British actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon met for dinner recently at an Italian restaurant in New York. As a plate of cheese and meat was passed around the table, Brydon, who was wearing a pink shirt, grabbed his midsection and sighed. “I’ve gained so much weight, and I haven’t been able to shift it,” he said. “It makes me so mad.” The men were in town because their new film, The Trip, was playing at the Tribeca Film Festival. In The Trip, Coogan and Brydon play slightly fictionalized versions of themselves and drive around England’s Lake District reviewing restaurants for The Observer. (The film originally aired as a six-part series on the BBC.) During filming, the men ate each meal three times, to allow for different camera setups. “Steve was smart,” Brydon said. “He just pushed the food around his plate. But I ate everything. Eating makes you a better actor because it distracts part of your brain. It’s like driving—if you’re eating or driving, you’re doing something real, so the acting seems more real, too.” (Much of The Trip takes place on the road, but Coogan did all the driving.)

The salad arrived. Brydon said that Michael Winterbottom, the film’s director, decided to make The Trip after noticing how many movies about food were playing at film festivals. Winterbottom chose the itinerary for the trip. (At dinner, a publicist suggested that the director needed a vacation after his previous movie, the ultra-violent The Killer Inside Me.) Brydon and Coogan worked with Winterbottom on Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, playing similarly exaggerated versions of their public personas: Coogan, the hedonistic, self-destructive comedian unable to shed his most famous role, the blissfully boorish Alan Partridge; Brydon, the contented family man whose fame as radio host and comedian is slowly eclipsing Coogan’s. In The Trip, Coogan spends evenings smoking pot, sleeping with comely hotel staff, and staring discontentedly in the mirror, while Brydon calls his wife for cozy long-distance tuck-ins (“speaking of boiled eggs, I’m not wearing my pajama bottoms”).

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The Writers of Hollywood

March 18, 2011 | by

Bradley Cooper as Eddie Morra.

Early in the movie Limitless, we follow protagonist Eddie Morra as he shuffles aimlessly down a street in New York’s Chinatown. Observed from a distance, Eddie barely registers onscreen. He has a scraggly ponytail and a beat-up jacket. One hand is wrapped in grubby surgical tape. His attitude is at once hostile and cowering. He could probably use a shave, a shower, and a sandwich, but something more is wrong, something fundamental about Eddie himself. In voice-over, Eddie uses his career to explain his unsavory appearance: “What kind of guy without a drug or alcohol problem looks this way? Only a writer.”

In movies, writers are only slightly less morally repugnant than serial killers (unless the writer is a serial killer). According to Hollywood, writers are either parasites (Deconstructing Harry, Barton Fink, Capote, Misery); perverts (The Squid and the Whale, Adaptation, Wonder Boys, American Splendor); addicts (Permanent Midnight, Barfly, Leaving Las Vegas, Sideways), or sociopaths (La Piscine, Deathtrap, The Shining). They have monstrous egos and tiny, wizened hearts. Their moral compasses are permanently cracked; their personal relationships are cynically contrived to produce “experience,” which they feed to the insatiable maw of their craft. They are creatively constipated. They practice poor personal hygiene. They are not lovely to look at. It almost goes without saying that they are almost always male.

Paul Giamatti as Miles in Sideways.

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