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”).