Steve Coogan brings comic relief to sorrowful story of 'Philomena'

Thu Nov 21, 2013 5:16pm EST
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By Mary Milliken

BEVERLY HILLS, California (Reuters) - When British comedic actor Steve Coogan first read the mournful story behind his new film "Philomena" in a newspaper, he noticed that the two people in the accompanying picture were laughing.

The photo showed Philomena Lee, an elderly Irish woman looking for the son she was forced to give up as a teenage girl, and former BBC journalist Martin Sixsmith who had accompanied her on her search and written a book about it in 2009.

The photograph "struck me as being at odds with the tragic nature of the story," said Coogan. "I wondered if I could tell a story like this, a tragic and moving story, and find the way to make people smile at the same time."

That musing led Coogan to co-write, co-produce and co-star as Sixsmith in "Philomena," opposite veteran British actress Dame Judi Dench in the title role. The film directed by Britain's Stephen Frears opens in U.S. theaters this weekend.

The film is a step up in the serious department for a man whose name alone makes people chuckle in Britain. There he is best known as Alan Partridge, the buffoonish and politically incorrect regional BBC broadcaster he portrays to parody TV talk shows and commentators.

But Coogan, 48, says the intersection of drama and comedy was a natural place for him to make a film.

"I don't like the notion that you either have a drama or a serious movie that is taxing and a comedy that is light thing that you don't have to think about," Coogan told Reuters.

His goal: that the audience thinks about something real and important, has a "nice time" and feels "uplifted at the end of the story."   Continued...

Actors Judi Dench (L) and Steve Coogan (R) pose during a photocall for the movie "Philomena", directed by Stephen Frears, during the 70th Venice Film Festival in Venice August 31, 2013. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi