LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - British comedian Steve Coogan's specialty is over-the-top characters. In Britain, he gained notoriety as radio personality Alan Partridge, and in the United States, he currently appears in Hollywood action flick send-up "Tropic Thunder" opposite Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black and Ben Stiller, who also directed the movie.
Now Coogan, 42, is appearing in one of this summer's most eagerly awaited "sequels" -- "Hamlet 2," which debuts in major U.S. cities on Friday -- playing a high school drama teacher who attempts to mount a musical based on his radical, upbeat re-interpretation of the Bard's great tragedy.
Coogan, whose films include "Night at the Museum" and "24 Hour Party People," spoke to Reuters about "Hamlet 2," his first-ever action figure toy and his comic ways.
Q: How would you describe "Hamlet 2?"
A: It's this odd, strange Frankenstein-monster of a film and no one will ever be able to say, 'It's another one of those kind of movies.' When I first read it I started laughing at the bit where this failed drama teacher is directing a school version of (film) 'Erin Brockovich.' I just understood it right there and then, and understood who this person was.
Q: So you could relate to your character, Dana?
A: Yes, because I went to drama school and met people like him. He's overly emotional and theatrical, but he's very honest and earnest, and trying to do something worthwhile. Comedy often comes from duplicity and people trying to conceal their true feelings, but Dana's very sincere and open.
Q: You have an action figure, "Rock Me Sexy Jesus," that ties in with "Hamlet 2's" big show-stopping musical number. Are you worried it might offend some people?
A: It's my first action figure and I'll stick one on the dashboard of my car (laughs). I was nervous about it but I think I can defend it. Obviously certain people will not like it and be angry. (But) this film celebrates creativity and diversity and free expression, and the notion of depicting Jesus in this way isn't that new -- 'Jesus Christ Superstar' and 'Godspell' did the same thing in a serious context.
Q: You often put yourself in embarrassing situations on screen. Do you have a high tolerance for humiliation?
A: I got over the wanting-to-be-cool thing a long time ago, and found it quite liberating. Once you stop worrying about how you might be perceived -- even in character -- it's strangely freeing. So I've actually gravitated towards doing things that are uncomfortable and embarrassing, and I enjoy it.
Q: Are you vain?
A: Of course -- all actors are, whatever they tell you! (laughs). It's not through self-effacement that I make myself look like an idiot. I do it because it all goes to the greater glory of Steve Coogan.
Q: The old cliche is that most comedians are angry and angst-ridden and difficult in private. Are you high maintenance off-screen?
A: I'm sometimes angst-ridden and I know there's things about me that are slightly dysfunctional, and in a way I use it as creative fuel. I'm quite self-aware, and part of me is very well-adjusted. But we're all complex, and parts of me are not well-adjusted. Sometimes I think people who are crazy have used that as an excuse for being rude, and I don't accept that.
Q: You've worked a lot with Ben Stiller. Are you good friends and do you hang out together?
A: Yes, although I wouldn't say I 'hang out' with him. We're friends and I think he'd say the same about me. He tracked me down in Britain, told me he was a huge fan, and said he wanted me to be part of his creative life, and now we're doing "Night at the Museum 2" together. Doing "Tropic Thunder" was great fun, but he's a very tough director. When he's directing, he can be a bit of a bastard, but in the nicest possible way (laughs).
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Xavier Briand