A Couple of Troubadours Traveling Around the Country: Rob Brydon on The Trip to Greece

After four films, Michael Winterbottom’s food and talk-heavy “The Trip” series reaches its final destination with “The Trip to Greece,” which premieres this Friday. It's a journey that started with "The Trip" in 2010, an international success that then lead to "The Trip to Italy," "The Trip to Spain," and now this finale, where funny men Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan trace Odysseus' steps, and eat their way through Greece. 

These movies have been a true anomaly in the scope of what constitutes a modern franchise, considering that the spectacle largely involves Brydon and Coogan playing comic exaggerations of themselves, venturing through a respective country and devouring its cuisine. Celebrity impression competitions, raucous banter, and casual quotes from classics abound, all presented as if we were watching them from the next table over. As Brydon assures me, they’d never behave like this at a real restaurant. 

RogerEbert.com spoke to Brydon about what he’ll miss the most about making these movies, the truth behind him being “unversed” in the classics, Brydon’s mortifying mistake in the Bruce Springsteen movie “Blinded by the Light,” and more. 

After four movies, what do you think you will miss the most about making these films? 

Well, I suppose I’ll miss … it was quite a unique way of filming. It was a very small, intimate crew. Basically just Steve and myself on camera. And also the way that we shot it—it was shot chronologically, which is very rare. So that also added to the blurring of reality and fiction, so each trip in the literal sense, and in the titular sense, didn’t feel like any other job. If you really felt very creative, it always felt like we were a couple of troubadours traveling around the country, and then we would get to different places and do our thing. 

It’s the simplicity of it? The ease? Is the shooting process deceptively breezy? 

Well, it’s the simplicity of it, certainly. In the few big films that I’ve been in, not many but i did a bit in “The Huntsman” sequel—you feel far more integral to it, here. I think that the ease that the viewer sees on the screen is deceptive, because obviously particularly in the scenes where we’re eating the meals and it looks as if we just sat there wasting food, you are having to think up funny, interesting stuff. I am often asked, “What’s your favorite meal?” but during the meal what I’m thinking of is, “What am I going to say next?”” Steve is going to come up with stuff and I’ve got to come back.

And when you’re improvising, it’s very much a day-to-day basis. There will be days when it just flows, and you can’t put a foot wrong. And then there are other times when you struggle to think of something. I remember in “The Trip to Italy,” we were at the amphitheater in Pompeii, and Michael [Winterbottom] wanted us to come up with stuff there. And that’s the one I always remember. I just couldn’t think of anything. What you learn to experience in age, the thing to do is just to wait, and just to relax. Something will come along, eventually. You don’t panic. 

Do you feel you had that experience of panic more with the first movie? 

I think that the first one was very different as much as it was new. We weren’t really sure what we were making, nor did we know how it would be received. Since the first one, they’ve all been very well received, they have their audience who are very keen on them. It is by anyone’s standards, a success by the fact we made more of them. Whereas the first one, we would be filming during the week and then going home on the weekend because it was in Britain, which is not the case of the later ones. And I remember with the first one, going home and my wife saying, “What’s it like?” And I’d say, “It’s very funny.” And of course when I watched it, there was all of this melancholy to it, which I wasn’t aware of. What I was remembering was the funny stuff we were creating. And then I wasn’t aware of the overall feeling that Michael was creating. So then, when you go on and make more of them, you’re often covering very similar ground; you're trying to come up with something the same, but different with your improvisations. 

Does looking back at the first time like that provide or instill any faith in you about what people will want to see? 

We know the things that chime with people. We know they like the impressions, and they like it when we are argue with each other. Do I like the impressions? Up to a point, but the reality is that we wouldn’t behave like we behave in the film. We’d never argue who does an impression better, it’d never occur to us, all of that is an invention. 

And I tell you what’s very interesting—I’m always interested in people’s perception of things. You get it with “The Trip,” actually. Because I see my impressions slash our impressions described as “brilliant,” I’ve also seen them described as “awful,” “dodgy.” And I seen on the internet, “Brydon’s Caine nails it, so much more than Coogan’s.” And I’ve also see the opposite. So much of it is beauty in the eye of the beholder. It is simply how it sounds to your ear, at a certain level, when you accept that somebody could do it pretty close to the real thing. 

Like with whether a Dustin Hoffman impression sounds spot on. 

Yeah, I think so, because I’ve experienced it so many times. There’s a lot of different Hoffmans. 

With that idea of perception, there’s also this idea of how people view you and Steven doing these comic exaggerations of yourselves. I was wondering if there’s anything you have to protect about yourself, or push back against, when the character has your name and that people would think, “That’s got to be you”? 

Yeah, well that’s interesting. There’s a difference between us there. Because over here, I do a lot, half if not more of my work is being me, being Rob Brydon. There’s a show over here that I host, and I do stand-up tours myself, I was just touring with a band before the virus hit. I appear on shows ostensibly as me. Whereas Steve is always in character, unless he’s on a talk show promoting one of this things. I think as a result, he’s very at ease how he’s portrayed in “The Trip,” because he never really has to answer to it. I do have a slight concern because I say to people, “Hey, it’s me.” There really will be sometimes, I can’t think of an example, but there will be times when Michael will say, “I’d like you to do X, Y, or zed,” and I’ll say, “Well, I’ll do X and Y, but I’m not doing zed, because I’m just not comfortable with it.” So there is sometimes that can be a concern, but I don’t think he feels it as much because he’s always in character, basically. 

It’s curious in the last two movies, then, that you have the less dramatic story than Steve. 

I think that’s always been the case. He’s always been the angst-ridden, the man wrestling with his shoes. And I’m the kind of, “wears the world lightly on his shoulders,” kind of person. And of course, that’s a great dramatic device, you know? In the early days of doing this, I always was thinking of “Midnight Run,” with De Niro and Charles Grodin, as a nice template for what we did. And that’s who I see as an influence, and some of the Peter Cook and Dudley Moore exchanges I would take inspiration from as well. 

Do you learn a lot about the classics making them? I feel like with each movie I'm trying to note an author’s name. 

Yeah … I’d like to think that I’ve learned a lot from it, but I haven’t. And I am not well versed, no. I am embarrassingly unversed in it. If I’m ever quoting anything, it’s something that I struggled to learn at the last minute. 

Uh, really?

Yeah, yeah. 

That’s so relieving to me, but so funny when I think of the characters. Sometimes I'm trying to keep up with you guys but, now I feel more at ease. 

[laughs] It’s just acting. I think I’ve quoted a few things across the films, and generally they’ve been things I’ve found in my head, that Michael has given me at the last minute. I can quote Bruce Springsteen lyrics, but there never seems to be any call for that. 

That brings me to my next question—you were in a particularly show-stopping musical sequence in last year's Bruce Springsteen movie, “Blinded by the Light.” It was such a great moment, can you recall anything about filming that scene? 

Yes, I can. First of all, the take they used, I get the words wrong. Which to a huge fan like me is mortifying. I should say, “You can hide beneath your covers and study your pain,” but I say, “You can hide with you lovers,” [groans]. We must have done three or four takes, and that was the one they went with anyway. That’s rather embarrassing. 

I did that film because I’m a huge fan of Bruce. I couldn’t resist the idea that he would see me, a person that he was probably blissfuly unaware of, singing one of his greatest songs on a large screen. That just intrigued me, I knew the writer, Sarfraz Manzoor, and he sent it to me. I was on tour at the time. And I read it while I was on the train and the last page or two made me cry, and I thought, “I want to be part of this.” However, when we were filming that bit, I was very aware that it’s quite out there, and I was aware of the risk that it might not work. And that there was the potential for embarrassment, but you have to commit to it. And when I saw it, the finished film, I just loved it. I was so affected by it. But it’s a film that divides people, I think it really is a “love it” or “hate it” film. But I’m very proud to be a part of it. 

When did you realize you had the words wrong in the movie? 

I went to a little screening, and took my wife. And it was me and her and [director] Gurinder Chadha, I think Sarfarz was there, and a couple of members, like Guvinder was there. Not many, maybe ten of us. And I know that scene is coming and I sat like, “I hope this is OK, I hope this is OK,” and then I’m watching it, and then I go, “What did I say?!” [laughs] And I did think for a while of saying, “Oh yeah, it was the character’s mistake.” But I really had to come clean, it was my mistake. 

Can you think of a duo that you would want to watch eat over the course of four movies? 

Steve Martin and Martin Short. I was all set to go see them at the Albert Hall, and then they had to go home because of the virus. I mean you get that vibe with Seinfeld’s “Comedian in Cars Drinking Coffee.” I’d like to see Jerry Seinfeld and Alec Baldwin over that amount of time, I love their relationship. There’s a great in one of those “Comedians in Cars,” where Jerry is amused by how Alec perceives him. And Alec says, “I think you perceive my life as just one series of green lights.” I could watch a lot of that, definitely. Or maybe, I don’t know, Norm McDonald and … 

Who would you pair Norm with? 

Alright, who would I pair Norm with … I think he’s very good with Jerry as well. Because Jerry is so clear, Jerry is black and white. And then you’ve got someone like Alec Baldwin who is more angsty. And Norm has just got his own unique thing going on, it’s hard to classify what Norm McDonald does [laughs]. But they’d be good together. And that’s essentially saying that Jerry has already done it “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” But I love watching those relationships. Don Rickles, if he was still around, he’d be good at it. 

"The Trip To Greece" will be available on VOD Friday, 5/22. 

Nick Allen

Nick Allen is an Assistant Editor at RogerEbert.com and is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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