Tomorrow, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon dust off their Michael Caine impressions for the American release of The Trip to Italy, a follow-up to the 2011 original, The Trip. The new film shares much in common with the first one (including its origins as a six-episode BBC series). Both deal with a tenuous friendship between the two comedians, who play fictionalized version of themselves, both feature plenty of outrageous scenery, and both revolve around the idea of eating in a lot of truly outstanding restaurants. New York critic David Edelstein writes: “One of the shameless pleasures that movies offer is the chance to watch bright people in splendid places doing things (eating sumptuous food, giving in to sexual temptation) that we would love to be doing ourselves.” Recently, Grub talked to Brydon and learned the cold, hard truth: These movies really are as enjoyable to shoot as it looks like they are.
The first thing I want to know is: How do I get a gig like this?
You have managed to land this job where you play someone who writes about food. So you get to do all of the fun stuff, which is the eating. And then you don’t have to do the difficult, lonely part, which is sitting alone for hours trying to figure out what exactly to write about these amazing meals you’ve had.
I know, it’s a good gig. One of the best, actually. And, you know, this time in Italy, the scenery, the surroundings were just out of this world. They really were. So, yeah, as gigs go, it wasn’t a bad one.
I was hoping there’d be some downside — that shooting it was a chore because you’re really sitting there for hours at a time eating for the cameras’ sake, no?
Yeah, each meal, we’d eat each course three times basically. So you’d have three starters before the main course had come out. So when you see us looking pleased to see the dessert, that’s real acting, that’s Academy Award stuff, because we’ve had three starters and three main courses by then. And you really don’t want to see more food at that point.
Are there times shooting when you just get something and think, I’m gonna really have to pretend to like this one in order to sell it?
Only on the very last day of shooting. We went back and did some pick-ups for the very first meal on the very last day of the shoot, and we’d had our sort of wrap party the night before, and I’d been a little overenthusiastic at that party. So the next day I really didn’t want to eat anything. I was feeling, you know, properly ill. I can’t tell when I watch it which bits are from the pick-ups and which bits are from the first day of shooting, I don’t look yellow or anything. So that was probably the only time. I mean, the food was exceptional, but [during shooing] the reality is that I’m there thinking, What am I going to say? How am I going to be funny? How am I going to be interesting in this scene? So, to a degree, the food becomes an annoyance because you’ve got to sit there, you’ve got to eat, you’ve got to remember. Because what happens is, we improvise a lot, but in a way it’s sort of writing it on the go, because we’ll improvise it, but then have to repeat that and do it again and again. So, to a degree, you sort of have to remember what you ate at what point. So in that sense, the meals that we filmed weren’t quite as enjoyable as you might think. The evening meals that we would eat — now they were fantastic, because you’ve knocked off work and then there’s a different vibe. And they weren’t as fancy, the evening meals.
Even after eating basically an entire day’s worth of food — three full meals over the course of shooting one scene — you’re still ready to go for dinner afterward?
Yeah, I know, it’s strange, isn’t it? But I didn’t eat as much this time. On the first Trip, I put on eight pounds, but I I learned on this one not to wolf it all down. I was a little more selective with the mouthfuls. Although, I don’t think that comes across, because I’ve had plenty of people on Twitter telling me I speak with my mouth full, which is not something I ever thought I did. But I’ve heard a lot of people saying that, so…
Well, in this one it’s a lot of pasta, risotto. It’s not exactly dainty food.
Well, yeah, but it was gorgeous. The seafood — particularly as you got down towards the south, as you got down towards the Amalfi Coast — was out of this world; it really was. It was wonderful. And the wine, of course.
Is this the kind of thing you do in your personal life, these gustatory tours? Are you a dreaded “foodie”?
No, not really — no, it’s not something I would have done personally. I like good food, but I don’t think I ever would’ve gone on one of these types of trips on my own volition.
I’m surely not the first person to point this out, but you’ve all managed to make two food movies that aren’t really about food.
No, no, no.
Some other films are just, like, endless food porn, but here, aside from a few cutaways of you guys eating, it’s really about the experience of eating and not the food itself.
I think the main theme, frankly, is aging. I mean, I don’t think it sounds very sexy to your average cinema-goer, but it’s about two middle-aged men coming to terms with the passage of time and how they’re changing. That’s sort of what it’s about to me. I suppose [compared to the first film] that our relationship changes a little bit in that we’re a little bit older — four years older — and we’re a little less competitive with each other, which I like; I think it’s quite an accurate reflection of how some men’s relationships can be.
Has the success of the first film changed restaurants for you at all? Especially in the U.S., do chefs now see you and think, Okay, he’s a food guy and we need to really style him out?
Oh, I wish that were true. The main thing I wish is that they would go Oh, we should give this guy a free meal. That’s my aim.
That’s why you take on the project.
Stuff like that is actually quite funny. People in restaurants will say, Oh, it’s like you’re in the Trip. But I eat every single day, so I don’t make that connection myself. But to them, they think, You’re going to do Michael Caine. And it’s always a bit strange.
When you finished the first one, did you immediately start thinking about other places to go? We should do another one of these, maybe France, Italy, just start throwing around ideas?
Well, no, it’s Michael [Winterbottom, the film’s director], really. Steve [Coogan] and I were resistant to doing the first one because Michael came to us and said it was going to be largely improvised, and we didn’t see how we could fill a whole movie up with improvisation. And then he sort of said, Well the food is gonna be a big part of it. He kind of tried to trick us by focusing on the food. And then we did the first one, in the north of England, the Lake District. I think about three and a half years went by, and he said, Here’s another idea: We’re gonna go to Italy and do it. In the first one, we followed Wordsworth and Coleridge. In this one, we follow the grand tour of Byron and Shelley. And you know, enough time had passed so you sort of get your appetite — both literally and metaphorically — to go out there and do it again.
So there are no plans for third Trip at this point?
No, not at the moment, but I’m sure that if we’re all still alive in four years, then I think it might be a nice idea. I don’t know where. People have mentioned America as the logical next place.
I mean, would it be so bad if you had to drive down the California coast?
Oh, it would be lovely. I would love that. Highway 1 — is that it? I’ve done that journey and it’s beautiful.