Earlier this year, we were lucky enough to get early access to the first two episodes of The Trip To Spain, and to partake in a pair of group Q&A sessions with Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan, who continue reviewing restaurants and relentlessly ribbing each other in this third series of the show. (If you’re unfamiliar: series 1 was called The Trip and series 2 was The Trip To Italy.)
The episodes, to put it simply, were great; The Trip’s familiar blend of melancholy, meals and mockery slots seamlessly into this new Spanish locale, which serves up some idyllic landscapes to compliment the edibles, the impressions and the introspection.
Creator, writer and director Michael Winterbottom has found a winning formula here, and his stars seem to have an endless supply of improvised hilarity lurking within them. Suffice to say that the chuckles come thick and fast, and the move from the BBC to Sky is completely unnoticeable.
The Q&As – one in a fancy hotel with other journalists, and one at BAFTA’s London HQ following a screening – were also a lot of fun. Without further ado, here are some edited highlights from the chitchat…
Why did you choose Spain for this series?
Steve Coogan: We talked about going to America at one point, but Michael [Winterbottom] just thought it was a bit dull… which it isn’t now, is it? Then we sort of arrived at Spain. What he does is, Michael goes on a big research trip, spends a couple of weeks researching it.
Rob Brydon: He comes back with a big pile of photos, of the restaurants and the places.
SC: And yeah he decides where we’re going to go. We do some homework, a little bit of homework on the history and culture. So we know something of what we’re talking about.
How do the plots and themes come together alongside the improvisations?
RB: The themes are Michael’s, really. Before this series, we had a few lunches, and we came up with some little set pieces. Some little exchanges. I don’t think any of them have ended up being recorded even. We have a couple of ideas, but once we’re out there, things just start…
SC: We sort of try to stay on course. But of course, we have a roadmap, as it were. A metaphorical as well a literal roadmap. It’s almost like you have a roadmap, but if you see something that you’re interested in, you can drive off down a little lane of curiosity, and just see what’s there. You can change your plans.
RB: It’s like a flexi-ticket isn’t it?
SC: Yeah. So when we improvise, we might start mining some rich scene. I’m mixing metaphors now, but I can do that. And if it’s funny and interesting, then we’ll stay with it. Michael might wrest us back to the main theme, but we were always able to do that if we want to. And we might exploit that further.
It’s something that might become thematic, if early on we stumble across something. We might then recall that later on. Certainly on all three seasons we’ve done that, in some way or another. Because we film it chronologically, we’re not hostage to a narrative structure.
Where are we picking up with the fictionalised Steve and Rob, after Rob’s affair in series 2?
RB: In this one, I think the idea was that I’ve got that out of my system, and I am now once more content, at home. Um, Steve is still reaching, looking for things…
SC: I’m not. Well, it’s changed slightly. I’ve moved on from… the first series I was like a philanderer. Second series I was, um, abstinent, maybe? This one, I’m desperately looking for some sort of permanence, and some sort of stability.
I’m trying to get married to my girlfriend from the first series, and she’s with someone else and I’m desperate to try and rekindle that and, er, various things happen that basically scupper that. So it’s not really working out for me the way I want it to. And I’m kind of… I’m a… whatever the reverse of restless is.
RB: [deadpan] Rested.
SC: No, well not, it’s not… it’s not the reverse then, is it? I’m looking for, yeah, stability, and it’s alluding me.
How much improvised material doesn’t get used?
SC: The first assembly [cut] was really long. Like eight hours or something like that. [This was condensed down into six 20-minute episodes.]
RB: There’s loads of stuff we did, set pieces, bits and bobs. Some of which I was quite fond of. You can be fond of something when you shoot it, and then when you see it, it wasn’t quite as good. But I can probably reel off four or five bits off the top of my head that I really enjoyed doing, that I thought were funny, that haven’t made the edit.
SC: There’s always an embarrassment of riches, generally. We do stuff that’s quite interesting and Michael tends not… what Michael doesn’t do is just find the funniest stuff and stitch it together. He plays with it. And one of the things I like about it… there are funny moments, but then there are moments of introspection and its got a kind of a relaxed pace.
It’s not… it kicks against the current thinking that people essentially have short attention spans. Because of social media everything has to be snappy. [The Trip] is not like that. And consequently, because of that, I think it sort of appeals to older people, because it allows you to sit back a little and just enjoy the view, as it were. I like to describe it as ‘Last Of The Summer Wine for Guardian readers’
What was your favourite material that got cut this time?
RB: For me, it was, we were driving along. I say ‘It’s lovely to be here, isn’t this idyllic?’ And he says, ‘Yeah, well, you wouldn’t be my ideal companion.’ And I say ‘who would it be?’ And Gemma Arterton’s name comes up. And we did a long thing, which I remember thinking was a peak.
SC: Yeah, where Rob pretended to be Gemma Arterton.
RB: I pretended to be Gemma Arterton, driving with him.
SC: I pretended to chat him up
RB: And he would say something very innocuous and I would slap his face. [Tepid laughter from the audience.] It was funnier than that. We did this and did this and did this, and is it in the show? No it is not.
How do you choose who to impersonate?
SC: I always get worried about doing fucking Michael Caine again. I mean, 25 years ago, I did Spitting Image, and I used to do impersonations. And I tried my best to get away from all that, and I did very successfully for about 20 years, and then… it’s come back.
RB: [Al Pacino voice] “They pull me back in…” [Lots of laughs.]
SC: But we do try and say, ‘Let’s try and do something else. Who can you do?’ Try and do someone we can both do a good fist of.
RB: Someone who might be known to the under fifties. We’ve failed in that regard.
SC: We actually did a lot of Tom Courtney that never made it in. But Tom Courtney’s a bit of an esoteric choice, and Rob was pretty good.
RB: Yeah we did him, and to make him distinct from Alan Bennett is quite interesting. I developed a thing that was Tom Courtney calling for help.
SC: That’s all he can do, though.
Was the anecdote [from one of the new episodes] about David Bowie being interviewed on the radio, and trying to remember Rob Brydon’s name, actually true?
RB: That’s true, yeah, that all happened exactly as I described it.
SC: I really am envious of that. I never met David Bowie, and the fact that Rob was nearly mentioned by him… I’m actually jealous of that. Even though he didn’t mention his name, the fact that he had an image of Rob in his head…. he must have had an image of me in his head at some point.
RB: [faux sympathy] Oh, I’m sure he would have done, yeah.
SC: I just wish I could locate it. I can’t believe he wouldn’t like some of my stuff.
RB: Steve, there’s no doubt he would’ve liked your stuff. He would’ve been aware of you. But you will never have proof.
SC: I’m sure there’s someone out there who’ll say, ‘I remember chatting with David about you’. If there is anyone out there that knew David, and had a conversation where I was mentioned, even tangentially, I’d love to hear from you.
Has it made any difference being on Sky, instead of the BBC?
RB: None whatsoever.
SC: Apart from the fact that it’s for Sky, and not the BBC.
RB: It’s just a different [adopts American accent] platform.
SC: Fewer people are going to see it, which is a bit annoying. But maybe that won’t happen. Maybe people will tell their friends about it and they’ll get to see it.
Would you want to revisit the fictional Rob and Steve every few years?
SC: Like a kind of myopic, funnier, less important version of 7 Up. Less relevant.
RB: Essentially a worthless version of that.
SC: A less seismic version.
RB: I think there’s a fair chance of that.
SC: Um, yeah. You know some of them didn’t want to do 7 Up because it’s like watching an egg-timer of your life? I wouldn’t want to think ‘how many more Trips can we get in before we’re dead?’ You don’t want to start thinking like that.
RB: If we kept on doing it, that would be the equation.
SC: Of course it would. I’d rather not think too much about it. I know we’re all going to die.
RB: I think that’s part of the appeal for me, is frankly seeing us get older on screen. It’s quite interesting.
SC: But, interestingly, I was fatter in the first series.
RB: Well we’re both past fifty now, and this is true, that we both take far better care of ourselves than we did. That is a valid observation for a show like this.
What’s it like when you’re on the trip but not filming?
SC: Rob and I sometimes eat in the evening together, genuinely, and it’s quite dull. It’s not funny. We don’t take the piss out of each other. We just sort of chat about things in a very boring, middle class sort of way, don’t we?
RB: We do. I enjoy those meals. That’s just how we would eat. We’d never in a million years sit doing impersonations with each other, arguing over the merits of Wales versus the north. I mean, it’s ludicrous.
SC: There’s a modicum of truth in the way we portray ourselves, but it’s just… it really is a small residue. We’re far closer in our tastes and attitudes than we are [on the show]. What we do is try and seek out acrimony and conflict.
RB: With some success.
Are you concerned about people in the real world are judging you based on the behaviour of your fictional selves?
RB: Not really. It doesn’t really matter, does it?
SC: You were a bit worried about the philandering in series 2, weren’t you?
RB: I was a little worried about the philandering, in series 2.
SC: Whereas I wasn’t worried about it at all.
RB: In series 2, I had a fling. It wasn’t… I feel like I’m talking to my wife… It wasn’t an affair. I had this fling with a girl on a boat, and the day after it went out… this is true, my wife… my real wife, not my fictional wife from The Trip, not my P&O wife, my real wife… was taking the boys to school and the teacher came up to her, put her arm on her shoulder and said ‘this must be a very difficult time for you.’
SC: There are some people, I mean, I had actors play my parents in the first Trip, and um, [people] didn’t realise it wasn’t my real parents. My mum was annoyed because the actress that played her was slightly heavier than she is, so that was her main concern. Um, but, there’s part of me that doesn’t really care, because, um, some people do. And it’s more interesting to…
There are some things I do [in the show] that are very unattractive. Very unattractive behaviour. And I like to think I’m nicer than that, but… there’s a bit of truth in it, but I think all the… it’s like, all of us are combinations of good and bad, and I just sit on all the good stuff [during the filming] and let all the bad stuff come to the surface.
It just seems more interesting, but yeah, it’s… there are people that believe it, think it’s real. And as I say, it doesn’t bother me that much. Because if it did, we’d do really dull stuff and we’d be worried about the way we’re being perceived, and it wouldn’t be very interesting.
Where would you like to go if series 4 does happen?
RB: Ireland would be interesting, because you’ve got an Irish connection. [Audience laughter.] What’s funny about that? I’m serious, he has!
SC: I am half Irish. So I know a bit…
RB: And you like to talk about it [more laughter], and you know, that – I’m not being funny, I’m just saying he does – that could give us a little something.
SC: I’d like to go to Ireland.
RB: Yeah Ireland would make sense maybe or, um… [at this point Mr Brydon hears somebody at the front saying something] This gentleman here has just said, ‘Wales wouldn’t really cover six episodes, would it?’
SC: It might be a forty-minute Easter special.
RB: That’s the kind of racism that I have to face day in day out. Unbelievable.
Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, thank you very much!
The Trip To Spain debuts on Sky Atlantic on Thursday 6th April. The entire first series will available on Now TV on the same day.