Michael Winterbottom The Trip To Spain Interview
Cast: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Marta Barrio, Claire Keelan
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Synopsis: Director Michael Winterbottom brings the BAFTA Award-nominated series to Sky Atlantic, reuniting Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon on a culinary coast-to-coast odyssey.
Just as Don Quixote undertook three journeys, so Steve and Rob will set off on a third jaunt of their own, this time travelling over 1,000 miles down the entire length of Spain. Following in the footsteps of poet and novelist Laurie Lee, Steve and Rob's semi-fictional alter-egos hit the road in search of culture, history, breathtaking vistas and, of course, some of the finest food in Europe. All the while serving up sparkling, free-flowing conversation, peppered with barbed back-andforths, in-car singalongs and their peerless trademark impersonations.
The pair also reflect on life; as two gentlemen just entering their 50s, they contemplate love, family, respective successes thus far (Steve was nominated for an Academy Award® for Philomena, you know) and what lies beyond. The result is a poignant but always convivial pilgrimage of selfdiscovery and the pursuit of the perfect Mick Jagger impersonation
The Trip To Spain
Release Date: August 3rd, 2017
Interview with Michael Winterbottom
Question: Obvious question out of the way first: why Spain?
Michael Winterbottom: I like Spain. I thought the landscape would be good, I thought the food would be good. I also think the whole Don Quixote and Sancho Panza story, the most famous story from Spain, sort of fitted Steve and Rob well. In the first series we had the Lake Poets, in the second we had Byron and Shelley, so we have these cultural references throughout. So that contributed. But also I was wondering, 'if I was going to go backwards and forwards between countries, where would I want to go?" And I thought: Spain.
Question: You mention how the series has always featured references to great literary figures…
Michael Winterbottom: And Steve and Rob are obviously included in this tradition of great literary figures.
Question: Of course. This time around Steve and Rob are symbolically following in the footsteps of Cervantes and Laurie Lee. What is their significance in the series?
Michael Winterbottom: The whole idea of The Trip started when we filmed Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, based on the comic novel by Laurence Stern, so we already had that literary base before the series even started. Stern also wrote a travel book after Tristram Shandy, so travel writing and comic writing was basically our starting point. It also just gave them something to talk about. In the case of Byron and Shelley, or even Wordsworth and Coleridge, Steve and Rob are obviously far away… Steve might dream of being Wordsworth or Byron but it's clearly a big comic gap between the characters. In the case of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Steve, and Rob could actually play a version of those characters in a way; it's a comic novel and the two characters are not massively different from the personas of Steve and Rob. There is also this well-known tradition of writing about Spain from a non Spanish point of view – like Laurie Lee's As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, which Steve's character imagines he's going to repeat with a similar sort of book. It even extends to Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition sketch – it all gives Steve and Rob things to think about and hopefully be funny about.
Question: It's been four years since The Trip to Italy. Has anything changed in that time?
Michael Winterbottom: Yeah, they're older. They're now 50 and dealing with that. Obviously Steve and Rob are playing versions of themselves – I think their characters in Spain are closer to the ones they played in the first series in England this time around. Steve is, despite his Oscar® nominations, relentlessly ambitious and wanting to conquer the world, and Rob is much more the domestic family man. Those are exaggerations of how Steve and Rob are so it makes it easy for them to have a kind of natural relationship. In Italy we changed it around a bit, where Rob was the one looking for adventure and Steve was looking to reconnect with his family, but we've gone back to the original dynamic of the one person being domestic and the other ambitious and career minded.
Question: The fact they're now in their 50s is never absent from the conversation for long. What do you think the series has to say about getting older?
Michael Winterbottom: I don't think it's saying any one thing. It looks at things like balancing family life with career, domesticity and adventure, and family relationships, specifically fathers and children – I hope it deals with those things in a very genuine way, presented through Steve and Rob's experience.
Question: In terms of the improvised nature of Steve and Rob's performance, after three seasons do they have it down to a T now? Is it just a case of winding them up and letting them go?
Michael Winterbottom: It's a version of their natural relationship. When we were first planning The Trip we had a series of lunches and those were very enjoyable because they share a lot. They have a lot of things they share, a lot of cultural points, their experiences, things about age and so on. They also have very different views on the world. It's a combination of a lot of shared things but with a different perspective on them. They can just naturally generate a lot of arguments that are also funny. So they've always been great at doing that from the start, and in Spain I thought they were on top form.
Question: In a lot of series, and even in real life, you have this thing that people now refer to as -banter', which much of the time is just two people using humour because they don't know how to communicate. The great thing about The Trip is that while Steve and Rob have this slightly barbed sense of one-upmanship their conversations are still heartfelt and thoughtful. Was this something you were deliberately aiming for?
Michael Winterbottom: Yeah, you don't want to use humour as a way of deflecting anything that you mean. Steve hates using irony to avoid talking about things, he's quite passionate about a lot of issues with how the world is, and he wants to express them directly and intentionally. Rob perhaps does tend to be more deflective and make jokes out of things. That's one of the ways they handle each other. Not only in the conversations, but in the shape of the experiences. Like with their relationships with their families, they deal with those in as honest a way as possible. They both respond in the way they feel they naturally and genuinely would do.
Question: As well as being two great comic actors, one thing that really comes across in the series is that both Steve and Rob are incredible physical comedians, with the Mick Jagger impersonations being especially animated. Did you ever have to step in and remind them they were still in a restaurant?
Michael Winterbottom: [Laughs] No, not really. In general I try to encourage them. Obviously we film a lot – we drove that car from London to the south of Spain so on the way you do a lot of filming, and then you hopefully pick the best bits to put in the series, so it's never a question of stopping them doing things. The story takes place over six days but we film for a lot longer – it's more of a question of keeping the energy and variety up.
Question: Was there a favourite location from this series?
Michael Winterbottom: We loved Spain, and I thought the landscape was amazing almost all the way through. What's great as well is that it's very empty in the middle of Spain – you have these fantastic places which are not overrun with people, and especially not overrun with tourists. There were lots of great places, and lots of great locations for the hotels. Of the restaurants, I think the first two in the Basque area were fantastic, and also the one in Málaga. Lots of great food, great landscapes, great towns. It was fun.
Question: So how did you go about selecting the restaurants?
Michael Winterbottom: Me and Josh Hyams, one of the producers, talked to people who run Spanish restaurants in London, places like Moro and Barrafina, and they gave us some ideas of where to visit. Then we did a lot of driving, to be honest. A lot of driving and eating. Very hard job.
Question: Sounds awful. Did you encounter any difficulties along the way?
Michael Winterbottom: The first restaurant we chose was outdoors by the sea. We knew this was taking a chance as there was no indoor area to the restaurant at all. Halfway through the tables were literally being washed away by a storm. So that was not the best of starts from a planning point of view. But in general, as we're working with a very small group of people, we try not to disrupt other people's lives if we can avoid it. Everyone was very friendly and helpful, and made it a lot of fun.
Question: Of the many impressions that take place during Steve and Rob's tour of Spain, is there one that you can pinpoint as your favourite?
Michael Winterbottom: I think my favourite was Bowie and Jagger's conversation about doing Dancing in the Street.
The Trip To Spain
Release Date: August 3rd, 2017