During an audience Q&A after Tuesday morning’s Sundance screening, Winterbottom explained their method for making the films: “There’s an outline — we knew where we were starting, we knew where we were gonna end, but basically, they made it all up.”
“Yeah, there’d be a scene described, where ‘Rob and Steve talk about rubbish,’ ‘Steve and Rob talk about this part of their lives, or Shelley and Byron,’ a couple of suggested lines, and that would be it,” Coogan elaborated. “And Rob and I would start talking, find something, find the scene, mine it, properly exhaust it, and then we’d do something else, we’d try a few different things. And then Michael, when he covered the scene, if he liked something, he’d say, ‘Oh, that’s good, talk about that again.’ Or if Rob or I liked something, we’d say, ‘Oh, we must talk about that again, that was quite funny.'”
That sort of honing and refining of the improvisations only has one drawback: it means they eat each course three times. “So by the time you got to each main course, you’d had three starters,” Brydon explained. “And by the time you got to the first dessert, you’d had three starters and three main courses. So the best acting is when you see the dessert brought over, and we go, ‘Mmmm, that looks great!'”
A significant portion of our enjoyment of the Trip pictures comes from just watching these two talented men play, but there’s more to the movies than that. They’re witty and off-the-cuff on the surface, but there’s a melancholy at their center, a sense (particularly in the rare scenes that they play alone) of insecurities being exposed, and explored. Ultimately, these movies are less about the food or the locations or the funny impressions than they are about a very specific kind of show-business relationship, comprised of equal parts affection, rivalry, and annoyance.
Coogan explained the differences between their real personalities and the personae they present in the films. “Rob doesn’t do voices as often as he does on screen,” he said. “I’m not quite as pretentious or miserable as I am onscreen, and we’re slightly nicer to each other. We did have dinner after we finished shooting, and it would be much more pleasant… and slightly more dull.”
The Trip to Italy is playing this week at the Sundance Film Festival.