Michael Winterbottom on “The Trip to Spain” and Wolf Alice

Endless Travels

Aug 10, 2017 Issue #61 - Grizzly Bear
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Following leisurely journeys across Northern England and Italy, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon set off due south in The Trip to Spain, the third and latest entry in British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom's comedic Trip series. The filmwhich finds the two actors again playing exaggerated versions of themselvesfollows them as they take in the country's most breathtaking panoramas, drink its finest wines, and sample the best of its regional cuisines (and largely ignore it all as they talk about themselves and attempt to out-do one another at celebrity impressions.)

"The food, wine, and hotel are quite a high element in our budget," says Winterbottom of the series, laughing. "It's something we get quite a lot of in the research trips, as well. In a way, the biggest fun is in the research: you can run around as much as you want, and eat whatever you want."

For Winterbottom, who rarely stops workinghe's directed 20 projects in the 15 years since his breakout hit, 24 Hour Party People-those research trips are almost like holidays. Once filming starts, he and the crew have too many other tasks on their plate to really enjoy the local flavor as they shoot Coogan and Brydon's lunchtime conversations. ("Sadly, when they're done with their meal we end up diving in and grabbing at their food," he says.) While the two stars do enjoy these working quasi-vacations, they're typically as uninterested in the meals themselves as the characters they play.

"You've got all these people making this food and it's often delicious, but they don't ever pay that much attention to it," says Winterbottom. "Equally, there can be an amazing landscape, but they're talking about themselves all the time. In a way, I quite like that they don't really care about it. Really, the meals are a place for them to talk, rather than a place for them to eat."

Those long, rambling, self-absorbed chats are what make the Trip movies so humorous: practically everything the characters experience during their travel is somehow tied back to them and how it reflects their lives or careers. When they're not comparing themselves to great works of art or literature, they're often doing broad, silly impressions of famous people. (In Trip to Spain, there's a great scene where they recount much of David Bowie's musical career through varying vocal imitations.) After each film, all threeCoogan, Brydon, and Winterbottomhave agreed that they couldn't possibly do another one, but twice now the passage of time has found a way of changing their minds.

"The truth is it's still work, but compared to most jobs it's quite enjoyable, from everyone's point of view," says Winterbottom. "But you have to feel like there's been enough time and that enough has changed so that you have a different kind of starting point."

Winterbottom was able to implement a small bit of the Trip series' improvisational element into another recent project, On the Road, which starred the band Wolf Alice. (The film made its U.S. debut at this year's SXSW Film Festival.) It's a documentary not directly about Wolf Alice but "being on tour with Wolf Alice," as he describes it. On the Road chronicled the lives of the band and their crew as they toured the United Kingdom. Among the band's real crew Winterbottom inserted two actors to help give the audience additional perspective.

"If it were a straight documentary, we'd always care about what the camera was doing there," says Winterbottom. "The two actors give us a way of looking at everyone else through their point of view."

Early in his career Winterbottom worked as a researcher for feminist writer Angela Carter, who wrote the short story from which Wolf Alice took their name. While that's a significant coincidence, it's only one of "lots of little coincidences" that turned him on to the band.

"I used to live next door to the bassist, Theo [Ellis], who was the same age as my daughter," he explains. "That's not why I chose them, but I probably heard more about them because of that.... I wanted a band that were young and actually out there on the road. Wolf Alice, at that point, had been on the road nonstop for a year. They're a serious band, and a very hard-working band. And Ellie [Rowsell], their lead singer, is great."

[Note: This article originally appeared in the digital version (for smart phones and tablets) of Under the Radar's Summer 2017 Issue (July/August/September 2017). This is its debut online.]

 

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