Interview: Director Declan Lowney On Taking Alan Partridge To Big School

declan alan partridge You may not recognise Declan Lowney but chances are he's made you laugh. As the directing talent behind Father Ted, Little Britain, Moone Boy and Help he called the shots on a generation of TV comedy classics. Back in 2002 he collaborated with Steve Coogan on the neglected gem Cruise of the Gods, a TV movie about a sci-fi convention on a cruise ship. Now the pair have reunited for Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, the first cinematic adventure of Norwich's second most famous son (after Tim Westwood, depending on the demographic). We spoke to Declan about directing Coogan, the pressures of bringing Partridge to the multiplexes, and why there'll always be an Alan... Congratulations on Alpha Papa, the funniest film of 2013. Are you pleased with the reaction it€™s getting? Yeah, it's very exciting being involved. Everyone seems to like it so far. It's such a relief! Was it daunting bringing such a beloved comedy character to the big screen? It was, but not as daunting for me as it was for Steve , who's the one carrying the can. He€™s under enormous pressure to get it right and please a lot of people €“ himself most of all, I think. Steve€™s waited a long, long time to make an Alan Partridge movie and he€™s aware that a lot of people are invested in the character and expectations are high. That€™s a good thing, but it means he€™s got to get it just right. You've worked with Coogan several times, on Partridge and other projects. He€™s known for his brilliant improvisation and perfectionism. How does that affect your role as director? He€™s just so clever and so on the ball that all you can do is give him what he needs, really. He€™s always incredibly focused and knows exactly what he€™s doing. He€™s collaborative and involving, but no one knows Alan better than him so you€™ve just got to let him do his thing. Does he stay in character between takes? No, but he switches back and forth pretty easily. He knows Alan so well; he€™s been working with the character for twenty years now. There€™s a lot of him in Alan and vice versa, he€™ll be the first to admit that. Alpha Papa has an impressive supporting cast of comic actors. Were they chosen for their ability to improvise? We just wanted the best people we could find. Most of them were brought in last summer for a series of workshops, where Steve and Armando and the other writers were working out storylines and jokes. That€™s how they would start on the TV shows, with workshops €“ trying out what works and what doesn€™t. Steve really wanted to work with Darren Boyd, so they brought him in. Anna Maxwell Martin is just brilliant. It was great having all these clever, funny, talented guys in every scene. There are some familiar faces, too. Felicity Montagu got a cheer when her character, Lynn, came on screen. Really? That€™s fantastic. People love those characters. The actors love them, too. You€™ve worked on some of the most successful comedies of the past twenty years. Do you still laugh while you€™re at work? Yes, definitely. It€™s got to be a laugh, or that probably means it€™s not funny and therefore not working. On the film, the schedule was tight but Steve was constantly changing and rewriting and refining the jokes with Rob and Neil so that everything felt as fresh as possible, so we were laughing all the time. It€™s impossible not to when he€™s coming up with stuff right in front of you. Rob and Neil are new additions to the Partridge team, aren€™t they? They€™re really key to it now. Rob and Neil first worked with Steve on his live show a few years back, I think, and he was really impressed with them. Then they wrote the book and the Mid Morning Matters series for the web. Steve trusts them with Partridge, and I think it was working with them that gave him the confidence to finally make the movie. They were on set the whole time working with Steve, constantly refining the material. alan partridge alpha papa2One of the great things about the film is that it€™s defiantly British. It doesn€™t seem to be straining for international appeal in the same way that so many British comedy films do. Was that intentional? Steve just wanted to make the Alan Partridge movie that Alan Partridge fans wanted to see. We wanted to make it a bit epic and movie-scale, and also as accessible to new audiences as possible, but we knew we couldn€™t compromise Alan by having one eye on America or wherever. Though hopefully they€™ll like it there, too. And Norfolk looks great up on the big screen€ It does, doesn€™t it? It was so nice to open up the film at the end and have all those epic landscapes, like the pier, which is a really beautiful and unique location. So much of the movie is set in the radio station with a kind of claustrophobic, handheld feel, it was great to get out there for the climax. And the people of Norfolk were so warm and welcoming. They were so excited about it. The afternoon premier that we held in Norwich was so much fun. The crowds went crazy for Alan! Was the ending on the pier a nod to the Michael Douglas classic Falling Down? It wasn€™t intentional, no, but lots of people have asked me that! I remember seeing that movie in the distant past but I don€™t recall the pier bit. Visually, a pier is a great dead end for a movie chase sequence. The film uses songs culled from Alan and Pat€™s radio playlists to underscore some big moments. How did you choose those? Steve always knew that he wanted John Farnham€™s You€™re the Voice for a big, epic sequence. He was really keen on that from the start. I think Wichita Lineman was my choice for the scene with Alan and Pat talking about the kids, I thought that would work really well with the poignancy of that moment. We were actually on our way to Cromer when Steve had the idea for using You Were Always on My Mind, so I had to get that cleared really quickly so we could use it at the climax. Alpha Papa feels like a conclusion for Alan, almost a happy ending. Will he be back? And will you be directing? I€™m definitely in comedy film mode so I€™d love to get going on another one, whether it€™s Partridge or something else. I just had such a great time on this one. Steve€™s doing more Mid Morning Matters so Alan will be back, definitely. Partridge is this huge brand now, it€™s quite phenomenal. As long as Steve wants to keep doing him, there€™ll be an Alan. movies-alan-partridge-alpha-papa-poster_1-300x225 Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa is released in the UK on 7th August
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