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‘The Trip to Italy’: Michael Winterbottom on Italy, Food and Steve Coogan

Michael Winterbottom’s 2011 film “The Trip” starred Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as two chums roadtripping through the United Kingdom, ostensibly writing restaurant reviews for the Observer newspaper. It wasn’t a documentary, since the two characters didn’t exactly play themselves,  but more of a talku-mocu-mentary.

“The Trip” was sufficiently well-received, both at the B.O. and on VOD, that the team decided to return for “The Trip to Italy.” In the U.K., the project was shown as a series on the BBC; in the U.S., an edited version of the series opens Friday in theaters via IFC.

For movies that take place in a series of luxurious restaurants, they’re suprisingly free of food porn. Instead, like “The Trip,” “The Trip to Italy” relies on the chemistry between Coogan and Brydon: their acerbic banter and above all, their spot-on celebrity impressions.

The two films have served more or less as refreshing palate-cleansers between more serious productions for Winterbottom. Variety asked the director to talk about the rough job of planning a shoot in Italy.

Why did you base the film around the idea of a restaurant reviewing trip?

I had been talking about ideas for films over lunch and found their conversation enjoyable. Everyone recognizes that talking over a meal is enjoyable to shoot.

If Coogan and Brydon are reviewing restaurants, why don’t they talk much about the food?

In the first movie, the idea was to impress his [Coogan’s] girlfriend. I was a little surprised how little they are interested in food. You briefly see everyone working incredibly hard at the restaurants, but what they really are talking about is themselves.

How did you choose the restaurants? Are there any dishes that really stood out? 

I picked restaurants I liked. I know that the second one pretty well, the one you get to by boat (La Cantina in San Fruttuoso) — get the moscardini there.

Did you worry that the food or the views could overshadow the dialogue?

It seemed like a great excuse to try out different restaurants. But it was also good to anchor the journey around [poets] Shelley and Byron and their time in Italy. Where they’d been became the journey. If we had much of a story I might be worried, but I’m happy for any sort of distraction.

Despite their chemistry, is it true that Coogan and Brydon don’t normally hang out a lot as friends? 

They don’t spend that much time together normally. But when you stop filming, they keep on talking. They have a lot of knowledge about the same areas, but very different attitudes.

What did the crew eat while Coogan and Brydon enjoyed guinea hen and ravioli?

We filmed at lunchtime. We had a very small crew, we just sort of ate the scraps or the kitchen provided a quick bowl. In the evening, we went back to the hotel and then we all went out.

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