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Stripping the porn baron bare ; Steve Coogan gets under the skin of porn baron Paul Raymond in his latest film The Look Of Love. But if you''re...

April 27, 2013

YellowBrix

Stripping the porn baron bare ; Steve Coogan gets under the skin of porn baron Paul Raymond in his latest film The Look Of Love. But if you''re expecting a Carry On comedy, think again, the actor tells ALBERTINA LLOYD

IT'S lonely at the top. That seems to be the message of The Look Of Love.

Superficially, the world of Paul Raymond's Soho strip clubs seems glamorous and exciting as the champagne corks pop and the sequins sparkle.

But when the lights go up and everyone has gone home, the reality feels seedy and cold.

It's a world that Steve Coogan has chosen to examine as he plays porn baron and strip club owner Raymond in the biopic which charts his rise to success as 'The King of Soho'.

The movie also follows his relationships with his Nottinghamshire- born wife Jean, his porn star mistress Fiona Richmond and his beloved daughter Debbie.

Raymond lived his life in a hedonistic whirl of sex, drugs, parties and naked women. But he lost his wife and girlfriend as they tired of his endless philandering, and his drug-addict daughter died of a heroin overdose.

It's a bit grubby, admits Coogan. It became exhausting playing him. He seemed to live the life of a vampire. He hardly ever ventured out into the day, and at the end of it I just wanted to see some daylight.

Coogan is sitting, appropriately enough, in a Soho hotel room picking at his scarlet brogues where he fears they may be scuffed.

For someone who has chosen to wear such attention-grabbing shoes he suddenly seems very shy, staring at his feet.

It was his idea to make a film about Raymond.

So he approached director Michael Winterbottom, who he's worked with several times before (24 Hour Party people, A Cock And Bull Story, The Trip) and they researched whether the story could work on the big screen.

It's a very un-celebrated story, because it's largely about sex - something that ironically makes a lot of British people clench their buttocks, Coogan explains.

The discomfort of the subject matter is the thing that paradoxically attracted me to it.

The world of striptease and the playboy lifestyle appears exciting to begin with, but the troubled life of Raymond's daughter Debbie, portrayed brilliantly by Imogen Poots (28 Weeks Later), and the touching relationship she has with her father, adds a sadder dimension.

We wanted to avoid it just being titillation.

Literally and metaphorically, titillation, says Coogan, who can't help smirking at his own joke, and says it again for good measure. Because there's a lot of titillation in it.

But then, in actual fact, what rapidly became our concern was that it was too dark and too sad. So we had to try and put a bit more joy into it actually.

We wanted to show there's an element of fun to it, but inevitably there's a sort of Faustian pact that he makes with the devil by just purely pursuing this unhindered hedonism.

Despite its bleakness, The Look Of Love presents a fairly rose- tinted view of Raymond's life. Actresses Anna Friel and Tamsin Egerton play his wife and mistress as strong and independent, and there is never a hint that Raymond took advantage of or was derogatory to women, despite his profession.

Coogan observes: The bottom line is that he was a businessman and he could only measure success in terms of material wealth and, like many people, he didn't recognise that you don't achieve happiness in the same way.

The film is packed with cameos from famous faces of British comedy, including David Walliams, Matt Lucas, Chris Addison, Simon Bird, Stephen Fry and Miles Jupp.

But 47-year-old Coogan warns: If people are expecting a Carry On film, they'll be disappointed. It's funny but it has a sort of bleakness to it.

Either way, it's a far cry from his best known alter ego, the narcissistic and embarrassing TV and radio host Alan Partridge, who made Coogan a household name.

In more recent years, however, Coogan's reputation for great comedy has been slightly eclipsed by his personal life. He found himself the subject of a string of salacious stories in the tabloid press, and last year volunteered to give evidence at the Leveson Inquiry.

Coogan complained about the media intrusion into his personal life and claimed he had been misrepresented by various racy stories about him.

Was this something he identified with in Raymond? You can draw parallels with some of the effects that Leveson looked at. In so far as Paul Raymond gave the public what they wanted, which was this sexual thing, and was often judged by the media for being sexually excessive. And yet at the same time, they revelled in his notoriety.

At their worst, some newspapers are hypocritical because they're both sanctimonious and judgmental but at the same time revel in the sordid details of their stories.

But that's not really why I did the film, I did the film because it's an interesting story.

Coogan has another film on the way too - the long-awaited Alan Partridge movie Alpha Papa, which will finally be unveiled to fans this summer. He's admitted in the past that he sometimes resents Partridge's popularity because the character became impossible to escape. So how does he feel about bringing him to the big screen? As long as I'm doing other interesting things, then I don't mind talking about him, or doing him in fact. And really I've only ever done Alan when I wanted to do him, he says.

We didn't need to do it, that's the important thing. It wasn't as if I was kicking around and thought, 'Well I'd better bring back Alan...' We did it because we wanted to and we thought it was funny. It made me laugh, and hopefully it will make other people laugh. ? The Look Of Love is in cinemas now.

Extra time ? Steve Coogan began his career as a comedian and impressionist in the late Eighties.

? While working on the Radio 4 comedy show On The Hour in the early Nineties, he created sports reporter Alan Partridge.

? Partridge became a huge hit with audiences and has featured in several of his own shows including Knowing Me Knowing You With Alan Partridge and I''m Alan Partridge.

? Coogan starred with Jackie Chan in a comedy adaptation of Around The World In 80 Days in 2004 and went on to appear in several Hollywood films.

? He returned to British TV comedy in 2010 in Bafta award- winning show The Trip. Directed by Michael Winterbottom, it featured Coogan and Rob Brydon playing fictional versions of themselves as they enjoyed a series of long, boozy lunches.

'We wanted to avoid it just being titillation. Literally and metaphorically, titillation.'

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