Steve Coogan, the “STAN & OLLIE” star, joined the crew of the film to discuss making vaudeville feel relevant today and more.
This week the cast and crew of the new film Stan & Ollie were on hand to present an advanced screening of the film at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center in New York. The film follows the true story of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy as they attempt to revive their career on a theatrical tour of theaters across the United Kingdom and Ireland. Equal parts funny and fulfilling, Stan & Ollie lets actors Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly shine in the lead roles, letting them flash their comedic and dramatic chops.
Prior to the screening, Stan & Ollie star Steve Coogan, director Jon S. Baird, writer Jeff Pope, and makeup designer Mark Coulier spoke with The Knockturnal to discuss the making of the movie and the work that went into disguising the actors so well as their characters.
The Knockturnal: How did you get into character, and how did you develop your dynamic with John C. Reilly in playing Stan Laurel and Ollie Hardy.
Steve Coogan (‘Stan Laurel’): We met up a bunch of times and we talked about the script, and we got to know each other in these meetings. And eventually having a long rehearsal period in which we practiced dance routines and sketches and all of that stuff… during that period not only did we learn those routines which is a lot of hard work putting the hours in every day, we also got to know each other.
We learned what it was like for Laurel and Hardy because they were brought together artificially by Hal Roach, their producer [played in the film by Danny Houston]. And they were told to come up with an act. So they developed it together, Stanley, of course, the genius behind it. So it felt like… I had written a lot of comedy myself so it felt like I had some experience that would echo the experience of Stan Laurel. So the rehearsal period became this opportunity for John and I to get to know each other as friends and as the characters.
The Knockturnal: What went into casting Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly as Stan and Ollie?
Jon S. Baird (Stan & Ollie director): They were our first choices really, so what went into it was a lot of persuasion. So it was an easy decision to make because that who we wanted, but to get them to sign up was more challenging because they felt a big responsibility because they were playing their heroes, and they wanted to know we were going to do it right. They wanted to know we were going to take it seriously and do right by these legends. So we were very lucky that we had our first choices, and it proves that we made the right decisions when you see the film.
The Knockturnal: I know the movie is set in Post-War Europe and it’s a comedy and drama. How did you find the balance between being serious and light-hearted, especially in a sometimes dour setting?
Jon S. Baird: I think tone is something that is crafted. First in the script, then you bring it to life on the day of the shoot. But the biggest place you find your tone is in the edit, where your cut and especially your composer really sets the tone. So that’s where we found it most, in the music score.
The Knockturnal: What were the hardest things to capture for you in this movie?
Jeff Pope: I think the technical routines, you know? Making sure the routines were down pat. That’s why we did three weeks of rehearsal with a very famous choreographer. The dramatic scenes were more straight-forward, but the technical stuff was probably the hardest to do.
The Knockturnal: How much research did you put into learning everything you could about Laurel and Hardy
Jeff Pope (Stan & Ollie writer): The headstart I had is that I grew up as a boy falling in love with them. I had their films in my head and it was easy to just think “that moment, that moment, that moment…” Then as I grew up and became a writer, finally I decided what was right in front of my nose became clear to me. Then I had to almost go back to the beginning again and read everything I possibly could about them. So I did that. I read numerous books, all of Stan’s letters are published on the internet, there’s lots of documentary film and archive footage… So I spent years to understand them. As a kid I just loved them, but as an adult, I had to understand them.
The Knockturnal: The movie is rated PG. Did you design it to be family-friendly, or is that something that wound up happening as you were writing it?
Jeff Pope: I didn’t and don’t ever write to a [rating]. I just write what the story was. In this case, the thing that I was very passionate about is that it’s not a biopic. It’s a love story, the story about two guys that love each other. And lots of things have happened in their lives… their friendship has been tested and strained, and on this last tour, they rediscover what they mean to each other. So it’s just about being true to the characters.
The Knockturnal: What do you think modern comedians could learn from Laurel and Hardy?
Jeff Pope: Well I think almost every modern comedian knows about Laurel and Hardy. And I think they are held in the highest regards—certainly by the two stars of this movie, Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly are both huge fans of Laurel and Hardy. Before they came to the project they had a deep love for them. What I think the secret to Laurel and Hardy is, is that they are the most perfect characters. Comedy is about making us laugh, and part of that is about telling jokes and doing funny things, and falling over and having custard pies thrown in your face. And that’s fine, but it only takes you so far. The reason why we’re still talking about Laurel and Hardy today nearly 100 years after they first came on the scene is because they were the most perfectly drawn characters.
The Knockturnal: How long did it take you to design the makeup looks for the movie?
Mark Coulier (Stan & Ollie makeup designer): We probably had about six-to-eight weeks before filming started, which is quite a short period of time really. Because it’s quite a long process of sculpture, and the approval process is a time-consuming thing.
The Knockturnal: How closely did you work with the actors to fit it to their faces?
Mark Coulier: Really close. We got a head cast of John and a head cast of Steve, and then we work on producing the sculptures that we can make pieces out of
The Knockturnal: I know that you also worked on Suspiria this year, another prosthetics heavy movie. What’s the difference between how you make designs like these?
Mark Coulier: It’s the same kind of artistic and creative process. You’re creating a character. In Suspiria, we were doing an interesting thing which was turning Tilda Swinton into an 85-year old man, so that was a very similar thing where we’re creating a character. But in that instance, we’re hiding Tilda Swinton, and in this one, we’re not hiding John C. Reilly. We want to make John C. Reilly look like Oliver Hardy, but without hiding John C. Reilly. Same with Steve Coogan, we want to keep his features but try to make him look a little more like Stan Laurel. So [those] were the different challenges. And then in Suspiria, there were loads of blood and gore and twisted bones too.
Stan & Ollie stars Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly. It will be released on December 28th.
Photo Credit: Marion Curtis/Starpix.