It’s been a decade since moviegoers started traveling around Europe with actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in The Trip — riding shotgun as they dine at fine restaurants, marvel at exotic scenery, and engage in good-natured needling, celebrity impressions, and philosophical banter.
After an initial film in their native England, subsequent installments with prolific filmmaker Michael Winterbottom (Greed) have seen the comic duo visit Italy and Spain.
Everyone involved knew their new adventure, The Trip to Greece, would be their last. It also might have been the most fun for the director, who said each sequel has felt like a natural progression.
“There’s never been a plan about whether we should do another one,” Winterbottom said by phone. “It’s great fun, which is why we ended up doing four, when we only ever intended to do one. You fly off, travel, eat lots of great meals, and call it work.”
Each film introduces some lightly fictionalized drama into the otherwise improvised proceedings. In this case, Winterbottom figured an appropriate way to wrap up the series was following in the footsteps of mythical hero Odysseus and his 10-year journey from Troy to Ithaca after the Trojan War.
However, for Coogan and Brydon, their contemporary odyssey came with lavish culinary options and an air-conditioned rental car.
“It felt like a good storyline, the whole idea of going home for someone who’s been away from his wife and son for 20 years,” Winterbottom said. “Steve’s son had been popping up in all of the previous films, so it connected to Steve’s story quite well.”
Winterbottom credits meticulous preparation for enabling the scripted drama to seamlessly mesh with the scripted drama in each of the Trip films, while sticking to a tight shooting schedule. The projects begin with an outline to help steer the story and introduce the fictionalized elements.
“That gives them a starting point, but then Steve and Rob are brilliant at taking that stuff and wandering off in different directions,” he said. “A meal is naturally where you have a conversation and sort of ramble on. It’s also quite easy to film.”
So why has the series been able to endure, not only in Europe but around the world? Winterbottom figures it comes down to the chemistry and relatability of the two stars, and their ability to be both funny and flawed.
“Steve and Rob represent two views of the world. They’re almost the same age and there’s lots of crossover in terms of what they know about and what they’ve done,” Winterbottom said. “For the purpose of comedy and fiction, we’ve made that more exaggerated perhaps than it really is. Steve is ambitious, and wants to find new things to do and wander off. Rob just wants to stay home with his family and be funny and enjoy things. You can recognize bits of yourself in each of them.”
With its planned U.S. theatrical release cancelled, The Trip to Greece is available on digital and “virtual cinema” platforms beginning this weekend.