By David Hennessy
“Irish people love Partridge, don’t they?” The Wexford director of Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, Declan Lowney asks. In London to promote the big screen debut of the revered small screen character, Lowney seems genuinely moved by the reaction to Steve Coogan’s cringe worthy broadcaster over two decades after his creation. “We’ve got an Irish premiere Thursday night, everyone’s really interested in him and I’m trying to think what it is about Partridge that appeals to the Irish.”
The BAFTA award winning director of the first two series of Father Ted, Lowney’s impressive CV also boasts credits like Cold Feet and Little Britain as well as Chris O’Dowd’s IFTA winning Moone Boy. Having directed Coogan in Cruise of the Gods back in 2002, the Lancashire-Irish comedy writer and performer has a long working history with Lowney and guesting on Moone Boy as ‘Touchy’ Feeley could have been a reminder he didn’t need of what the renowned director could do.
“Steve does Irish terribly well. Did you see Moone Boy at all? Wasn’t he f**king brilliant in it? That’s how this came about: Because I had known Steve on and off for years, had worked with him on that and that was right around the time they were trying to pick directors. I think he had had a very good time with us on Moone Boy and he asked me to meet Armando (Iannucci, co-writer and co-creator of Alan Partridge) and go and have a chat about it so that was the vetting process.”
The story of Alpha Papa centres around a siege at a radio station. After receiving no help from Alan, Colm Meaney’s aging DJ Pat Farrell is cast aside by the station’s new management. However, disgruntled Pat returns with a shotgun and holding radio staff and management hostage, is soon back on the air. Although he is the last person you would want in the middle of such a deadly situation, Partridge has Farrell’s trust and mediates between police and hostage taker for his own PR as much as anything else.
Partridge hilariously shared his ignorant and patronising view of Irish people when Arthur Matthews and Graham Linehan guested on I’m Alan Partridge, offering Irish television executives a slogan of ‘There’s more Oiland Den Dis’. Alan is in similar form when the hapless Irish disc jockey goes psycho: “There’s a lot of Irish references in the movie: ‘There’s a mad man with a gun. He’s Irish’. (A motorist flagged down by Alan says) ‘Get in’. It’s one thing having a mad man with a gun but if he’s Irish as well, then it’s really dangerous. There was a fantastic line in it that we had to cut. Pat’s at the window with the gun looking at the police and Alan behind him says: ‘Sorry Pat, I have to ask. Is this anything to do with the IRA?’”
Another great moment comes when Alan feels guilty about letting Pat down: “Oh and the other one: (Alan’s PA Lynn says) ‘Pat’s Irish, isn’t he?’ ‘To be sure’ (says Alan). ‘Why don’t you donate £50 to Sinn Fein?’ ‘I will’. As if that will make everything okay again.”
Colm Meaney is excellent as Pat Farrell, a role that required someone of great straight and comic acting ability: “I think he’s a real revelation in it. Alan does mad sh*t and it’s all out there but Pat is doing something real and with Colm playing Pat, you completely believe in him. You do feel for this poor guy that’s a widower, he’s got f**k all else left in his life and they won’t even let him say goodbye to his listeners. It’s really nice to have a very funny film but with kind of a serious subplot going on as well and that finale with the two of them on the pier is beautiful, isn’t it? It’s heart wrenching and so to pull that off, you need a guy who can really act. Steve can really act as well but you needed the two of them opposite each other and it’s brilliant.”
The Partridge phenomenon has taken in a popular sitcom, a spoof chat show, a web series, live shows and even a fictionalised autobiography and landing the honour was a massive coup for Irish director Lowney: “I don’t think I realised when I was asked quite how prestigious (the job was). I had pissed a lot of people off by being the guy they went with. It is very nice to be chosen and I don’t quite know why or how but say nothing, maybe there’s some other Declan guy they meant and I got in unnoticed or something.”
If Declan didn’t realise how big directing the Partridge film was at the time of being asked, he certainly got to know as the shoot progressed: “When you’re shooting out in public and you see how people respond to Steve, particularly in Norwich- he would just be mobbed everywhere he went up there, you just realise people have invested a lot in that character over the years and you must protect that.”
While Declan was directing the film, he could never forget that the character is Coogan and Iannucci’s baby or even adult son at 21 years old now: “I have to be in charge of the floor but I can’t move on unless he’s happy to move on or similarly, I can’t keep saying ‘do more takes’ if he thinks he’s got it, so you are directing somebody who directs himself.
“It’s something they’re very protective of: Keeping Partridge at the quality he is. You don’t do that by just putting up with any old sh*t. You’ve really got to be careful about what he does and what he says. Steve is very tough on himself and Armando is very tough on Steve and it is a process of working through it with Steve to get the very, very best you can out of the material so they don’t let anything go through. It’s not: ‘It’ll do’. Everything’s got to be perfected and honed. I think that’s why it’s so good: Because there is an awful lot of thought that goes into it.
“Chris (O’Dowd) is very like Steve. If you write it and you perform it: It’s in your head, you know exactly what you want. Then you turn up and some guy’s put the camera there and the lighting’s not what you expected, Chris will just say: ‘No, no, no. That’s not what I want. I want it like that’. That’s kind of hard to take but it’s coming from the right place, you know it’s for the right reason and he’s right. That’s the ultimate thing. He’s usually f**king right. He (Steve)’s usually right. Armando’s usually right. When enough of them are right, you’ve got to make the opinions meet somewhere in the middle and then actually do it. That’s my job.”
And now it is also Chris O’Dowd’s job as the actor/writer is currently directing the third series of Moone Boy himself: “I emailed him Sunday night to wish him luck and he emailed back saying: ‘I’m starting to realise this isn’t that easy, is it? At least I don’t have a very keen, handsome writer looking over my shoulder the whole time’. He thinks of himself as handsome.”
For the full interview, see the August 3 edition of The Irish World.