Rob Brydon is staring into my eyes, singing “To dream the impossible…” from the play Man of La Mancha, while Steve Coogan looks on in admiration or bewilderment, it is hard to tell which.
The rendition is rather tuneful, and we can expect a lot more where that came from in The Trip to Spain, the latest instalment in the duo’s series of culinary travelogues. Is there harmonising? “There is harmonising, yes,” they say in unison.
The Trip to Spain follows Coogan and Brydon as they galavant around restaurants and hotels, with the former writing reviews for his fictitious Observer column and the latter tagging along with nothing better to do. Previous instalments of the comedy have seen the pair exploring the haunts of northern England and Italy.
If that sounds suspiciously like a holiday, it’s because it practically is. Coogan and Brydon travelled Spain from top to bottom last year to film The Trip: starting in Santander, ending in Malaga and visiting historic cities such as Sigüenza on the way. At points, Coogan furrows his eyebrows and rubs his forehead in an effort to remember where they went. “What was that town really high up on the…?” “Cuenca,” says Brydon, patiently.
It sounds as if the trip broadened their minds as well as (possibly) their waistlines. “I didn’t know much about it, I’d been to coastal Spain,” says Brydon, “Parts of it – ” he widens his eyes and raises one finger “– now this is very interesting, parts of it were almost like African plains and then for a while it was like we were in the Rockies in America. Very, very interesting. We had a good time.”
“Oh! I mean breathtaking,” Coogan chimes in, “This does sound like we’ve been on holiday, doesn’t it? Breathtaking views.” Grinning mischievously at Brydon, he continues in the manner of an elderly grandmother on a coach trip, “Oh, we met a lovely German couple.”
And how long were they away for in total? “Oh, it was three days,” quips Brydon, without a millisecond’s hesitation. It was in fact four weeks, and they worked six days a week – “relentless” according to Coogan.
“The good thing is it’s basically like Rob and I have gone on holiday,” admits Coogan, “but instead of having friends around for some refreshments and a slideshow where you can’t… the good thing about The Trip is you can pause it, make a cup of tea –” he throws his hands up into the air “– even stop watching it if you like.”
Coogan and Brydon are that double act we all know – slightly self-indulgent, impossible to get a word in edgeways but ultimately loveable. And it’s their differences that make them charming. Where Brydon, with his Welsh lilt, is fast and excitable, Coogan is slow and measured. Brydon seems to be able to answer each question I ask before I’m even half way through it, while Coogan is more reserved: he ponders his response and then tends to cut Brydon off mid-flow.
Moreover, Brydon is generous with his laughter. At several points during the conversation he throws his head back and cackles right from the gut, whereas you’re lucky if you get even a twitch of the mouth out of Coogan.
To look at, in person, they are not too dissimilar. They are both slender, and at 51 both have alarmingly lustrous hair. Brydon is more tanned than you’d think – four weeks in Spain can’t have done any harm – while Coogan’s hair is formed in perfect waves and his eyebrows are looking incredibly sharp. “I think he put lacquer in my eyebrows, that chap,” muses Coogan, referring to his session with the make up artist that morning. “Oh, they look lovely though,” purrs Brydon. “If you were to fall forward they would give you a degree of protection, as your head hit the table.”
In The Trip, Brydon is very much Coogan’s faithful friend, his trusty sidekick. This – like many aspects of the programme – is mirrored in reality. When we meet, Brydon is perfectly willing to admit that Coogan is the better driver – “I never felt unsafe with him.” Coogan did almost all of the driving in The Trip to Italy and in Spain it was no different, although he is quick to note that Brydon beat him by five seconds on Top Gear back in the day, in a Suzuki Liana.
“I mean, obviously on the track Rob’s very fast,” says Coogan, much to the delight of Brydon who is in actual hysterics, “but he’s had the advantage of good weather and being sober.” Brydon almost falls off his chair laughing.
Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill was the album of choice on the Italian road trip, but in this series the pair enjoy music from Julio Iglesias and Man of La Mancha – hence the aforementioned serenade. While in England they channelled the writers Wordsworth and Coleridge, and in Italy Byron and Shelley, Spain sees Coogan liken himself to Don Quixote and Brydon to Sancho Panza. They also talk a lot in the forthcoming series about the Moors: North African muslims who occupied Spain in 711 AD.
“In the series I talk up Islam quite a lot,” says Coogan. “I mean if Donald Trump saw The Trip he’d probably ban me from entering America because of my enthusiasm for Islam.” The pair then proceed to imagine out loud what Trump’s Twitter reaction would be to The Trip:
Brydon: “Saw The Trip. Coogan’s rants. Sad!”
“Overrated comedian failing. Sad!”
Coogan: “Not funny. Sad!”
“Not coming in!”
They both snigger uncontrollably.
Later, Coogan says he thinks it would be healthy for more Americans to take gap years. “I think they would benefit, their society, from their young people taking a year out from university and travelling the world a bit, broadening their horizons so they don’t end up as myopic idiots like Donald Trump.”
He also resents the UK’s pandering to the US president, which he sees as a partial consequence of Brexit. “We are having to cosy up to an arsehole because we’ve burnt our bridges elsewhere. It’s pathetic.”
Donald Trump and Brexit aside, ginger tea is another preoccupation of Coogan’s. A trembling waiter brings a pot of it, ordered by Coogan, and begins to pour it into a cup. The water is running clear and Coogan is up in arms.
“Look at that, Rob. Is that ginger tea?”
Brydon, trying to diffuse the situation, says, “Ah, well he wasn’t to know Steve, he wasn’t to know.”
The waiter is fannying around with the crockery and mumbling his apologies.
“He’ll never do that again,” says Brydon.
The waiter scuttles off.
Coogan lifts the lid of the teapot and is outraged to find that it contains hot water and a lump of actual ginger, instead of a ginger tea bag. “I mean, I wanted a ginger tea bag. Just ginger tea,” he cries, “I reckon they haven’t got any tea and they thought, ‘Oh god, Steve Coogan’s just asked for ginger tea and we haven’t got any, just chop some ginger and put it in the pot.’ That’s what they’ve done, isn’t it?”
Brydon takes him down a peg, “Either that or they said, ‘There’s an elderly grey-haired gentleman in the conservatory who wants ginger tea, we better give it to him or he might wilt.’”
Elderly might be a little harsh, but at 51 it is accurate to say that Coogan and Brydon are in potential midlife crisis territory, or as Coogan prefers to call it: “midlife introspection”. It has been a significant theme in the past two series, with the pair of them taking turns at playing the philanderer and talking wistfully about their youth.
How much is this inspired by their own lives? “I have started napping in the afternoon,” Brydon whispers guiltily, as if I’ve just caught him with his hand in the cookie jar. “A lovely afternoon nap is a life saver, it really is. It’s a life saver for me,” Coogan agrees. Did he indulge in the Spanish siesta while filming? “I would grab 40 minutes when I could.”
Age is clearly a preoccupation for the double act, and this becomes apparent when Brydon begins to explain to me the meaning of life – well, the meaning of age at least – with a bottle of mineral water on the table.
Brydon: “How old are you?”
Coogan: “Very rude question. Very rude question for a young lady.”
Brydon: “Well, I thought you were even younger. 23, put it like this, here we are, here we are, watch this…
[Picks up a bottle of water and a glass]
“This is your life in here.
[Nods at the glass he is maniacally pouring water into]
“This is your life, okay?”
[Glass is full to the point it is about to overflow]
Coogan: “Stop, stop!”
Brydon: “Your life. There it is, okay? You’re going to enjoy that, aren’t you?
[He takes a gulp]
“You’ve had a sip. You look at it. Lovely!
“Now this! This is mine and Steve’s life.”
[Pours most of the water out so just a dribble is left]
Coogan: “Let’s have a look, that’s about right, yeah.”
Brydon: “I’m having a sip. Ouf. Better enjoy this, hadn’t I?”
[Takes a tiny sip and relishes it]
Coogan: “Slow down, slow down! Don’t drink it all.”
Brydon: “Oh, I am enjoying the taste of that.”
Coogan: “Yeah, but just swill it around your mouth a bit mate.”
Brydon: [Gleefully shouting now] “Swill it around your mouth a bit!”
Coogan: “Whereas what you will do [addressing me] is just go glug, glug, glug.”
Brydon: “Because you think that glass is never going to end.”
Me: “So is ‘swilling it around your mouth a bit’ a metaphor for ‘live in the moment’?”
Brydon: [Exasperated] “Of course that’s what it means. It’s a metaphor!”
Coogan: “It’s a metaphor, love.”
Brydon: [Nodding, satisfied that he has imparted wisdom unto me] “That’s the secret of life.”
Wow. So, I wonder, after some “midlife introspection” will there be a fourth series? Is there a place for The Trip in this post-Brexit world? “I’d love to go to Ireland, possibly America,” muses Coogan. “I do like Ireland. I like the romance of Ireland.” Brydon agrees, and I suggest this might be a good follow up to Philomena – the film starring Coogan and Judi Dench where the latter plays an Irishwoman in search of her son – “Well, of course, that would dovetail beautifully,” enthuses Coogan.
Brydon simply sighs in resignation, “You had to mention that, didn’t you?”
The Trip to Spain begins on Sky Atlantic on Thursday 6th April at 9pm