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Five Mins with 'Father Ted' & 'Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa' Director Declan Lowney
31 Jul 2013 : By Kevin Cronin
Director Declan Lowney and Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge.
'Father Ted' director Declan Lowney - not content merely to have directed the greatest Irish comedy series of all time - has forged an impressive post-Craggy Island career spanning ‘Little Britain’, ‘Moone Boy’ and now Steve Coogan’s big screen debut as Alan Partridge.

In helming ‘Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa’, the Wexford director brings his comedic sensibilities to a tale that skilfully juggles moments of hilarity with a tense plot involving a radio station under siege.

Colm Meaney adds another layer of Irish interest to the film in playing a troubled radio presenter who, after getting sacked, takes his co-workers hostage - leaving it to Partridge to attempt to save the day.

Also flying the flag for Ireland is IFTA-nominated actor Simon Delaney, as a police officer who disguises himself as a pizza delivery man to try and rescue the hostages.

Declan Lowney spoke to IFTN ahead of the release of ‘Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa’ in Irish cinemas next Wednesday 7th August.

Mr Lowney, Alan Partridge is a vain, smug and narcissistic character, and yet he’s incredibly well loved. What do you see as his enduring appeal?
Haha! He’s very unlikeable, isn’t he? I think we often think the things Alan thinks, but he says the things we wouldn’t. We edit ourselves out but he doesn’t, and his brain doesn’t work that way. His mouth goes before his brain. I read a quote where he said, ‘Talk first, think later. It’s radio. Nothing is as bad as dead air!’ You can’t have radio silence, so you say anything! You just talk!’

Was it a challenge to find a story substantial enough for a TV sitcom character to fill the wider canvass of the cinema screen?
We were very careful in making the film not to make Alan do something he wouldn’t do. So we didn’t want to send him off to Hollywood or New York, as Alan wouldn’t do those things. We had to keep the purity of Partridge and protect that. What was brilliant was the writers came up with the scenario that Alan stumbles into what’s happening in the radio station under siege. So it’s just an ordinary day at work when something extraordinary happens. And he’s in the middle of it.

Colm Meaney’s character, in taking everyone in the radio station hostage at gunpoint, has a very dark character arc but you feel sorry for him at the same time - because he’s lost his job and his wife has died. Was it important for you to make the villain of the piece so sympathetic?
The ideal combination is if you have a comedy that’s also got some heart and soul to it. And I think Colm really grounded it in that regard. I mean Alan is a soulful character anyway, but Colm really brought the heart and soul to the piece. So you still have all the fun going on, but Colm makes it feel like a proper movie. That’s an unusual balance to get, but if it works it works.

One scene that was equal parts hilarious and moving is when Steve sings ‘You Were Always On My Mind’ to Colm Meaney close to the end.
Steve came up with the notion of Alan singing that song two days before we drove up there to shoot those scenes. So over a weekend we had to track down the writers of that song and get clearance and permission to do it. There’s a lot of last minuted-ness about the film! Maybe that helps to keep it edgy though.

Some of the humour is very dark - you’ve got Alan’s sidekick with a gun holder sellotaped to his head, for example. And yet it’s hilarious. Was balancing the humour and the serious side of things a challenge?
It is a tricky balance and no one knows quite how these things work, but you just have an instinct on it and then hope your instincts are right. We did test the film with an audience a couple of times and when you’re getting good vibes, you can feel when something is working. You always felt with Colm Meaney’s character that here was a guy who could flip at any minute and really hurt somebody.

There were some subtle parallels with ‘Father Ted’. Alan’s housekeeper Lynn seems a bit like Mrs Doyle in the way she’s kind of a maternal figure who takes care of him.
I never thought of the comparison. I hadn’t thought of that or seen the parallels before but you’re right. Lynn was there in the bathroom with Alan. She is in love with Alan though! That’s why she disapproves of that other woman. I think she’s holding a candle for Alan and he’s completely unaware.

The slow-moving radio truck, in which Alan was being held hostage, also reminded me of the milk float strapped with explosives driven by Dougal in ‘Father Ted’.
That was more ‘Sugarland Express’, an early Spielberg movie with Goldie Hawn that has a slow car chase. It was more of a nod to that!

When you were directing ‘Father Ted’ back in the day, did you have any idea of the enormous cultural impact it would have?
No, none of us had. But I’m so thrilled! I don’t understand fully why it’s had such an impact. But I know we were so lucky. The writing in ‘Father Ted’ is fantastic and timeless and you can run those gags anytime and they still work.

Did you have a favourite episode to direct?
I like ‘Hell’ because it’s the one with the caravan and Graham Norton and the slurry lorry. There’s a lot going on there! The caravan falling over when they do Riverdance was my favourite moment. There was nobody in it and we had 20 fat hairy men pulling it on wires. I don’t know if Graham Norton’s career would have happened without that episode. He’s huge now, isn’t he? And he’s such a lovely guy.

‘Moone Boy’, which you directed season one of, is another great show, very much rooted in nostalgia for early 90s Ireland with storylines like Mary Robinson running for President and Martin dancing to the MacGuyver theme tune. Why do you think the show works so well?
In 1990 Chris was that age so it’s all about his 12 or 13 year old self so it is a nostalgia thing. But the imaginary friend side of things is lovely! As a device it’s great fun! You can use it whenever it suits you. You can be on set shooting a scene and Chris might say this isn’t really working, so he’ll decide to be in the scene. He’d just pop into costume - because all he needs is the red hat - hop in front of the camera, do a few lines and pop out again. And it works brilliantly! It’s a very freeing device! There’s no logic required.

Did you have any involvement with season two?
I didn’t do season two because it clashed with the Alan Partridge movie. And now Chris O’Dowd is directing season three himself! He’s in great form and it’s going incredibly well! But he did email me the other day - because I’d emailed him and said good luck with the directing thing – and he emailed back saying ‘it actually is quite hard work, isn’t it?’ But it’s brilliant for him. I think he’s learning very fast. He’s a clever guy.

What was the Alan Partridge premiere like in his hometown of Norwich?
It was fantastic! Norwich was such a great buzz! It was like bringing the Beatles back to Liverpool. It was so exciting. We were taken up there by helicopter, took a fleet of cars into town, and as soon as Steve got out of the car there was screaming and we were mobbed. It was brilliant! I have never seen that experience around a movie before. They love him and they love Partridge. Now all we need is a bit of rain for the opening weekend!

Any plans for a sequel?
Not straight away. We literally only finished shooting this one two weeks ago. But I’d love to get stuck into another movie. I’m lovin’ it!

’Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa’, directed by Declan Lowney, is in Irish cinemas from Wednesday 7th August.

The trailer is available to view below:

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