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Double act John Reilly and Steve Coogan as ‘Stan & Ollie’

Actors John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan arrive at the world premiere of "Stan and Ollie" during the London Film Festival, in London, Britain October 21, 2018. Photo Credit: REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Double act John Reilly and Steve Coogan as ‘Stan & Ollie’

Double act John Reilly and Steve Coogan as ‘Stan & Ollie’

John Reilly and Steve Coogan bring to life the Hollywood duo of Stan & Ollie.

If you’re in any doubt about how good they John C Reilly and Steve Coogan are in the film Stan & Ollie, watch the film’s opening scene – a prologue, set in 1937, as the camera follows the comedians through a bustling studio. Brilliantly introducing Laurel and Hardy at the height of their fame – they even tussle with notorious studio head Hal Roach (played by Danny Huston) – it’s a virtuoso sequence as they head towards a soundstage where they perform the famed dance from Way Out West.

“The Way Out West dance in particular is a really beautiful study at building a joke,” explains Reilly (a skilled performer, he won an Oscar nod for musical Chicago). “So it’s an idiotic dance. That’s why it’s funny. It starts out literally with tapping your toe.” He demonstrates. “And they build from tapping your toe into a fully synchronised flying up the staircase [and] kicking your heels at the same time – but the joke is, it’s like a little kid saying ‘I’m going to do a dance routine. You ready?’”

By now, Reilly is standing up, clapping in time, with Coogan falling about in hysterics. “The reason they were able to do the timing so nonchalantly was because they were very practised performers,” says Reilly. “You never saw them sweat. If you really study the Way Out West dance, you can see Oliver sweat in a couple of places – ‘Oh, I can’t believe I still have to do this dance!’ You can see him bearing up to do the next bit – it’s pretty funny.”

Curiously, despite their chemistry, these two hadn’t co-starred in anything before. “I assumed we’d work well together,” says Coogan, who has made his mark in Hollywood alongside other comic talents, including Ben Stiller (Tropic Thunder) and Paul Rudd (Our Idiot Brother). “Me too,” adds Reilly. “I respected Steve.”

Both Coogan and Reilly innately understand the nature of double acts, to some degree. Reilly has filmed several comedies with Will Ferrell (Step Brothers, Talladega Nights and the recent Holmes & Watson, made after Stan & Ollie, which Coogan cameos in). “Listen, my whole life has been double acts,” he says. “That’s the truth. I gravitate towards partnerships.” He cites his long-standing collaboration with Boogie Nights director Paul Thomas Anderson. “A lot of stuff I do is with a partner.”

Likewise, Coogan has worked with British comedian Rob Brydon on three series of The Trip, in which they play exaggerated versions of themselves as they review restaurants in Britain, Italy and Spain. Yet the partnership he’s forged with Reilly seems utterly genuine. “Sometimes you do have to play a political game with whoever it is you’re working with. But I always felt with John we were able to be honest with each other and realise that the thing that was bigger than both of us was this movie.”

Since completing Stan & Ollie, Coogan has gone on to make Greed, a comedy about the super-rich (again with Shirley Henderson). Reilly, meanwhile, has produced his first movie, The Sisters Brothers, a western in which he co-stars with Joaquin Phoenix.

What impresses about Stan & Ollie is that it’s not a boy’s only club. Both men are married at the time – and dearly miss their wives until they arrive in London for moral support. Nina Ariande (Midnight in Paris) plays Laurel’s fourth and final wife Ida while Scottish star Shirley Henderson (Trainspotting) is Lucille, Hardy’s loving spouse. In reality, Laurel married both his second and third wives three times over. “That is nuts!” laughs Coogan, who married only once and divorced in 2005.

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