‘Male friends can love each other’ — comedy pals on being Stan & Ollie
Steve Coogan and John C Reilly say we need to stop describing male love as a ‘bromance’, writes Niamh Horan
ACOMEDY? A tragedy? Or perhaps simply a really beautiful love story? Stan & Ollie, a new film about comic legends Laurel and Hardy, details a vulnerability and devotion between two best friends that even made the movie’s director cry when he first read the script.
But despite the obvious love between the comedy duo, John C Reilly, who plays Oliver Hardy in the movie, wants people to stop using the word ‘bromance’ when describing loving relationships between two male friends.
“I don’t like that word ‘bromance’,” he tells the Sunday Independent. “It’s a thing that people say to make friendship and love between men sound silly or it is as if it’s in need of some special word.”
With co-star Steve Coogan, Reilly is sitting in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre, where Laurel and Hardy once performed. He says: “Men can love each other. It’s fine. It’s not sexual if they love each other. It doesn’t need to be called ‘bromance’.”
On the moment in the film when Laurel tells Hardy he loves him, Coogan says: “I like that line because it’s utterly free of ambiguity. There’s nothing hidden. There are no agendas or ulterior meanings. It’s just a straightforward, simple line about what he feels towards Oliver.”
Discussing the fact that Hardy broke a promise to his wife, Ida, to make his health a priority and never work as part of the double act again, Reilly adds: “He is saying, what can I do? I am helpless to this fact.”
Before the closing credits, an ‘end card’ describes how Laurel continued writing comedy material for years after Hardy died — despite the fact that none of it would ever be preformed.
Director John S Baird says: “To me, that’s love. Because the man was heartbroken.” “It was like half of him had died,” Coogan adds.
Speaking about his own life-long lessons in relationships, the Alan Partridge star, who once famously dated Courtney Love, said: “I am not particularly a paragon of virtue in terms of love but what I do think is that, you know, it’s the old Beatles song: Love is All You Need.”
Drawing on the work of influential psychologist Alfred Adler, Coogan adds: “At the end of his life — from all his experimenting with the human condition and human behaviour — he just came to the simple conclusion that people should be a bit nicer to each other, and that sounds simplistic but I think it would cure a lot of ills.”
“What it comes down to,” says Reilly, “is that love is something you get if you risk heartbreak, and that vulnerability begets love.
“If we are brave enough to fail in front of each other then that engenders that kind of trust — and from that trust you get this kind of chemistry and love and, yeah, that’s a risky endeavour.”
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy became Hollywood legends early in the 20th Century and remain the defining slapstick duo. Stan & Ollie sheds light on what happened after their career faltered and the pair set out to win back audiences with a 1953 tour of the UK and Ireland. We first see them at the height of their fame in 1937, preparing to shoot a dance routine for their latest movie, Way Out West.
But unhappy with their lot, Stan is moaning to Ollie about their pay in comparison to other screen comedians such as Charlie Chaplin. He wants to end their contract at the studio, but an easy-going Ollie isn’t convinced. Ollie stays, Stan leaves, but they can never reignite their on-screen magic as separate acts.
By 1953 they are back together and find themselves washed-up in England, at the start of a largely unheralded UK tour.
Thus begins the blame game and the fights, flanked by their two loyal wives, until love — and Hardy’s quickly deteriorating health — make them see sense.
Comic gold in parts, tragic in others, the warmhearted biopic has proved a massive success with critics.
The film has already picked up three Bafta nominations, and Reilly was nominated at the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Awards for his performance.
The movie has also been tipped ahead of this year’s Oscar nominations. But neither actor is keen on winning over the other.
As Reilly explains: “I have to say — any time someone singles out me over Steve or him over me, or gives one of us a nomination over the other, it makes me feel like you are missing the point.”
DOUBLE ACT: John C Reilly and Steve Coogan in Dublin last week and (top) in character. Above, the real Stan and Ollie in 1952