Widely considered one of the greatest comedy teams of all time, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy are the subject of the new film Stan & Ollie, which chronicles the pair’s 1953 tour of U.K. variety halls to perform their classic skits live. Hardy (John C. Reilly) is suffering from poor health, while Laurel (Steve Coogan) struggles to keep the tour and their show afloat. The team’s golden years — in which they appeared in some 107 films, both shorts and features — are behind them and their partnership has become more fragile than ever, but as they say, the show must go on.
Reilly (Ralph Breaks the Internet) and Coogan (The Trip to Spain) are, in a word, incredible in the movie: they fully inhabit the personalities and physical attributes of two men who were so different in many ways, yet who ultimately loved each other and had a brilliant comedic chemistry that survives as their legacy to this day.
“I was actually a clown when I was younger, so I was really, really interested in their work from a young age,” says Reilly in our interview below. “And then when I was in acting school I actually used to study them. Stan Laurel taught me how to tie a bowtie by watching this gag where he tied a napkin into his bowtie over and over again until he gets it right. Of course they were very influential and it was a big responsibility taking on the part for that reason.”
Laurel and Hardy’s professional and personal relationship had taken a beating as their peak years in Hollywood receded further and further behind them, but the movie suggests that toward the end, the duo rediscovered just how valuable they were to each other.
“It was one of those things where, at the end of their lives, they looked around and everyone else had gone or changed, and the only person left in the room was the other guy,” says Coogan. “So that’s when they sort of learned to appreciate and love each other.”
Stan & Ollie also stars Shirley Henderson as Hardy’s wife Lucille and Nina Arianda as Laurel’s wife Ida — who are quite a double act themselves — along with Danny Huston as legendary producer Hal Roach and Rufus Jones as British theater impresario Bernard Delfont. The movie opens on Friday (December 28).
Don Kaye is a Los Angeles-based entertainment journalist and associate editor of Den of Geek. Other current and past outlets include Syfy, United Stations Radio Networks, Fandango, MSN, RollingStone.com and many more. Read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter @donkaye