Steve Coogan may be playing a veiled portrait of fashion mogul and billionaire Sir Philip Green in Michael Winterbottom’s new satire “Greed,” but he isn’t that interested in Green as a person, and he certainly doesn’t care if Green ends up seeing the film.
In “Greed,” Coogan plays Richard McCreadie — also known as “Greedy McCreadie” — a billionaire who tries to throw a lavish 60th birthday party for himself in Greece, only for his efforts to be complicated by his own hubris and the arrival of some Syrian refugees. McCreadie’s rise to power has similarities to Green’s own trajectory and exploits, but Coogan and Winterbottom point the finger not just at him but the fashion industry as a whole.
“I’m not interested in Philip Green as an individual. I’m interested in the system that allows people like him to thrive, and that’s really what we’re talking about. What he thinks about it, I don’t really give a monkey’s–,” Coogan told TheWrap, catching himself before using a profanity. “Even if Philip Green has some weird epiphany or some conversion — which is not going to happen — even if he did, it wouldn’t make much difference to the system.”
The BBC reported ahead of the film’s release that Green, who owns Topman and several other retail fashion chains, has “no intention” of seeing Winterbottom’s film, though a source that spoke with Financial News added that Green wishes they had contacted him to get research for their comedy.
While the film finds humor in McCreadie’s cutting, “Veep”-style insults to subordinates and the bumbling antics of his biographer or family members, Winterbottom gets serious when he shifts focus to the Sri Lankan factory workers who get paid a minuscule wage to make McCreadie’s merchandise.
“It’s a look at how the whole industry works and how the whole world works. You could’ve picked another industry,” Winterbottom said. He added that he didn’t want McCreadie himself to be a broad caricature, because the many tax loopholes and monetary schemes that McCreadie pulls off are all very real for the figures the film satirizes.
Coogan himself is no stranger to playing the arrogant type on film, whether as his long-running Alan Partridge character or even as a broad version of himself in “The Trip” films, but because “Greed” aimed for a blend of realism and humor, his job was that much easier.
“There are many, many wealthy, flamboyant, unapologetic individuals like the character Rich McCreadie, so you look around you and see how they are and how they behave. So a lot of the work was done for me in a way,” Coogan said.
And, of course, Green isn’t the only target “Greed” goes after. Coogan has a scene in front of British PMs where he criticizes Amazon, Apple, Google and even U2’s Bono for how they’ve dealt with their taxes. And Winterbottom makes a point to call out celebrities who have attended such lavish parties for billionaires, while overlooking the factory employees in Third World countries that make these events possible.
“How is it that a guy who runs a company is worth $60 billion and the women making the clothes for that company are getting paid $3.50 a day?” Winterbottom asked. “It felt very simple to make the link between those kinds of facts and figures with specific examples.”
When “Greed” debuted in Toronto last year, audiences responded strongly to a series of end-credit title cards that listed the salaries of specific heads of fashion companies like H&M and Zara alongside the salaries of the lowest level employees who make their clothes. But Winterbottom previously said the studio made him censor the credits to remove specific brand mentions. The film now ends with a general swipe at the overall wealth of the Top 10 fashion companies in the world compared to the average salaries of factory workers. But the director’s message — and disappointment at the change — remains the same.
“That was the bit they liked. That was the bit that energized them, made them feel like we can change. This is silly, because it’s funny how grotesque the inequality is. So that was the favorite bit we had in the film. But unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to keep it in. I hope the film still does that,” he said. “It’s not about individuals, it’s about the system. But by seeing it typed down exactly how much money, what person does have or a particular brand or a particular person, it brings home how crazy it is.”
“The living standards of these people who are the bottom of the supply chain, that’s what’s important. It’s trying to talk about this and find the political will, which is there, to make a difference,” Coogan added. “There’s no reason why this shouldn’t become part of the agenda.”