Steve Coogan wants to start a conversation. A big one. “The one thing there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of conversation about is the huge imbalance of wealth in the world,” he told The Big Issue for our next cover interview, on sale across Britain from Monday, “I found that annoying.”
In his new film Greed Coogan tackles this head on, setting his crosshairs on the fashion industry. Playing Sir Richard McCreadie – dubbed by tabloids as Greedy McGreadie – he peddles a public image of the self-made man, whilst simultaneously draining company funds to throw himself a lavish, Roman inspired 60th birthday party. If the character feels familiar, there’s a reason: Coogan based him on Topshop’s Philip Green. “There are even direct quotes from him in this film that we give to our character.”
Coogan’s political activism has become more prominent over the past decade. Previously known for being something of a partygoer, his involvement with the Leveson Inquiry back in 2011 ushered in a kind of second-act in his career. He subsequently became closely linked to the Hacked Off campaign, holding the tabloid press to account for phone hacking and other unethical practices, and won undisclosed damages from the Mirror Group Newspapers in 2017.
More recently, he was one of 40 leading cultural figures to co-sign a letter to The Guardian backing Jeremy Corbyn, claiming the Conservatives would create “a more unequal and divided society.” It’s this inequality that he wanted to explore in Greed. “It’s about the huge yawning chasm between rich and poor.”
People buy fairtrade coffee. For some reason clothes seem to have escaped that kind of scrutiny.
The 54-year-old also points out how this inequality insulates the super-rich in the fashion industry from their environmental responsibilities. “They can actually spin environmental issues and make them work for them,” he says, “Keeping quiet about their transgressions and shouting from the rooftops about small concessions so everyone thinks they are wonderful and some liberal-minded people might pay a bit extra for their products.” The knock-on effect to the consumer is a lack of awareness as to the environmental impact of fast fashion. This is something he wants to change. “People buy fairtrade coffee. For some reason clothes seem to have escaped that kind of scrutiny.”
Coogan’s push for the fashion industry to address their environmental impact is timely. This week, Extinction Rebellion wrote to the British Fashion Council urging them to cancel this September’s London Fashion Week, and asking them to “propose the legislation needed to stop the fashion industry’s exploitation of planet, people and animals.” Lauren Bravo, author of How To Break Up With Fast Fashion, agrees, telling The Big Issue: “There are too many brands spending too much money on trying to make themselves appear more ethical, but all the while they’re still producing clothes at a rate and volume that is wildly unsustainable for the planet. XR’s action is sadly necessary to create that sense of urgency.”
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For Coogan, it’s all about getting people talking. “I’m hoping a discussion will start that results in people buying fewer clothes and making them last longer. I’m not going to convince everyone…but you have to start somewhere.”
Greed is out in cinemas on February 21