Steve Coogan, 42, is perhaps best known for his TV persona, the part-arrogant, part-clueless sports announcer Alan Partridge. And though Coogan could go on playing him forever, he has instead used his budding American film career to branch out, try different things. His collaborations with "serious" director Michael Winterbottom were a good start; 24 Hour Party People (2002) and Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (2006) earned rave reviews here in the States. He appeared opposite big stars such as Jackie Chan (Around the World in 80 Days) and Ben Stiller (Night at the Museum, Tropic Thunder) and answered the call of a handful of cult directors, making small appearances in films by Jim Jarmusch (Coffee and Cigarettes), Sofia Coppola (Marie Antoinette) and Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz).

His name appears alone above the title of his new film,
Hamlet 2, in which he plays Dana Marschz, a washed-up American actor now teaching drama at a Tucson high school. To save his class and his career, he writes a sequel to "Hamlet" that causes a huge ruckus. (Hint: it has something to do with "Sexy Jesus.") The one connecting factor with all these movies is that Coogan's characters are more or less awful, but compulsively watchable, people. Coogan -- who is conversely very nice in person -- recently chatted with Cinematical about his new movie.

Cinematical: How did your gallery of humorously annoying characters come about?

Steve Coogan: I don't know. It just sort of happened. I'm just attracted to playing people who are ostensible unlikable. That's not to say that there's something in there that makes you care. It might be that you just find them so awful that you just can't stop watching, like a car crash. And they're not self-aware. I think somehow, whenever I see a character on screen who I feel is trying to get me to like them too much, it has the reverse effect. It kind of puts you off. It's: "Quit looking at me with those doe eyes. I want to kill you." It's not like I've thought this through. It's just, you do stuff often enough and you see patterns. You see them, and I see them too. Sometimes they're not self-conscious. I guess that's why I'm probably doing it.