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LONDON – Steve Coogan told the Leveson Inquiry Tuesday that he was entitled to privacy about his private life because he had “not sought fame” and had never presented himself as “a paragon of virtue.”
Speaking under oath to the inquiry on press standards, ethics and practices, Coogan said he had been the subject of various types of press harassment including having his rubbish bins gone through, being the subject of surveillance and having his children photographed without his permission.
Speaking a day after Hugh Grant gave evidence to the Inquiry — which was set up after the phone-hacking revelations this summer — Coogan said he and Grant were there in part to speak up for other celebrities who were scared of challenging the press.
“This is not the Steve and Hugh show — we are here — not with great enthusiasm — to represent all those people who don’t have the stomach for it … It’s not just about us, it is about other people.
As a result of stories detailing a number of sexual indiscretions that had been sold to newspapers, he said, “The irony is my closet is empty of skeletons.”
Coogan said he had been particularly hurt and damaged by a number of experiences, citing a Daily Mail story that had “repeated the lie” that he was somehow responsible for Owen Wilson‘s alleged suicide attempt.
“I had not been in the same continent as him in the nine months before” he said, adding that he had never taken drugs with Wilson.
Coogan said he had not been able to challenge the publication legally because of the impact it might have on his friend.
“I didn’t want to give the story legs. I didn’t want to shine the spotlight on my friend when he was in that vulnerable state,” he said.
“On this occasion the potential soap opera that would ensue outweighs any benefit.”
The actor, who has brought a number of legal cases against British newspapers, said that he had not sought fame for its own sake and did not consider that he was “in the fame game.”
He had been advised that by taking legal action he would make an enemy of newspapers.
“If you … criticise the papers then they will come after you. Insofar as my legal action, I was advised by my publicists when I was considering taking action against News International, ‘Do you really want to make enemies of these people?’ When they said ‘these people’ the inference was clear — if you make life difficult for them they will make life difficult for you.”
Coogan took a far less combative stance at the Leveson Inquiry than Hugh Grant had adopted the previous day, but echoed Grant by saying he only did publicity interviews to support a film project that he was involved in.
“I’d rather not talk about these things — but when you do an interview you want to support the film, you don’t want to come across as a curmudgeon, you don’t want to be precious.”
Coogan rejected the suggestion that by being onscreen he had made “a Faustian pact” with newspapers and said his identity was as a creative person who created characters and acted.
“It’s my vocation, its what I do and I love it … Creativity is what defines me. I’ve never sought to be famous, I don’t sell myself as a personality. I have never wanted to be famous as such — fame is a by-product of what I do … I do what I do and that is what I like to be judged by.”
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