Retna Digital

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Steve Coogan figures if any crowd in America knows who he is, it's probably the gang that will assemble for the Spirit Awards honoring independent film. The British actor and comedian is host of Saturday's ceremony, a loose, often potty-mouthed affair that stands as a racy prelude to Hollywood's main event, the Academy Awards on Sunday.

"If I'm going to do anything over here, this is the best thing to do, because the indie moviemakers are probably more familiar with me and my work than anyone else," Coogan, 43, said in an interview. "It'll be a good crowd for me. I'll feel as comfortable as I possibly could feel in front of a crowd of industry people doing comedy, which is kind of a poison chalice in some ways."

The Spirit Awards air live and uncut on IFC and later Saturday night in an edited version on AMC. Contenders include Oscar-nominated films such as "Milk," "The Wrestler," "Rachel Getting Married" and "Frozen River."

Coogan's leading-man credits generally have come in independent films such as Michael Winterbottom's "24 Hour Party People" and "Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story," along with last year's "Hamlet 2." He's gotten far-wider exposure in choice small roles in Hollywood flicks. Coogan appeared as the tiny Roman leader Octavius in Ben Stiller's "Night at the Museum," a role he reprises in this summer's sequel. Stiller also cast Coogan as the director who gets blown apart by a land mine in "Tropic Thunder" last summer, leading to one of the movie's biggest gross-out laughs when Stiller's character picks up the filmmaker's head and licks the blood, thinking it's a movie prop.

"Ben, he metaphorically licks my head every now and again by throwing me a little work in his big, big movies, which is very nice of him," Coogan said.

Coogan honed his skills as a youth listening to comedy albums and doing impersonations, later studying at drama school. He has built up a cult following for his British TV character Alan Partridge, a talk-show blowhard constantly in over his head. The character arose from a radio sketch in which Coogan copped the persona of a blustery sports commentator. "They have a kind of confident delivery that far exceeds their intellectual capacity," Coogan said. "I just did that. I did someone who thinks he knows more than he does and speaks with that kind of confidence. However ignorant you are, speak with confidence and don't leave any gaps. That's a kind of affliction you see all over the world on mainstream TV."

Coogan himself would not mind going more mainstream, maybe taking the lead in his own Hollywood franchise one day.

"There's a few steps in between where I am now and that, before a studio's going to take that kind of a risk. But yeah, everybody wants to have their cake and eat it. I'd like to have the opportunity to reach a wider audience without losing whatever it is that I do," Coogan said. "I think it's a possibility. Audiences here are becoming a little more familiar with me."

On the Net:

http://spiritawards.com