The BBC America drama series Copper – from Academy Award-winner Barry Levinson, Emmy-winner Tom Fontana and Academy Award-nominee Will Rokos – is set in 1864, at a time when disorder and mayhem were the law of the land, and New York City was filled with intrigue, corruption, mystery and murder. Actress Anastasia Griffith (Once Upon A Time) plays the sophisticated and spirited Elizabeth Haverford, a woman intrigued by both the rugged Irish immigrant cop, Detective Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones), and the handsome Manhattan aristocrat, Robert Morehouse (Kyle Schmid). The show also stars Ato Essandoh, Kevin Ryan, Dylan Taylor, Kiara Glasco, Tanya Fischer and Tessa Thompson.
During this recent interview to promote the new show, Anastasia Griffith talked about what made her want to be a part of this story, the extent of the research she did for the role, how she decided on what accent to use, how much the costumes and sets help her get into character, the possible love triangle, what kind of life she might have had in the 1860’s, how familiar she was with the previous work of Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana, and what she hopes audiences take away from the show. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
ANASTASIA GRIFFITH: With the story of Elizabeth, there was quite a clear thing that I felt was important. I don’t think we really think about where we get our equality from. There is a sense of feminism and women become passe, in my opinion. I feel that we are always getting away from the point, and it’s actually very important to look at where we started. It’s important to know the journey that women have gone through in society, and who these women were that started the journey to allow women to have freedom of speech, so we don’t take for granted the fact that we can vote, that we can wear jeans, that we can work out and train for and perform in the Olympics, and that we can work in the same workplace as men.
To me, that was really important. That was the story that I felt very passionate about telling. It’s not about just preaching. This woman isn’t just a do-gooder. She’s not just doing it, for the good of all women. No human being in history was all good or all bad, or all black or all white. But, perhaps it will make people think about how lucky we are today, to have the freedoms we have as women. I personally hope that it doesn’t always have to be the reaction against men, and that women can begin to embrace being feminine because being feminine is an awesome thing and not just a reaction to what men will allow us. That was a very important topic.
Did you do any kind of research for your role?
GRIFFITH: I did a lot of research. I was schooled in the UK, and Tom in Dubai, but with British schooling. When we studied history, we didn’t learn about Lincoln or the Emancipation Proclamation or the Civil War. Those were all major backbone aspects of the show that we had to school up on. I looked at all of the documentaries, and that informed a lot. And then, the more specific research that I did was a lot about the women and what roles women could play, what the physical restraints were, what happens when a woman gets pregnant, what kind of contraception women could use. I wanted to really get into the daily life of what it is to be a woman, at that time. I think we all had our own little corners. The weirdest thing, for me, was just how restraining the day to day life was. I figured that out by wearing the costumes more than doing research on it, to be honest. They would have ribs removed, so that they could look more doll-like in these dresses. They’d have smelling salts in their purses because it was a daily problem, where they would pass out because they couldn’t breathe. That it was okay for women to live like that, blew my mind.
How did you decide on the accent that you use?
GRIFFITH: For me, my character is much fresher off the boat. She was really brought up in London, so she’s still very British. But, it was hilarious because I have played Americans now for six years, solidly, and have begun to lose my Britishness. When I went to Canada, I actually asked if I could have a voice coach to help me speak in my own accent, just to make sure that I wasn’t bringing in any strange vowel sounds. So, I ended up having a Canadian voice coach teach me how to do my own British accent. I found it very frustrating and learned to just trust my instincts. She just had to be as inherently British as possible, but I didn’t want for it to end up getting terribly English. I wanted it to be something that people could really relate to and understand. I wanted to make it seem absolutely of the time, but completely still identifiable, in today’s world.
Do the costumes and sets really help you get into character?
GRIFFITH: Oh, goodness, yes! I feel like you can do all the research in the world, but when you start putting that costume on, put your hair in a wig and walk into those sets, that’s where the visceral reaction is. It’s no longer in the head. It’s in the body. You really start feeling like the character, and really inhabiting the character. For me, I didn’t spend all that much time down in the Five Points, so it wasn’t so much the smells and the shit on the floor. It was more about walking into these houses and realizing how precious the furniture was, and that you can’t recline. You really do have to perch. And it was about being in the corset and realizing that I can only move so far to the left or right, and just what it is to navigate spaces with that hoop. Tom and I would do scenes where we’d have to get close to each other, but that’s quite hard with a hoop, in between you. It’s just a lot of those practical things. It just gives you so much and informs so much about the scene. I’ve never done a job where you have so much at your fingertips, and so much has been created authentically for you. You open the door and your prop is in there, the smells are there, and the horses are there, so you just have to respond to it. It was such a gift.
GRIFFITH: As far as Elizabeth is concerned, she obviously is friends with Morehouse, and is more from that 5th Avenue world. That’s more her social scene. But, she is someone who has come over from England to find a sense of freedom from the stifling of British society that she had grown up in and found very frustrating. She came to Manhattan and, although she finds 5th Avenue quite disappointing, in the sense that it’s still as stifling as the UK was for her, I think she sees something in Corcoran that represents a freedom and an integrity that her own society doesn’t lend itself to. Quite quickly, she finds him fascinating and intriguing. And he can act out, in a way that people in her own community can’t, by taking matters in his own hands, in a way that Morehouse isn’t able to because of his social standing. It really starts out that Morehouse and Elizabeth are best friends, and you can see that he has some admiration for her. And then, that interest is directed towards Corcoran, quite quickly. I think it’s an interesting commentary on where she’s allowed to put her attentions. It’s very unusual for her to put her attentions into someone from Five Points. I think that possibility shows that she’s quite a forward-thinking woman.
Do you think it’s the strong personalities of Elizabeth and Corcoran that attracts them to each other?
GRIFFITH: Yes, I think that’s true. They both have a loathing for bullies. For me, this whole series is a lot about freedom. I think Elizabeth is someone who speaks out for the freedom of others, and I think Corcoran does, too. There’s a really nice moment, in the first episode, where Corcoran seems to just really want to stand up for justice. He doesn’t want to accept inequality, and I think Elizabeth is exactly the same. It’s unusual for someone from the higher echelons of society to stand up for that inequality. Even when you look at the Morehouse character, there’s a sense of him being the underdog. With his relationship with his father, he’s backed down by that man.
I think they’re all coming up against adversity, in some way. As a result, it makes all of these new characters somehow stand up for what they believe in. That’s really the connection between the two. I also have an interesting thought about Elizabeth, that I don’t think she’s from a particularly well-to-do family. I think she’s made the best of herself. She’s capable of manipulating herself. I think she’s pulled herself up through the higher echelons of society, and found herself in this position. I don’t mean, by any means, that she’s working class, or anything like that, but she’s probably a middle child who wasn’t going to get a great marriage in the UK, so she’s done the best she can. She’s constantly striving for the freedom that she thinks she deserves, as does everyone else, and she achieves that, over and over again. I think they meet, on those terms. It is not as much of a massive difference in personality, in so much as expectation from the world that they live in.
GRIFFITH: To be honest, I don’t think it would be massively different from the character I’m playing, unfortunately. When I watch the show, I have a wish to be playing one of the prostitutes, for some reason. I just think it looks so fun, with the boobs and the hair and just letting it all hang out. They seem to just be cavorting around town, and it looks so much more fun. But, I don’t know if being one of Eva’s girls would represent me very well. There was no middle classes, at that time, which is where I firmly fit into UK society. I’d have to either pull myself up to 5th Avenue or down to Five Points. Maybe I’d be more of a Five Points girl, aspiring to become 5th Avenue.
How familiar were you with the work of Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana?
GRIFFITH: Well, as far as they go as individuals, my whole family were massive Levinson fans. Rain Man was a favorite movie for us. And then, Homicide: Life on the Street and Oz changed television. Suddenly, it became an art form, as far as I was concerned. It really paved the way for The Sopranos. And they find humor in the drama, too. There’s a lightness in the dark. That makes it more real. There’s a brilliant balance between light and dark, and I think you’ll definitely see that.
What do you hope American audiences take from Copper?
GRIFFITH: I just want them to really enjoy it. I want it to be an hour of television where they feel intrigued and entertained, and they can laugh and cry, and be taken out of their lives and just completely enveloped into a narrative. That’s what I enjoy from watching television, and that would be amazing.
Copper airs on BBC America on Sunday nights.