At Comic-Con, I had the great pleasure to sit down with Dominic Cooper one-on-one to talk about his upcoming film, The Devil’s Double. Although I haven’t seen the film myself, I have heard his portrayal is phenomenal. Because we were at Comic-Con, though, we started off talking about what he thinks about all of it and then jumped into the film. We really dug into his dueling roles as Latif Yahia and Uday Hussein and how it was shot. Along the way we also talked about his experience on Captain America: The First Avenger (he plays Howard Stark), the upcoming Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and how it was to work with director Timur Bekmambetov. Hit the jump to check out the full audio and a complete transcription of my interview.
Click here for the audio.
Question: Is this your first Con?
DOMINIC COOPER: It is! Unbelievable.
Have you gotten out and experienced it or did you fly in?
COOPER: I haven’t, I haven’t. I drove in and I’ve only seen little parts. This afternoon I’m going to spend some time.
Did you actually drive?
COOPER: I did actually drive.
So what do you drive?
COOPER: An Audi.
COOPER: It’s very nice. It’s not mine. It’s being leant to me by Audi while I’m… because I don’t live in Los Angeles. Which I probably shouldn’t let them know I’ve drove here.
COOPER: But it’s such a beautiful car that I felt, actually, instead of flying in I thought, “Yes, that’s the way.” Which is good because I had a full car of people as well. Which is good, instead of getting a car on my own. Amazing car.
Run into any traffic?
What’s your impression of Comic-Con, initially? There has to be talk around the industry of what this is all about.
COOPER: My first kind of impression and understanding of it was last year while I was filming Captain America. They all went off; they all came to Comic-Con and did a conference. I got some idea then. It seems to me that it’s people extraordinarily passionate about the things that they love. And they come together. Actually, if I was very passionate about something and I was… you know, you get to talk to people you can relate to and have the same opinions about stuff. I think it’s fantastic. From what I can gather at the moment… yea. I feel this. It’s just such a wonderful opportunity to get to those people that are that passionate about those projects and show them your new projects. And I think to get that much excitement…
And to get that kind of feedback too, yea. So, do you geek out for anything? You mentioned you don’t really… is it hard to relate to these people or do you geek out for anything in particular?
COOPER: I can always imagine a geek out… I haven’t really geeked out about many things… Umm, no. But I can still see the pleasure in it. I can see why people do get obsessed with super heroes and so on and so forth. I mean, why not? It’s just an obsession like any other. It’s good fun. And if you’ve been looking at those comics since you’re a kid, then you can understand why. I love… one of the reasons I was so excited about Captain America was because of the passion of the…
COOPER: The fan base and the producers on it. And the Marvel guys. Anyone that knows their craft that well, you’re immediately inspired to work for those folks.
Let’s talk a little bit about Devil’s Double. What was your initial reaction to reading that script?
COOPER: I was actually trying to really think about what I thought about first. I was… it was literally one of those scripts where I said, “If I this ever…” because someone was already attached to it I think. There was a reason why I couldn’t go in for it. If there ever was an opportunity in which I can be seen in front of this particular person, then please, please, try and get me involved in it. And what it was, I don’t know what inspired me, and I don’t know what excited me or even gave me the inkling that I was a viable option to play the son of an Iraqi dictator. But there was something inside me that did, and I chased it. And I found myself in a meeting with Lee Tamahori. And we were very much on the same page about what it should be, who the character should be.
You’ve mentioned in a previous interview that there was a collaborative effort between you and Lee. How important is that to have that back and forth?
COOPER: It’s um…
Especially for a role like this.
COOPER: Unbelievably important. I had to have all my trust in him and his energy was incredible and I felt part of the team. I felt like my ideas were being explored and listened too. I really, really enjoyed working with him. There was no time. Because of the small budget, we had the most…
Tight shooting schedule…
COOPER: Tight shooting schedule. He was just like a force. He was going around, making spontaneous decisions all the time. “We can’t use that set. Something’s wrong with it.” “Move. Fuck it. Do it there.” Now this isn’t working. “OK, doesn’t matter, change it, change it, and change it. Don’t say that, say it, whatever.” It was really wonderful. And therefore, extremely freeing for me to launch off in these tirades to play this maniac.
You’ve mentioned that there aren’t a lot known about these two people and that you’ve kind of had to fill in the holes. Fill in the blanks because you don’t want to go off of false information, so just fuck it, let’s kind of…
COOPER: Exactly. Exactly that.
Make it up. But how do you reign that in? How do you keep it from going way over?
COOPER: That’s where I have to trust Lee. I mean, instinctively and with the trust of the director, I go, “Look, I’ve got to go for this. I can’t be embarrassed. I can’t shy away from it. I’ve got to go for it.” Oh, just, absolutely. As much as I can. I can’t be frightened, I can’t shy away and therefore it’s his responsibility if it comes too much, to pull it back. Truth is, it was never too much for him. That’s the real truth. You read about him and you go, “The man did anything.” He had no limitations set on him. He did not care what people thought and he just had anything he wanted to. And no one was prepared to say anything. I kind of did the acting on that feeling as well. Just sort of launched into it… I’d just have moments where I had to deal with more delicately.
Obviously you’re playing two different roles in the same film. Was there ever a moment where you kind of thought, “Hey, it would be fun to play one role for an entire day” and then another role for the next day, or was the shooting…
COOPER: Yea, that would have been incredible and if we were doing a big budget, major film, that would have been the case. It was no way that could happen. If you think about logistics of location, you need to shoot a scene, you need to shoot out of that location. So you need to get in and out. And so therefore, when you’re doing a master shot as Uday, because he was the guy that drove the movie. He was the driving force in that scene. And I’d literally be running back, changing, getting into the mindset of the other guy, literally in the space of… as fast as I possibly could, to then do the rest of the scene as Latif. Do the whole scene again as Latif. And therefore, he, as a director, was making spontaneous decisions. It was there and then about what take he wanted to use because I had to match that. I had to match the performance to the one. I had to listen to that performance and therefore that was the one that I then worked with the character Latif.
You’ve mentioned in the past that it’s hard for you to watch yourself on screen and enjoy it at the same time. Because you’re so into this role for a period of time and then you finally see the finished product. Was there ever any hesitation or even after the fact where you say, “Damn, I really wish I could see someone else play this role.” Just to see how you might respond to it in that way.
COOPER: Yea… yea, that’s a really good point. Enjoy the film without being in it, sort of thing. Yea, absolutely. I’d be intrigued to see it, actually. It’s hard for me to watch. It’s even harder for the fact that I’m in it twice.
COOPER: But for the first time ever, I can watch it and feel removed from who I am and therefore it’s… I can watch that, actually, and be much more objective about what I do here rather than… It’s very hard, because ultimately you see you, you see all your tricks, you see elements of your personality come out. But my hope is to just make sure the clarity of each of the characters, I’m making sure that they are very different from one another. And I actually when I look at it, I think that comes across. The fact that I can even see a difference between the two men we’re looking at is a good indication that it possibly worked.
Cool, cool. So how tight was the shooting script or, um, shooting schedule?
COOPER: The shooting script itself… Michael is an amazing writer. It’s a very sparse script. There aren’t many words. It’s all very direct and to the point. Which I loved. And no one was too precious about it so I had… when shooting scenes where I was naked in a club on his birthday, I couldn’t stick to a script with that. Or where I’m whipping myself and he was going into a sort of frenzy. It was good that I could just make stuff up. Which was really enjoyable and again, remove the restrictions.
How long was the shoot itself?
COOPER: You know, I should find out the answer to that, because I don’t know. But it wasn’t that long. It was very short. Something like 25 days, actually.
Lots of nights without a lot of sleep?
COOPER: Yea. A lot of nights without a lot of sleep. But it kind of didn’t matter because you were so sort of enlivened during the day, during the film making process, so much a part of it. It’s those days when you’re just like that and then you sit around and do nothing.
COOPER: That you feel like you’re falling apart.
Yea. Obviously looking back, when you’ve try and recall shooting this film, is it a blur or are you very, very aware of everything that you did in this role?
COOPER: No, as you said, a blur. I mean, I remember it very clearly because this was a very happy time. I was very excited to be doing it. But I can’t pinpoint certain moments well and I cant… And I look at it now and go, “God, did I do that? When did I do that?” But yea, it was such a mad rush. It was just about staying sane all the time. And not letting get to me. Not letting it get me stressed about the fact that I had no time, ever. Ever. Not a minute and therefore, not a minute to kind of calculate or comprehend what I was doing. No time to just step back, away from it. And again, kind of a gift, because you’re just driving and I was going and going and going. There was no time for paranoia or worry about what was happening with the performance.
COOPER: Just take a deep breathe and you went for it. All you could do. So yea, it’s a mixture. Very clear memories of everything and having a really wonderful time. But also exhaustion.
You know, it’s funny because you make a film, and then you have to do press for it. You have to get it out there. And once it’s released, there’s not a lot of times for you as an actor to kind of sit back and watch how it plays out. You’re onto your next role, you’re onto your next shoot. Do you keep tabs on these?
COOPER: I don’t normally, but yea. It depends on what kind of a film it is. I’ll pay close attention to it and do what I can to help the release of it. Yea, you do. You find out. It’s important. You want to know if anyone’s going to go see your film. You shouldn’t worry about it or get hung up on it. So yea, you kind of monitor it. But I’m not an app for that. I don’t have someone showing me per screen average. You want to know if anyone goes. You don’t want it leaving screens instead of expanding. You feel a bit like it’s your responsibility in a way.
Yea, yea. No, I don’t think you can ever…
COOPER: You can never second-guess it either. You never know what the public is going to respond to or relate to. I really hope that this film reaches an audience because I think people will enjoy it.
Well, speaking of shooting other roles, you’re working on Abraham Lincoln right now?
COOPER: Yea, I’ve just finished.
You finished? OK, so… how was that?
COOPER: It was extraordinary. Again, it was working with a visionary. A guy like Timur shoots action sequences like no one else. They’re very different. It’s very different take on how he perceives stories being played out. The combination of that genre with… we’re learning about Abraham Lincoln, it’s full of his fantastic quotes. And what he did is kind of changed this country. What he did in this country. We’re staggered by that, constantly. That, with the mix of Timur’s action, and Tim Burton is producing and it being a vampire film. I think all of that really makes for a really, extraordinary combination.
Working with a director like Timur, I can imagine that he puts his own kind of take on the scripts themselves. Are they very visual scripts? I’m not sure who wrote the script for this but…
COOPER: The writer originally did. The writer of the book. You’re right though… this is a very good point. He works from a visual point of view. You can really see that. But I think he opens your eyes to realize, actually on film, quite often, more is said with a look than it is with dialogue. So it was a constant… again, a collaboration. And I was always talking with him and suggesting. And he was wonderfully responsive to ideas. He wanted people to come with ideas. And he changes his mind all the time.
So again, it was that collaborative effort.
COOPER: Definitely, definitely.
Did you get into any of the visuals or was it just your character’s work?
COOPER: Visuals in terms of action?
Or, you know… yea, action, or anything like that.
COOPER: Um… Did I get involved in it? Yea, I mean I’m always intrigued by that stuff and so I watched how that played out and how that all was going to look. I mean there a lot of fantastic action sequences in it. I was some part of many of them. And just to watch his skills. Someone so experienced with that and who knows exactly how it should be. But I mean, of course. Yea, fighting vampires is great. It’s what you dream of as a kid.
Yea, absolutely. When you got the role for Captain America, with playing Howard Stark, was there something… “Holy crap, they’re going to make a period film out of this.” Were you interested? Did you get in that…
COOPER: I loved that about Captain America. The vision… of what we thought the future to be, in the past. And it looks really modern and really cool.
COOPER: And basically, timeless in a way. And because Joe [Johnston], the director, comes from a place of design, he was extraordinarily specific with the intricate details of the machines. The mechanisms. The way things work. I mean, I was fixing aircraft that had engines in them. What looked like working engines. The detail of it was truly wonderful. I loved that fact.
Did you keep anything from set? Maybe a shield?
COOPER: No… no. You often think about it, and then you think about stealing it.
COOPER: And then you feel guilty. That’s what happened.
So you had your hand on the shield or something…
COOPER: There’s so many cool shields there, you know they designed so many excellent shields. Yea, you stand there with your hand on it, and you go, “Ah, someone’s going to get…”
Fired for it.
COOPER: A few years ago, but not here.
Yea, and someone is going to get fired. And what joy can I get from it?
Overall, Cooper was a wonderful person to chat with and really put thought into his answers. Often you can tell that your interviewee is just reciting the same answers again and again. There is almost a glaze that appears in their eyes. Sometimes that is the fault of the interviewer, because they are asking the same 15 questions everyone else has. But when you have some good questions and make them think, it’s a great feeling. I can’t wait to see him in Devil’s Double from Lionsgate on July 29th and look forward to seeing Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter when it releases in 3D on June 22, 2012.