From acclaimed Danish filmmaker Niels Arden Oplev (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and screenwriter J.H. Wyman (Fringe), the crime drama Dead Man Down tells the story of two strangers who are bound together by their mutual obsession with revenge. Victor (Colin Farrell) is a mysterious man who has infiltrated the crime empire run by ruthless kingpin Alphonse (Terrence Howard) for his own very definite reasons, while his neighbor Beatrice (Noomi Rapace) wants Victor’s help to carry out her own plans for retribution.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, the charming and talented actor Dominic Cooper, who plays the ambitious gangster Darcy, talked about the appeal of the complex story arc his character has in the film, the challenge of making this guy both dangerous and likeable, and working with a director with such a specific vision. He also talked about how terrifying it is to take on Ian Fleming for the BBC America mini-series Fleming and how he’s portraying the man the way he saw himself, as opposed to recreating him, and what attracted him to Need for Speed, about a street racer (played by Aaron Paul) fresh out of prison after having been framed by a wealthy business associate, who joins a cross country race with revenge in mind. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Collider: Your character has the biggest journey over the course of the film and he seems like the only one who could find redemption, if he takes the opportunity to. Was that full story arc part of the appeal of this role?
DOMINIC COOPER: Yeah, absolutely! I just always felt a bit sorry for him. We’ve all met people who are involved with the wrong world and the wrong life. I think he’s desperately heartbroken, and he’d do anything to get his kid back and his girl back. He’s growing up, really rapidly, when you meet him. He needs some cash and he wants to prove himself. I don’t think he has any clue, really, how bad the world that he’s getting himself involved in is. When you look at these rather dark scripts and these nasty gangster-ish characters, you do question it. You go, “Is it going to be just another film about nasty blokes, blowing each other’s heads off?,” but it’s not. By the end, I really hoped that he does sort himself out and he makes huge changes in his life. People do get caught in a system where, once you’ve done something wrong and you can’t get a job because you’ve got some sort of criminal record, which I’m sure he has, and you’re screwed from the word go. That’s his plight. And he feels really done over by the one person that he completely trusts and loves. I hope he doesn’t go down the same path of wanting to seek revenge. I hope the movie makes it very abundantly clear that that’s never the right answer. We all have moments of just wanting to get revenge on someone for doing something that has hurt, but it never makes us feel any better, really. No matter what it is, or however small it is, and in whatever form revenge comes, it never achieves its goal, does it? So, I always felt a bit sorry for him, really. He’s a bit pathetic, desperately trying to be somebody that he’s not.
Was it a difficult balance to walk the line between seeming dangerous enough to be a gangster, clever enough to put the pieces of this puzzle together, and still likeable enough to keep audiences following him on this journey?
COOPER: Yeah, that was always my terror, and I hope that happened. It was quite hard. I do know those guys. I’ve come across guys like that. Would he have managed to put all those pieces together? I don’t know. But, I think he’s so desperate for an answer and he’s so desperate to prove himself that he’s on this search. I believed that someone like him would exist. Whether I hit all the right marks for that, I don’t know, but as I was playing him, he kept feeling more and more youthful and energetic and desperate. I hope that he is dangerous, at times. Sometimes I could sense that I was going a bit too soft with him, and you wouldn’t believe that he found himself in that environment. But, I think he truly didn’t know the full extent of how bad the gang he was involved with was. I hope all of those things do come across.
How was Niels Arden Oplev to work with, as a director with such a specific vision?
COOPER: You just know, when you meet someone, certainly with regards to directors, whether they’re going to be able to cope with what I think is essentially a really, really tough job to do properly. You are an artist, essentially, but you are working in such a pressured environment and with such time restrictions. You’re answering to so many people and you’re making so many on-the-spot decisions. And you could just tell, from meeting him and hearing his passion for this project and what he believed it to be and what direction it should go in and how it should look. You trusted him, and it’s about trust. You can tell when people don’t believe in themselves. That gets terribly frightening because the actors are exposing themselves. It’s our faces that are going to be projected on a huge screen and, if it’s crap, it’s embarrassing and we’re going to be the ones that look hideous. So, you have to have faith [in your director], and I adored him. I thought he was a very funny man, but at the same time, he’s extraordinarily clever. He’s quick-witted, quick with his intelligence and quick with his understanding. He has one of those compelling, quick minds and, when others around him aren’t doing the same, that can be frustrating. I love that he managed to achieve something quite incredible in a really short amount of time. I loved his vision and I loved the way he worked. He didn’t miss a trick, in terms of the acting, ever. He always covered everything. If he thought you missed a moment, he’d go back and know exactly what it was. That really helped. I really enjoyed working with him.
COOPER: It’s terrifying. I’m in the middle of it now. What gives me some sense of relief is that I’m portraying the man that he saw himself as, which is how I suppose he perceived James Bond. Yes, we have got these wonderful biographies about this man, and we have fantastic scripts. But, instead of me feeling under immense pressure to recreate a man who did all these wonderful things and did exist, we’re making a different version of him, in a way, since I don’t look anything like him, for a start, that will be terribly exciting for an audience to watch because of the things he did in his life and the things that he achieved, with regard to the secret service and the war effort, and then he went on to write those books which led to the most successful franchise in film, ever. There’s a lot going on with him. It’s really complex. It’s very, very daunting, yes. Every day, I think, “Wow, I hope people like my version of this man.”
COOPER: It was about the director. It was about me meeting that director (Scott Waugh) and making sure and believing that that was not just a fast car film. I have a passion for cars, from my childhood. I love driving, and I love those old classic movies. And he wants to make this like one of those old classic ‘70s movies, where we will be doing the racing. We will be driving those cars that they’re now in the process of building. It’s a good character, who’s interesting and dark and not particularly pleasant. So, I liked his vision, as a director, and that’s what I had to instinctively get a feel for. I just hope to keep choosing very different things that come along. They do take up a huge chunk of your life and you’re on the road a lot, so you reach a point where you go, “It can’t just be okay.” I’ve gotta really, really love something to do it.
Dead Man Down opens in theaters on March 8th.