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. The show also stars Tom Weston-Jones (as Irish immigrant Detective Kevin Corcoran), Franka Potente, Anastasia Griffith, Kevin Ryan, Kyle Schmid, Ato Essandoh, Dylan Taylor, Kiara Glasco, Tanya Fischer and Tessa Thompson.
In this exclusive interview with Collider, co-stars Kevin Ryan (who plays Detective Francis Maguire, Detective Corcoran’s closet friend and partner in the Sixth Precinct), Kyle Schmid (who plays Robert Morehouse, a handsome Manhattan aristocrat) and Ato Essandoh (who plays Doctor Matthew Freeman, who secretly assists Corcoran with his work) talked about their audition process, how they got comfortable with this type of stylized dialogue, playing characters that live in the grey area, working on such realistic sets, and their favorite moments for their characters. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
Collider: How did you come to be a part of this show?
KEVIN RYAN: I heard about it in Ireland, initially. I was doing a movie on the west coast of Ireland, and one actor was auditioning for the role of [Detective Kevin] Corcoran. I’d never heard of it, but I actually filmed him and put him on tape. He sent that in, but I guess Tom Fontana didn’t like it. And then, I was back working on a show, at the same time. I was bouncing around. Another actor was talking about it, and I was like, “What the fuck is this thing?! I’ve gotta find out about it!” So, I put a few calls in. I happened to be shooting the same movie in New York, at the same time that they were auditioning, so I was able to go in. I had an escort through the subway because it was the last day of production. They gave me this black guy, and he was going through the subway with me, and I was like, “Do you mind if you read the sides with me?” He was like, “I’ve course, I’ll read it!” So, we’re on the New York subway, and I was like, “I apologize, in advance, for the dialogue. I didn’t write it.” The second scene was like, “Now, look here, nigger!” He was like, “It’s okay, dude. It’s okay!” I actually flew back to Ireland to finish what I was shooting, and then I got a callback to meet Tom Fontana and a few others from BBC in Los Angeles. Tom gave me a great big hug, so I knew the callback went well. Three weeks later, we ended up closing the deal on it. And then, (executive producer) Christina Wayne told me that I had the role on tape.
ATO ESSANDOH: For me, it was a routine audition. I went in and was like, “This is great!,” but I didn’t think I even did well. And then, I got a callback and went in again, and I was in the running. I found out that I got it on Christmas eve, and I was like, “That’s really cool!” But, it was a routine audition. My agent called me and I was like, “Okay,” but that I read it and was like, “This is pretty awesome!”
KYLE SCHMID: I originally read for the Corcoran character. I got on the short list, and flew into Toronto from Montreal and met Tom. Tom and I got along really, really well, but it was apparent that I wasn’t Corcoran. I didn’t even feel like Corcoran. But, the tape got back to Christina Wayne and she said, “He’s a Morehouse. You’ve gotta get him to read [Robert] Morehouse.” From then on out, I had a couple meetings, and then I flew to New York to actually test with Anastasia [Griffith], who plays Elizabeth. We were reading in the room, and I didn’t realize that I actually had the part already. I said, “Do you want me to do anything, performance wise?,” and they jokingly laughed and said, “No, you’ve already got the role,” and I went, “Really!?” And they went, “Yeah, you didn’t know this?” I jumped for joy and made a complete fool of myself, in front of eight BBC executives, who already knew I had the part. It was embarrassing, but it was fun.
Does this type of dialogue come naturally for you, or have you had to work at it?
SCHMID: It really didn’t come easily for me. Just the prose and the dialect is very different, and I come from mostly modern shows. But, after the first couple of episodes, it just became natural. Walking onto set, in the wardrobe and everything, you fall into character.
ESSANDOH: There’s that natural archaic-ness that happens. When you read it, you start to go into 1864 mode, where everybody stands with their back up. But, what we agreed was that these are dudes and you have to be a dude, so it’s okay to slouch and it’s okay for your lapel to be out of wack because it’s more important to play the humanity of it. Once you start to understand that, then the dialogue starts to make sense and it becomes much less stilted.
RYAN: The environment that we shot in was just so incredibly brilliant. There were only a couple of scenes that we actually used blue screen, so we were in that environment and world. Once you’re connected with your character, you’re freer. With me, I was lucky that I didn’t have to do an accent. I roughened it up and dropped certain pronunciations that would just drop the education level. It was cool to actually take on a series in the U.S. where I’m playing an Irishman because it’s a rare character to find. The importance, for me, with immigration, the famine and the Irish standing point in the States is huge. It’s a huge honor to be able to portray a character like that, in the Five Points, as a true Irishman.
Did you know how grey your characters would be, and that they would all do good and bad?
SCHMID: If you’ve seen anything Tom has done in the past, he writes his characters very well. He writes them like any human being, really. We all are who we are. We’re not necessarily good, and we’re not necessarily bad. So much television, in the writing, is so one-dimensional, in that aspect, where you have your good guys and you have your bad guys.
ESSANDOH: One of the things I love about the show is that factor. There are so many shows that you see where you see the first episode and you know exactly what you’re going to get, for the next 23 episodes, or whatever. With this show, even for me, watching it, as someone who’s acted in it, I really don’t know what’s going to happen next because there’s so many different worlds that are being explored, that takes it beyond just being a procedural with good guys and bad guys. It becomes more of a full, alive human drama, which is one of the things that makes it so fun to play.
RYAN: With the writing, every small minutiae detail that you have in there can create a subplot. As a viewer – and this goes to shows that Tom has done in the past – it just gets your attention span a bit more focused and a bit more alert with the story, which is exciting. You can’t help that, with something like this show.
What’s it like to be on such realistic sets, for this time period?
ESSANDOH: Because we live in such a clean society right now, as the actor, we can’t be shocked by rats or dead horses in the street because that’s what they lived with. That was something that I had to get in my head. This is not that shocking [to our characters]. We see street urchins every day, and people dying of leprosy, so there’s a notion of, “This is how life is, and this is what it’s going to be.” That makes it much more sharp and dramatic when you’re not doing anything, instead of being, “Oh, my god, that’s a rat!,” or “Oh, my god, that child is dying!” It’s more like, “Oh, the child is dying.”
RYAN: Especially in the Five Points, there’s just a dirtiness. Going into what third world countries are today is what the Five Points was. It was just a horrible place to be, full of disease and death, and none of the things that you would see would shock you. Through the research, we got some sort of normality, by the time we were shooting what was in the script. An interesting thing about shooting is that you have all your senses about you, but you never really have smell. Over time, with all the live animals, you actually got to smell the shit in the studio, and dogs would be pissing. That really helped me, as an actor, to be in that environment. It’s cool to have that. You don’t get a scent on many films or shows.
Do you guys have a favorite storyline or moment for your character, this season?
ESSANDOH: It’s cool because I actually have a chemical engineering degree, so I’ve come full circle. I became an actor, and now I’m doing all this cool experimental chemistry stuff, which I used to do at college. Any of those things where I’m mixing with pipettes, I’m like, “I used to do this in school!” Now, I’m doing it again, but I’m acting, although not really. That’s always fun. But, my favorite moment comes in Episode 9 for [Doctor Matthew] Freeman. There’s a reckoning that happens for him that was quite fun to do and quite fun to perform, so I can’t wait for that.
RYAN: [Detective Francis] Maguire goes through this whole transition of different women, in his life. I’ve gone through recent break, so I was able to tie that in. It was a gift to play Maguire because he’s constantly struggling with his heart being broken. He wants to find the love of his life and security, and get out of the Five Points. That inner struggle is always interesting. With Tom’s characters, there’s always some sort of struggle, whether it’s physical or inner, and a lot of the characters have both. Morehouse has one of his legs missing, Maguire’s eye is gone, and early on, in the season, Corcoran’s leg gets broken. Each one has a challenge that they’re trying to get over a hurdle with. That’s cool. It makes it a lot more interesting.
SCHMID: I don’t have a specific moment, or anything like that. I think, just over the course of the 10 episodes, all of our characters go through this great arc and journey. It will be watching that unfold that will be the most exciting thing for me.
Copper airs on Sunday nights on BBC America.