Over the last few years, Dominic Cooper has played small but important roles in films like Captain America: The First Avenger, My Week with Marilyn, Tamara Drew, An Education, and The Duchess. In director Timur Bekmambetov‘s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, he again plays a small but important role, except this time he’s a vampire. In the film, Cooper plays a good vampire named Henry Sturgess, and he helps train and guide our President against the vampires that would do us harm.
Last year I visited the production when they were filming in New Orleans and participated in an extended group interview with Cooper. He talked about his initial reaction to the title, how he prepared for the role, the tone of the film, the physical demands of the role, working with the rest of the cast, and more. In addition, Cooper talked about playing Howard Stark in Captain America: The First Avenger and if he might be back in the sequel, his experience making The Devil’s Double, possibly playing Robert Capa, and more. Hit the jump for what he had to say.
Before going any further, if you haven’t seen the red band trailer, I’d watch that first.
Dominic Cooper: Laugh. I said “I’m not possibly reading that. Good bye”. I was initially started by it really. I didn’t read it immediately because it sounded like a bit of a joke. I mentioned to someone else that had read the book and they said the book was brilliant and I thought, “this is ridiculous”, and then… when I started reading it… We know a very minimal amount about him as a man, really. In my studies in England, I loved finding out of him, what incredible man he was and what he achieved. And then that in parallel to the fantastical, wonderful ideas of what he was doing in this every day life, I adored. I thought it was. . . It was very difficult, also, I thought because I read the book at the same time, how on earth is this going to be condensed, which ideas are they going to pick, because it’s so rich with ideas and concepts. I thought that the original screenplay was masterfully woven together, and it picked all the really interesting dynamics of the characters within it and I immediately wanted to be part of it. Because it didn’t take itself too seriously, it’s not meant to be some serious biographical piece, but at the same time you learned an awful lot from it. And I also thought that that coupled with Timur [Bekmambetov] has an incredible vision and I love the way he shoots action sequences. I’ve always been astonished by how wonderful he makes something look for so little. I think he shoots action like no one else, so I get that. And also that with Tim Burton’s crazy imagination. I thought it would all add up to something quite special.
Cooper: I watched a lot of films, because I think you also worry that it’s a genre that’s being sort of. . . I don’t know, we obvious go through phases. The vampire phase seemed to have gone on a while, for a good period of time. That concerned me, to be doing something that people might be getting bored of. But this was so different, I went back to a lot of vampire films, the original Dracula films, and I wanted to maybe create something that was slightly. . . I felt was very different from those other vampire that we’ve seen. I loved the character of Henry because I thought he was kind of disturbed and deeply, deeply unhappy and hurt by his past. I thought that was really exciting. And also Timur always constantly changing… we’re not sticking absolutely to the book or the script this way that we can manipulate and change the characters. Timur was coming with new ideas all the time, so you’re never bored on set, you’re constantly having to change and adapt the character that you’re playing. He came up with an idea the other day that kind of changed everything about what he was doing, the reasons why he was training Abraham to beat this person, for selfish reasons rather than for the good of the world. Which completely spun it on it’s head, which I thought was really cool. In terms of research. . . I’m not playing someone I needed to research, I needed to start from scratch. Apart from the period, I’ve done pieces in this period before.
How is Timur finding the tone, and how you’re receiving that from him, finding the balance between its grounding in reality and it’s more fantastical elements?
Cooper: That was really difficult and that’s why you have to completely trust Tim. Because you try hard to find the level on which you should play it, and whether it becomes comedy or whether you’re too over the top. You have to try certain things out and be quite daring and imaginative with this style of work I suppose. And then hope and believe and trust that this person who’s in charge of the whole has got such a vision of it that they know exactly what level it needs to be. And you kind of just slowly work that out. But as you say, it’s very, very difficult with something like this because you have these wonderful political speeches and debates missed in with hunting down evil vampires and then talking about them seriously as if they were real people. I think with things like that, even if you have very strong opinions yourself, I think you have to have faith in your director, because it’s a situation of too many cooks really. Because everyone has its own idea of the book, and you have your own idea of the characters, but ultimately everyone needs to be on the same page with what it is, and you can see that he’s really very, very sure what he wants it to be.
Does he do several different kinds of takes? Serious one, the one that’s a little more tongue in cheek? Is he getting a variety of different takes?
Cooper: Definitely. Which is great because you’re. . . . And also what’s wonderful about him is he will listen to you, give you a go at your choice and you can tell his reaction is “no, my choice was better.” But he gives you also free range, and he gives you the ability to try things out, and it absolutely is that. Because sometimes he’s probably not sure whther that needs to be lighter. There’s a scene just before [Lincoln] realizes who I actually am, I think, where I’m quite violent to him in stopping him from doing something that I don’t want him to do, because he wants to attack when he finds out that vampires are everywhere and he thinks, well, his job is to try and hunt them all down. And it becomes very volatile, the situation, and then I think Timur changes it dramatically by saying, “Actually just lighten the scene up completely and make it into a very friendly chat between two guys.” And I’d completely seen it the other way.
Cooper: I’ve been training every day for it, loads, and there’s been loads of axe work. He just shot the bit yesterday where I had—I finally got there. I think Timur was deeply disappointed when he first saw me with an axe in my hand, I was meant to spin around my back and then do this elaborate butterfly thing with and then finish of by cutting a tree down. Which I tried, and attempted, and it looked absolutely appalling. So I had another chance yesterday and it looked quite good. It’s great. And the stunt guys are absolutely brilliant, but all this stuff always looks better when you do it yourself. You can just always tell, so I think it’s really important to get it right. The fight sequences they’re at now, it’s incredible on a film like this, there’s all ready structured and put together in animation. So you get to really visualize what he wants the outcome to be. They’re animated all ready. They’re filming at the moment the beginning of a stampede scene with horses, which is an incredible fight sequence. So you get to understand how he sees you and how you are meant to be, which is quite terrifying when you see these incredible fight moves. And then he’d change it again, because he’s so immediate and creates in the moment, Timur, you can be confronted with it changing, being spun on it’s head, ten minutes before the shooting of a fight sequence. That’s why you need to know your stuff, you need to know what you’re doing, so you can just act in different moves.
For you, what was the holy shit moment on the film so far? Where you said, “oh my God, this is a big movie!”
Cooper: Everyday I have that oh shit moment. I think it’s always scary when you realize the size of it because it’s funny how you forget on a film set. You forget the implications and the effects and how big . . . You always do, because there’s just this tiny camera, but you ultimately forget. Or you forget that it’s just you and another person perhaps, or just you and thee other, and there’s always people everywhere. And then you suddenly. . . I know it’s normally when I watch rushes or some playback, watch the kind of composed, edited sequence of a fight and I saw it, myself and Rufus [Selwell], when the characters first meet. And I went, “Oh, right, I’m actually doing this, that’s me fighting.” And I thought, “this is a really big project. That probably, maybe, hopefully lots of people will see. And I’m prancing about pretending that I can kill vampires.” It is quite cool because you look brilliant.
Can you tell us a little about your character’s look? What is it like working with Benjamin Walker? This is his first big movie, have you been giving him any pointers and such?
Cooper: The designers are absolutely brilliant, they’ve been so imaginative. I can’t think of anything. . . I’ve done dramas before set in this period, I’ve not done, or seen, or can think of (and I’ve seen vampire pieces set in this period), I’ve not seen an action, a super big action sequences with these elaborate, wonderful, beautifully structured costumes. It makes it really hard to do, but it looks stunning. I think Timur is very, very specific with how he wants it to look. All my stuff is really cool, it looks great. He’s got this cool, ridiculous, what looks like an ’80 pop star hairstyle. And I loved The Lost Boys so I wanted as much influence in my costumes as possible. And he needs to be timeless, my guy, as well. Because as you see him at the end as well, he never died. There need’s to be a touch of everything for him, because he’s been around for hundreds of years, he needs to be very worldly, have little bits that have come from everywhere he’s travelled to and visited. So that was all really important. And his house is incredible, a huge, crumbling mansion with bits of everything from everywhere that he’s collected together.
Working with Ben’s brilliant, but it was that think. I think Ben’s really also . . . We have moments where we ask ourselves, “What are we doing? Do we know what we’re doing? I don’t know what I’m doing. Do you know what you’re doing?” He goes, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” But you kind of just have to do it. And he got this incredible journey; he goes from a young man to playing a rather important figure in American history, and he’s doing it from him being a young man to an older guy. But he has to keep this humor of it, which I love as well, because sometimes dramas can become quite stuffy, and rigid, and stiff, and no one really has an idea of what people’s behavior or conversation were really like, I think we have impersonated what maybe we’ve already see in previous films. He’s brilliant, he’s an incredible actor. Not sure how he’s feeling about being in the prosthetic make up, spending four hours in the truck every day.
How much of your character’s origin do we get to see?
Cooper: His backstory? There’s a flashback sequence, so you get to understand where he’s come from and how and why he’s ended up in the place that he’s in. It’s very sad, it’s tragic, really. The reason he’s ended up like that, sort of tragic figure. But not a huge amount.
The vampire genre seems to be bigger then ever, what do you think the appeal of vampires is that has to many movies and TV shows being made about them right now?
Cooper: There’s something extremely sexy about it, isn’t there?
Cooper: What is that reaction? No, you’re not agreeing to that?
No, I am agreeing. It is sexy.
Cooper: Yeah, I think that idea of living forever, that we all maybe secretly harbor or have. That desire to, I don’t know, it’s something mysterious. I’m trying to remember why I liked them so much, why I found that so fascinating. Whether I was scared or whether I found it unworldly. And actually when I just started this project, I looked around the streets because of how this story is working, and I looked especially in New Orleans. It was fantastic, I just saw all these characters hanging around that could easily be going into dark graveyards in the evening and chewing on people. It’s a strange one, we are completely compelled and fascinated by it. They are all tragic figures that are stuck, and they don’t necessarily want to be in the position they’re in. There’s something about that darkness and that gothic that maybe something that part of us all want to be that’s extremely. . . And they’re every changing as well, and there’s a million ways to play them. There is always a new idea for them. This is a very different take.
So what is it like to play a character that is 500 years old? Is there a sort of wise aura about him?
Cooper: See, that’s kind of— You don’t have any idea what someone. . . Ultimately someone must be pretty bored. You have seen all the riches in the world that they want, you’ve got all the money they probably ever desired to have, and you have tried everything out. And that’s why he is a person that goes to extremes and tries so desperately hard to have some sensation of life. Say to be an alcoholic, he’s probably self-harming; because ultimately he probably just wants to find the love that he lost in the beginning of his life. But he’s never had that he’s just been a lost mess since then, really. Then he’s wise, and lived everything. He’s a great mentor to have. But there definitely is a dark itch to that, and a desperation probably, and ultimately he killed.
How has it been working with Rufus?
Cooper: Seriously he’s been wonderful, he’s really good fun. We did our first scene a few days ago. It’s nice to just bounce ideas off. He’s one of these big, extremely enthusiastic about his character and their relationship in the piece. He’s really good fun. I’ve worked with him once before in some dusty workshop in a barn in London. It was a workshop for Phillip Pullman’s trilogy of books. We’ve been going round on trips.
What do you think about the all gold poster for Devil’s Double?
Cooper: Well, yeah. I think it’s really cool. I was unsure at first. But I really like it and it seems that people seem to be reacting really positively to it. It’s brilliantly hideous, but it’s eye catching.
Cooper: It’s perfect for it and what he has and what he believed in and what he wanted to, and how vacuous and empty it was. And it’s had the perfect response, such an incredible company chosen to make that poster and do the publicity for it. They know exactly how to do market it. It just shows that I wouldn’t have had a clue. I mean, who’s chest is that? There’s a bloke there with a really hairy chest and a huge package, and that’s certainly not me. It’s my head.
Can you talk a little bit about making Devil’s Double?
Cooper: It was one of those projects, where you’re halfway through you’re thinking, “What are we doing? Is any of this going to work?” There was no time to do anything. Of course the strains of it being where I was doubling up in the majority of the scenes and the technology that we had, we just didn’t have the time, money, or facility. It was frantic, but what was amazing was the director managed to pull everything together and just constantly change how he saw all of the scene and evolved so much. I’ve never seen such incredible energy. And it was really difficult stuff, because some of it was so brutal and nasty, scenes of torture and was picking up girls from the street, call girls. They were hard hitting scenes. We were having to swap that all round. And of course the time is doubled because you’re having to shoot it twice with me, and I was having to do all the reaction stuff and getting changed into a different costume. And then having this very elaborate camera set up that was very complicated and often didn’t work. But it was an incredible experience. It was a project that I just. . . . I so wanted to be part of. It’s the same as Timur with his other vampire films, I don’t know how they do it. They make it look like a lot of money’s being spent on it. And they sets look brilliant, and it’s such a brilliant moment in time. It’s one that I know not nearly enough about, and I’ve heard people say, “Oh wow, I didn’t know Bagdad was like that.” Well people had cars and money in Bagdad. It’s a very interesting period in our history, and one that’s very relevant to us, and one that not many people know a great deal about. And they were horrific, the brothers, and I think it’s good to expose what they were really up to. No it is a historical biopic, because he’s ultimately a gangster with no one to control him, he has full control. You don’t even have a police state that could stop him, he’s in charge of everything and yet he is completely lost and not very intelligent. He has no trust from his father, no military trust, no capability to run a country. He is a lunatic running around, and the poster kind of sums that up. I don’t know how people are going to respond to it, it’s being released in July I think.
Cooper: I just don’t know. . . That one probably, because I’m the father, the next one I imagine will come later. But you never know, anything can happen to any of the characters at any time. They’re like the comics. But I don’t know. They’re incredible projects. And I didn’t really grow up with the comics, but I had friends that were, and now I can sort of see the pleasures of them and how creative they are. When you work with people who are so passionate about their product it’s kinda inspiring. They start rambling on to you about, “Oh, you know, when you’re character in comic book 42, the emperor turns—” and you just sit there nodding your head. But you’re amazing by their excitement, and it’s totally inspiring, although deeply worrying because you know you have a lot of people who have very, very clear views and ideas on how they perceive the characters.
You have a scene in Captain America where Chris Evans comes in with the shield. Hypothetically speaking, did you borrow anything from set that day?
Cooper: Did I steal anything?
Did you “borrow” anything?
Cooper: No, they had marvel security everywhere. I didn’t even get my goggles. I got some very good videos though that I’m really wanting to release onto. . . Some of myself, Haley [Atwell] and Chris in a. . . I better not tell you. I’ll show it to you one day.
Cooper: Constantly playing with toy cars. It’s really sad, toy cars and bikes. I used to be in the countryside quite a lot. And building stuff, I used to build extremely dangerous motorbikes. And Lego as well, Legos were amazing. I had slightly more things I could do with my hands with. Basically I was illiterate. Yeah, the comics, I don’t know why I didn’t. I liked books. I look at them now and they’re incredible, and they’re beautiful, and the artwork in them is amazing. So I don’t know, I’m a bit depressed that I didn’t. Too late now, can’t start carrying comic books around.
What are you thinking of for future stuff? You are front and center for Devil’s Double, you have a pretty big part in this. What are you looking to do after this?
Cooper: Really good question, and if you could answer it for me I would be really grateful. I really never know, and it’s always . . . I need something different, always something just slightly different, that pushes you and challenges you. This is hard because of the physical demands of this are cool, and I get frustrated with all the fight sequences. That’s great, to push yourself. And Devil’s Double was one of the best experiences I ever had, because it was just so exhausting and my mind was constantly ticking and I could never rest. So, I need something again now that is as challenging as that, but maybe something not quite as evil as that. I don’t know, there is a lot of stuff I’m reading at the moment and you instinctively know. It’s like when I read this, it was just something I instinctively new I wanted to be a part of.
What kind of things are people pitching you?
Cooper: What I like is it’s all quite a varied range of stuff, which I’m really pleased about. I’m not being pigeon holed in to some sort of . . . I’m getting them really, but there’s nothing quite that I am . . . I might play a famous photographer, he had a really interesting life. I always love anything that you can learn from, and I am really into photography, so that’s interesting to play someone who made beautiful, beautiful photographs and had an incredible life traveling around the world. He was a war photographer as well. So that could be something brilliant. But there’s so many combinations of things that you have to think about.
Is that Robert Capa you are talking about?
Cooper: Yeah, it is Capa. And I’ve always loved his photography. You get tempted by . . . and you think, well actually maybe that’s just what you should go with. You should always think about things that excite you and that you can learn from. I don’t ever know, I’m terrible. Some people probably have a really clear objective, and distinct idea of where they see themselves and what they want to do.
You’ve had an amazing career. You’ve been acting since you were very young, you’ve met a lot of amazing people. Are you at a level that you saw yourself being?
Cooper: It’s funny, I never think I’m doing that well. I’ve never, ever. I just constantly think this isn’t working out. I feel very fortunate, always.
Why do you feel like it isn’t going to work out? The insecurity, is that an actor thing?
Cooper: You know, I think it is. I hear lot of actors say it. And it often sounds like rubbish, but it’s true because you don’t ever really . . . There’s absolutely no security, there’s nothing saying that this will still be happening, or you will be doing something this exciting. You are just constantly ready to fall. But maybe everyone feels like that.
Do you have plans of moving to LA as a lot of British actors have done?
Cooper: I just haven’t been anywhere for too long. I was in London doing Captain America and it was all in London. And it was really nice just to be settled there for six months. But before that I hadn’t been there for a couple of years. And now I’m going to be here until this finishes, I’m not sure when this finishes, but in a couple of years. And then I’ll be doing the Devil’s Double stuff, which takes me on a big tour of America. So I kind of feel that I don’t know.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter will be released June 22. For more from my set visit:
- 30 Things to Know About Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter From Our Set Visit; Plus Video Blog Recap and New Images
- Benjamin Walker Talks Research, Balancing History with the Supernatural, Playing Different Ages and More on the Set of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
- Director Timur Bekmambetov and Producer Jim Lemley Talk Casting Lincoln, 3D, Balancing Reality with Fantasy, and More on the Set of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter