Comicpalooza 2016: Dominic Cooper Q&A

Credit: Bec Heim/4YE
Credit: Bec Heim/4YE

The Dominic Cooper Q&A was one that I was looking forward to all weekend for Comicpalooza 2016. I’ve been a fan of Cooper’s since I first saw him as young Howard Stark in Captain America: The First Avenger. Since then, I’ve been following him as he tackled the roles of Ian Fleming, Howard Stark (again), and, more recently, Jesse Custer.

It’s fitting that Cooper would be at a Con in Texas since Preacher is set in Texas.

Nevertheless, I was super excited for this Q&A. As one of my friends put it, Cooper is just “redonkulously” charismatic.

The Q&A itself was more conversational in tone with the moderator asking Cooper about the weather in England and Houston’s recent spell of rain. Cooper did confirm that it does, in fact and unsurprisingly, rain a lot in England.

The panel, for real, started off with a question about Cooper’s background. He talked about his college years at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts. His love for the theatre, however, came from some really good secondary teachers. In Cooper’s own words, he was a “terrible, badly behaved” kid at school. The only thing that he liked about it was the excellent drama department where he was first really exposed to theatre and film.

Still even at school, Cooper said that “acting as a job seemed out of the question”. He also almost didn’t get into LAMDA because he was a little too late for most auditions. Not to mention that the speeches he had prepared were the ones that everyone used. So, much to the relief of his parents, he got into the school in the knick of time.

His parents were just happy that he was pursuing higher education.

The first of the audience questions, which were sprinkled in between anecdotes, was about his role in 2001’s Band of Brothers. Technically, Cooper shouldn’t have taken the job. “We couldn’t take jobs before finishing the program.” Eventually, he had to take vacation days to film his role.

On set, there was still a lot that he had to learn. Especially as people were tussling for camera time and space. He got an education on how people would try to get their moment in the spotlight.

The next question was if he would like to go back to stage. Cooper got flustered before admitting that he was going to be performing in The Libertine in London. “It starts very soon. I have a load a lines and very big words to learn. I don’t know the meanings of these words.”

The next question was about the differences in working in stage versus working in film. “It is so different. I was trained to do stage. Both require so much work and preparation. In TV, you must do it again and again. Yet theatre has a totally different vibe. It changes moment by moment.”

There was a little break where the moderator tried to get Cooper to sing for the audience. He laughed it off and, politely, refused.

The next question was about his newest show, Preacher. Was he a fan of the comics before getting cast?

Funny story. He came across the pilot script at an actor friend’s house. He took the script, read it, loved it, and immediately got an audition. He didn’t know a lick of what it was about. Yet seeing the passion in the creative team as they talked about it made him excited about it. He wanted to be a part of this “wonderfully weird madness” that was going on. After he got cast, he immediately went out and devoured all of the comics.

And now he’s the lead character.

So are there any similarities between Dominic Cooper and Jesse Custer? Cooper immediately said yes, but also focused on how they were “very different”. Custer, in Cooper’s opinion, has an almost split personality. It made Jesse Custer a hard character for Cooper to inhabit. Instead, he went to the creative team, who helped him build the backstory. While the comics helped, they don’t have the same level of character insight that a novel will have more readily available. So the creative team helped him fill in those backstory aspects and the relationship. Ultimately, Cooper said he and Jesse come from very different roles.

The next question was about his dream role. As any self-respecting actor from the UK, he said: “James Bond” to the cheers of the crowd. He doesn’t know really. He thinks that a lot of classic roles would be pressure, such as doing Hamlet. The moderator would prefer a female James Bond, to the cheers of the crowd. Cooper immediately agreed to it, praising co-star Ruth Negga’s performance as Tulip in Preacher.

Credit: Bec Heim/4YE
Credit: Bec Heim/4YE

The next question was if Cooper had a mentor in the business. He called his rise in getting steady work a “horribly smooth” process. The person he would put in the mentor category is History Boys director, Sir Nicholas Hytner. He also credited the material that he got to work with and the good guidance he received on various sets over the years.

So does Cooper, himself, have any advice to aspiring actors?

The business is so tough and so immersed that it will be a “really hard struggle” for a long time. Cooper emphasized the passion that people need to have for this work and that they need to “keep fighting for it”. It’s a decision that will fundamentally decide the course of your life and you always feel like one audition away from that big break. Just take every opportunity as another chance to refine your craft.

After that thoughtfully intense answer, a fan asked if he could do his worst Texas accent. “You can see it on a weekly basis,” Cooper said to the howling crowd.

The next question was about the transition of History Boys from stage to film. Cooper said that it was an easy one. Hytner returned to direct the film and it was structured in a similar way to the play. They had been playing the characters for close to three years, so they knew them inside out by that point. A lot of the changes come from the subtly of the performance. They had to reshape them to fit a more intimate setting on the screen.

What Cooper found a lot harder was when a performance of the play was broadcasted into film theatres. They had to play for a regular audience while playing for the film theatre audience. You had to be half ready for both.

Does he have any projects in the works? Outside of The Libertine, he has a improv movie with Gemma Arterton. The whole film was going to be improvised, which Cooper called “wonderful fun but also terrifying”.

Is there any other way he would like to branch out? Like writing a book, play, or film? Cooper looked horrified about writing a book. “There are so many words.” He thinks a film would be fun to write when he has the time. He needs to sit down and actually write over time rather than all at once. Right now, he can’t do that.

Would he want to work with any younger and aspiring filmmakers? Cooper said that it depended on who the director is. Even for a small part, he thinks it would be great. He loves having little parts. On Preacher, as one of the leads, he can feel the impact that the lead actor can have. Not just on set, but off set as your input is taken into account by the creative team and the decision making process.

How did Cooper prepare himself for the role of James Bond author Ian Fleming? Cooper admits that he didn’t hear great things about Fleming himself even though the man did live an interesting life. The Bond books did fill in some of the gaps. Ultimately, his performance of Fleming in Fleming: The Man That Would Be Bond was more of what he thought Fleming would want to be seen as. It was the idea that the man had of himself instead of the reality. Cooper did sympathize with Fleming, who was constantly overshadowed by his brother and felt in competition to. He thought it was sad that Fleming couldn’t have seen all of his success despite his less than stellar aspects.

So what type of Bond would Cooper play? “Everyone has done it so well,” he began. Instead, he would like to focus more on the real darkness within Bond as he thinks Bond leads a lonely and unloved existence. He would like to focus on that inner turmoil and complexity.

“What type of Bond would I be? A horrible one,” Cooper concluded.

Is there anything he would want to change in the industry? “How unfair it can be to others.” He would like to see more equal pay and opportunities for other actors and creatives. He thinks that the advent of quality television and streaming services the tide is slowly turning into that more equal world. On the whole though, he thinks Hollywood is very set in the past.

So does he prefer working on a musical film vs a regular film? Cooper called Mamma Mia, “the most wonderful times ever”.

He loved his pink lycra suit, the Greek island they filmed on, and that he didn’t stop laughing the whole time. He never really thought people would want to hear him sing in a film. (But honestly, he did a better job than Pierce Brosnan.) It was a very different experience but he enjoys both.

What was the hardest fight/weapons training he has undergone? Cooper said the hardest was definitely Warcraft. The weapons were so huge that he could hardly lift them. For Preacher, there are a lot of complex fight sequences to learn. Yet they are fun to learn. Recently, he said that Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) hit him on the head with what he thought was a foam fire extinguisher. It wasn’t. Despite his black eye, they only had to do one take.

Was it had to transition from Howard Stark in Agent Carter to Jesse Custer in Preacher? He had just wrapped up Agent Carter and Preacher started a few weeks after. While he did play Stark for a long time, he didn’t feel him linger after. It was consistent across a ton of episodes. Since Stark and Custer are so different as characters, once he got to filming it settled him. Add in prep time and rehearsal time, it wasn’t a hard transition at all. Though Cooper loves playing Howard Stark.

How does he like working with Marvel? Cooper admitted that when he was cast in Captain America: The First Avenger, he didn’t quite understand the scale. He had no idea of what he was getting involved in. Only once he saw this elaborate world and this inventive tech that his character made, did he understand everything. He praised the genius behind the studio and the imagination going into the films. He also said that Marvel looked after their actors and are loyal to them. Agent Carter was such a big risk but one they still took. He loves being Howard.

So Team Cap or Team Iron Man? Iron Man because family loyalty. “I can’t go against my son over my mate, can I?” asked Cooper.

Oh and one thing about Cooper that no one knows – He plays tennis (not very well) and soccer to help keep in shape.

Bec Heim