Interview – Dominic Cooper
Dominic Cooper is receiving raves for his dual portrayal of Uday Hussein and his body double, an Iraqi soldier named Latif Yahia, in The Devil’s Double. For the role, the British actor has risen to the occasion by creating two indelible characters who often share the screen. This technical accomplishment threatens to overshadow the movie, which also stars French actress Ludivine Sagnier and has a few moments of nail-biting suspense.
Cooper got his start in the stage production of The History Boys, and a singing/dancing role in the movie version of Mamma Mia! gave his career a boost. This summer he’s also appearing at your local multiplex in Captain America: The First Avenger (as Howard Stark, Iron Man’s dad), while in November he’ll be seen again in My Week With Marilyn. And he’s got a starring role in next summer’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Previous credits also include Tamara Drewe with Gemma Arterton and An Education.
Shawn Conner: What kind of research did you do for The Devil’s Double?
Dominic Cooper: Well, I really liked the idea of being the same person playing both those roles. I was intrigued to know how it was going to work. They needed to look alike. If you look at the photos it’s very very hard to tell them apart. He was forced into some very volatile situations. People had to believe it was the same person. If the audience for a moment weren’t sure who they were watching, the whole thing would fall to pieces. So that aspect was terrifying.
Ultimately, Lee Tamahori the director and I talked a lot abut how each of the characters was different. Rather than me going and doing a lot of research, it was more about understanding who Uday was by going back to the basics, about asking what makes these men who they are, then thinking about them physically – how do they move in their environment, for example.
Uday is much bigger, he takes up more space in a room, then you think of Latif rippped form the front lines, he’s smaller, and much more watchful. You immediately you have two very different takes on human nature. So it was more about finding the essence of that, about how they moved and how they talked, then rebuilding these people so you are always aware who you are watching. It was more about the way they constructed their sentences, rather than me going into huge realms of back story.
SC: Were there any false starts at the beginning?
DC: I’d already done an audition. So it was more about just really having to get the levels of emotion right. Ultimately I had to go extraordinarily far. Everything about Uday was really unthinkable, and I had to go as far as possible. I had to let Lee guide me as to whether it was too much or too little.
SC: I get the impression you’d work with Lee again, given the right material.
DC: I really renjoyed his energy. I was exhausted at times from jumping between the two characters from moment to moment. But I was so exhilerated by the process of it. I can’t explain how wonderful his energy was. He was really having to make decisionss spontaneously. He would have to decide on takes that I had just done so I could react, and that’s quite a decision to make immediately. Usually you have all this time, you can decide in the editing process, but he had to do it on the spot.
SC: And so how is that a different experience from working on something like Captain America?
DC: It’s a totally different experience altogether. I was moved by involvement within this unique small set. We were all having to come up with ideas. I grew up on film sets and I love the collaboration. With Captain America, you’re in awe of all the machinery around you but you’re a much smaller cog. You can be there for not weeks at time, and then you come in and do your work.
SC: Your next movie is due out in November, My Week With Marilyn. What can you tell us about that?
DC: I think it’s a wonderful little look at this week in her [Marilyn Monroe‘s] life, when she came to London to shoot a movie [The Prince and the Showgirl, 1957] and had this fraught relationship with Laurence Olivier [Kenneth Branagh]. I play this friend of hers, a photographer. I think it’s really exciting to get to the inner workings in some fantastical way of someone we’ve been obsessed with for all these years.
The Devil’s Double opens Aug 12 in Montreal and Vancouver.