Read our roundtable interview with Dominic Cooper, who plays drummer Ben Sergeant in the upcoming British romantic ensemble comedy ‘Tamara Drewe.’ The movie is scheduled to begin a limited theatrical release on October 8, 2010, in New York and Los Angeles. The film tells the story of London journalist Tamara Drewe as she goes back to her family farm in the countryside of Ewedown, and follows the infatuations, love and sexual affairs and career ambitions of the people living in the small rural town. Dominic previously was exposed to the musical genre when he appeared in the hit 2008 film adaptation of ‘Mamma Mia!’
Question (Q): While making this movie, were you channeling any particular rock star?
Dominic Cooper (DC): I was kind of, but I possibly can’t say which, because it will be monumentally offensive! My brother wrote all the music for the band, so it was an opportunity to work with him at last. I’ve spent my entire life going to grubby dens in South London, listening to his appalling music. But there was a bit of him, actually, because I remember we used to go on holiday to the south of France, and he would spend hours in the bathroom, putting on his leather trousers and spraying his peroxide-blond hair to go sit next to a river in 90 degree heat. Then I thought, this guy’s exactly like that, he can’t bear the countryside, or anyone that has anything to do with the countryside. Not that my brother is self-involved, like this narcissistic, awful person that I’m playing. But there was an element of him, and then there was always the rock stars and guys that I’ve seen growing up. I watched their kind of behavior, the whole idea that nothing exists besides them and their band. Then the shock that not the entire world knows about them and what’s going on in their life, and not everyone’s clued up on his existence. I kind of liked that about him. But there was a danger of him. On paper, he’s so revolting, you can’t imagine why anyone would want to spend a moment of time with him. So making him as dense and stupid as possible, you start to feel sorry for him. He’s so simple, and doesn’t know anything other than himself, his car and perhaps a girlfriend, if he can hold one down for more than a week.
Q: This film’s about writers, and a couple of times in the beginning of the movie, it’s mentioned that your character writes all the lyrics for the band, and then it’s dropped. Is it important that he writes lyrics?
DC: It’s important, for me, that he be needed to be more colorful than just being a drummer. It was important he be a drummer with a grayish color. You’d probably never recognize the drummer from your favorite band ever, if they walked past you on the street. I didn’t even recognize the drummer from Pink Floyd the other day, and they’re one of the biggest bands in the world ever. That’s their choice, they’re not the front man, they don’t want to be, they want to be behind their drum kit. They’re always the ones in the photo shoots that look slightly uncomfortable when they’re forced to wear a leather jacket. I thought that wasn’t right for this role, for this character. A lot of the characters are almost verging on caricatures, they needed to be larger than life. They needed to be bright and colorful. It was important that he was writing because ultimately he wanted to be the front man. He wanted to look like a front man and have the attitude of a front man and have the arrogance. For me, the lyrics my brother put together are perfect because they’re simplistic and catchy. Possibly Posy (Simmonds, who wrote the graphic novel the movie is based on) had the intention that he be another writer. But for me it was important.
Q: How does he deal with his relationship with (teenager) Jody, one of his biggest fans (played by Jessica Barden), since he’s a simple guy?
DC: Well, since he’s so simplistic, I don’t think he understands how well he does deal with it. He may have a younger sibling who he deals with very well. Also, she’s his biggest fan, and he loves that. That’s his favorite, he loves how much she adores him.
Q: Stephen (Frears, the movie’s director) said he hasn’t seen ‘The World of Henry Orient.’ Have you?
DC: No, I haven’t.
Q: Well, it’s a similar dynamic to the two teenage girls, Jody and Casey Shaw (played by Charlotte Christie) who love a musician.
DC: Oh, really. I always love the chaos they caused. They’re kind of like the fairies in ‘A Mid-Summer’s Night Dream’ or something. They’re the ones that create this absolute disaster amongst everyone, kind of like a Greek chorus.
Q: Like in ‘An Education,’ you play these unlikable characters. There’s some reason why we shouldn’t like them, yet you still make them charming.
DC: I find that exhilarating and exciting. I find nothing worse than watching a film where the characters are detestable. But the most difficult time I’ve had was in the beginning of the year when I played Sudam Hussein’s son, Uday. He was one of the most monstrous people I’ve ever done research on I’ve done in my entire life. To play him and his body double, a guy who’s still alive now, he forced this guy to be his body double, basically a bullet capturer. This poor guy didn’t want to do it. Well, Uday said “I’ll wipe out your entire family unless you do this for me.” I chased this job because I thought it was one of the best things I’ve ever read. But my question to the director was, “How on Earth am I going to play someone, when everything I’ve read about this man and tried to work out in my head isn’t likable. He’s a walking disaster, a monster. There aren’t words to describe him.” I had to look at why he did the things he did. But I had to find something to relate to, find something from your own experiences, from your own life, to get under the skin of the person and portray him correctly. With regards to something more simplistic and easier, like ‘Tamara Drewe,’ I think it’s essential for me, certainly as an actor, to make them slightly likable because then they’re more bearable to watch. You have more enjoyment in watching someone, I’d rather that. It’s true that the guy in ‘An Education’ wasn’t a particularly nice character. Something about them that you can trust, an audience needs that. If you find someone unbearable, it becomes really hard to watch, I think. I don’t know what it is, and it worry me that I do get picked to do that. It may be a reflection of my own character.
Q: What was it like entering the world of superheroes?
DC: It is so odd.
Q: Are you the type of actor that will go on-line and check what fans are saying?
DC: No, I never do that. But I do wonder if they have a massive impact on decisions made.
Q: Maybe on the directors and the writers?
DC: Well, those fans know more about those characters and those comics. They’re really into it and know their stuff. I don’t, I wasn’t a comic fan. So I don’t check any of that stuff. I think it would be terrifying if I did. Then I would have an idea of the responsibility to get this right.
Q: How would you say you’re playing that character in the movie?
DC: I have to understand it in the script. I have to stay in the actual piece of work he’s trying to do. Same as with ‘Tamara Drewe.’ What the character’s journey in that piece. I’m the father to Robert Downey Jr.’s character in ‘Iron Man,’ so there’s an essence that this guy has to be one of the best engineers of his day. He was a playboy, obviously very charming and an extraordinarily creator. He was an inventor. I’m using all that to have a vague understanding of who this character is within a comic book world.
Q: Amanda (Seyfried, his ‘Mama Mia!’ co-star) has said you were brilliant in the Hussein role.
DC: That was sweet, I’m excited about it. I had a very inspiring director to work with. I’m excited to see it. Ultimately, I’m portraying three characters: the psychotic son, the guy’s who’s forced into this position he doesn’t want to be in and the guy who’s forced into this position he doesn’t want to be in playing Uday.
Q: Did you always want to work with Stephen?
DC: Yes, I was desperate to work with Stephen. I loved his films. When I first ever went to meet him, I was terribly excited. I was working in Ireland at the time, and I had a shaved head. I went to meet him, and I walked in the door, and he went, “No! Completely wrong, get out!” I said, “I’ve come all the way to see you.” I loved the script, and I was desperate to meet him. Instead of crumbling inside, I was determined, I wasn’t having that. I said “I traveled all the way here.” He said “You’ve got cropped, short hair. You look brutish. This character’s got long, flowing, curly locks.” I said “I’m an actor, I can have long, flowing, curly locks.” I sort of grabbed his computer and tussled with him. I tried to Goggle myself and show that I could have long hair, but I couldn’t find anything. All I found was really bad hair in every photograph. So that kind of failed. Then he said, “Dominic, one last chance. Do you smoke?” So I turned into this pathetic little actor and said “Sometimes.” He said “Do you have any?” I said “No, but I can get something.” But for that reason, I think he may have called me back to do the first reading. I learned a lot about him as a person. He doesn’t like to waste any time. He knew I was wrong the minute I walked in the door. So he didn’t want to waste an hour of his time, essentially, and an hour of my time. That’s what I kind of ended up loving about him.
Q: Does that mean he does very few takes?
DC: It means he’s very experienced, and he knows the exact story he’s trying to tell. He knows the angles that he needs. He’s sitting in the edit suite while he’s working on-set. There’s very little that we shot that wasn’t in the final film, which I think is very impressive. People usually cover themselves.
Q: How many times did you do the seduction scene?
DC: Not many times. That’s how wonderfully creative the environment was. I started doing different things, and he sort of kept it. Having that relaxed attitude on-set gives you a massive amount of freedom or playfulness, which you need in a film like that.
Q: So he knows what he wants to do, but he’s open to suggestion.
DC: Yeah. He knows he’s got his cast in place, and he know what he wants. He has trust, and it’s a lovely feeling when you know the director has trust in you and your ability and what you can bring to a character, which he has. You’re taking big risks doing comedy, because ultimately, you’re trying to be funny. If you’re not funny, you look like an idiot. You have to be prepared to look like an idiot, so you need to have confidence in the man at the helm of it all. You have to take a massive leap of faith and be daring and bold with your choices. It always makes for better work I think. You have to feel comfortable enough to do it. He was prepared to do anything. He would occasionally whisper some incoherent nonsense in your ear. It meant something, it kind of sunk in a little bit. It would change your performance, how you would do something. It really wouldn’t make a massive amount of sense.
Q: A lot of the comic relief in this movie is the two girls. How would you describe your fans? Has your fanbase changed because of certain movies you’ve done?
DC: I don’t get a massive amount of attention. I don’t get recognized a lot of times, which I love.
Q: Do you interact with people on-line? Do you answer fan mail?
DC: Fan mail I do, if I find the time. I don’t do stuff on-line, I still don’t know how it works!
Q: Who gets better women, actors or musicians?
DC: Musicians, clearly! Drummers get all the action! They’re the undercover bad boys.
Written by: Karen Benardello