Is it the text of a play; a letter; poor Yorick’s skull, perchance?
Alas for those who like their actors more rock ’n’ roll than scroll ’n’ drag, it turns out to be an iPad. Dominic Cooper is catching up on his e-mails.
Loading article content
“You don’t like the look of that, I can tell,” he teases. “You didn’t agree with that at all.”
It’s been six years since Cooper first played the part of Dakin the charmer in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, and there’s still a lot of the playground wag about him, the clever lad who is good for a giggle but who also knows his way around a classic or two.
Easygoing company, then – until you get the 32-year-old on the Coalition Government’s scrapping of the UK Film Council (UKFC). He can see no funny side, no point, to that at all. “Such a naive way to look at things.”
Tamara Drewe, Cooper’s latest film, is backed by the UKFC, as was Armando Iannucci’s Oscar- nominated In The Loop, The Last King Of Scotland, Bend It Like Beckham and other titles.
Directed by Stephen Frears and based on the comic strip turned graphic novel by Posy Simmonds, Tamara Drewe is an everyday story of country folk with lashings of sharply comic observations.
Cooper plays Ben, a boy band drummer who is one of Tamara’s admirers. Not content with just mimicking drumming, Cooper bought himself a kit and took lessons. Though he found it “very therapeutic”, his neighbours and flatmate were of a different mind and the drums went back in the box. “When I move into my own place in the next few weeks they’re coming straight back out.”
Before Tamara Drewe, Cooper starred in the coming-of-age British drama An Education, and as Hippolytus opposite Helen Mirren in the National Theatre’s acclaimed production of Phedre. The career of the Greenwich-born LAMDA graduate and teacher’s son has a tendency to swing from the classical to the popular. When he appeared in Mamma Mia! the pendulum went off the chart. Though critics howled at the Abba-themed musical, cinema audiences went wild in the aisles. At the last count it had made £397 million worldwide.
Cooper is grateful for the doors it opened. Was he offered a lot of musicals? “No, which was a bit worrying,” he laughs. This was his first taste of big-budget film-making, Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and all. “I experienced luxury, which was terribly exciting but also quite dangerous because you can’t start thinking that’s what this life is like.” He doesn’t think he lost his head. “I have a very strong base of friends from school, who I’ve had since the age of four, who don’t let you go adrift.”
More friends were made during the three years he spent performing The History Boys on stage, then making the film. Bennett’s script, he says, was the product of a “genius writer”. As for the international tour with Corden (who went on to create Gavin And Stacey), and the rest of the cast, that was “magical, every single memory”.
Mamma Mia! was where he met Amanda Seyfried. It was a pairing that had a full Greek chorus of gossip columnists in attendance, watching them get together, try to deal with living on opposite sides of the Atlantic – him in London, her in New York – and finally, according to reports, concede defeat.
How does he deal with such attention? A rueful smile. “I learned the harsh way.” He mentions an interview carried out a couple of years ago. Though he doesn’t name the publication, it hardly takes Interpol to locate it. Among the subjects discussed was the relationship he was in at the time.
“I was basically too open about everything, thinking, ‘This is a nice chat, so you want to know about my love life and my family, of course, you seem like a very amicable lovely person, I’ll tell you everything.’ It doesn’t work like that.”
Bitten once, he’s now shyer on the publicity circuit, believing it “self-indulgent”, even “dangerous” to talk about yourself too much rather than what you’re working on. Which takes us to Captain America. Out next year and starring Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L Jackson, Captain America has the potential to make Mamma Mia! look like a micro- budget Brit flick. In this back-to-where-it-all-began superhero movie, Cooper plays Howard Stark, father of Tony “Iron Man” Stark.
“It’s amazing being around such professionals, such a finely oiled operation,” he says. At the same time, the amount of waiting around as scenes are perfected has been something of a culture shock. “It’s a funny one. You spend all this time going, ‘God, I can’t do another one of these independent films where I’m carrying the camera myself across a river to make the shot. I want to do big budget.’ Then suddenly you are on a big-budget movie and you miss the guerilla filming of doing an independent.”
An Education cost just under £5m to make and has so far earned £17m. It received money from the UKFC to help with advertising and ensure a wider release. Cooper wonders if such a picture could be made now.
“You never know whether people will take to a film. That was a low-budget film about a very particular class of people at a very particular time. It warmed people’s hearts, was a very enjoyable film to watch. It had meaning, very clever dialogue. They’re important films to have.”
Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, called “cut” on the Labour-established UKFC in July, arguing: “It is simply not acceptable in these times to fund an organisation like the UK Film Council, where no fewer than eight of the top executives are paid more than £100,000.” Lottery funding for film and tax credits will continue, but not the UKFC, which had £15 million a year to invest.
Clint Eastwood, together with DreamWorks, Steven Spielberg’s studio, and Iannucci are among those who have questioned the Government’s decision. Cooper was in a group of actors, alongside Scotland’s James McAvoy and Peter Mullan, who wrote a joint letter to a newspaper arguing that for every pound the UKFC invests, the country gets £5 back.
Film is one of the country’s success stories, says Cooper. “We have very few things left. What do we export now, what do we have, what exactly do we offer? One thing we have is a fantastic entertainment industry that is loved around the world.”
Look at the upward sales of cinema and theatre tickets, he says. “If people’s lives are getting tougher and they’re being squeezed financially, they need some form of escapism.”
With that rallying cry, I leave him to get back to his iPad. The day’s business in show business is just beginning.