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Dominic Cooper talks Politics

08 August 2011

With the release of ‘The Devil’s Double’, set to hit our screens on August 12th, The Fan Carpet’s Stefan Pape caught up with leading star Dominic Cooper to discuss the political aspects to the feature, and what it was like playing two lead roles, at the same time.

Born in London, England, Cooper has starred in films such as History Boys, Mamma Mia!, and more recently Captain America: The First Avenger, but this latest release is arguably his biggest yet and with a stunning performance as Saddam Hussein’s son Uday and his body double Latif Yahia, this could well be the definitive performance that really kick-starts a very bright future and career for the talented young actor.



I suspect Uday would have really got off on the idea of his life being immortalised in film, I wonder if he will like this film?

No he couldn’t have liked his film; the representation of him is truly grotesque. I dunno, maybe he would have. I think he saw himself in a film most of his life, which I think is why he was able to do the atrocious things he did. I think he saw himself as a gangster in a film. He used to watch Godfather constantly, so I think that’s probably how removed he was from his own thoughts or his own reality, he probably saw his life being played out as a film.


You need to connect with or perhaps attempt to like the character you are playing, but with Uday there really are no redeeming features. How difficult was it, without making him a pantomime villain, to be in the role?

That was a big problem for me right at the start. I had a fair amount of rehearsal time with Lee Tamahori, and it was just talking about that – how am I gong to access these hateful emotions he had sitting within him? How can I physicalise him? How can I be that person? As you say, without finding any redeeming qualities about him, the more I unearth about him, the more I despise him and find him totally, totally vulgar, and I hate him. I suppose that I ended up just thinking why is this person like this? You look at the relationship with his father, and who his father is and how this must have affected him, how powerful and domineering that person in his life must have been. I think his father thought he was a bit of a moron, he certainly didn’t give him any important roles to play in the regime and he didn’t want to give him the reigns of power or hand them over, which I think is a bit insulting in that culture, for the son not to be given that privilege, to step into your fathers shoes. So that gave me some sort of idea of the resentment he felt and trying to find some human aspect to him – his deep love for his mother and the resentment he felt at how his father treated her. Also, what he would have been exposed to as a young man. Uday had been shown images of torture at the age of four or five and constantly exposed to it, so that gave me a sort of understanding of the psyche of the man, the inner turmoil I suppose, not that I sympathised or empathised but at least I knew where some of that rage came from. I never ended up liking him but I wanted to find the comedy aspect of him and the lost child I suppose and I wanted to be able to enjoy it and relish it, to relish being able going that far and being that abusive and carefree in terms of the acting and how he carefree he felt in any environment.


It was clearly difficult to negotiate with a character as repellent as Uday, but it must have been slightly difficult with Latif, because he is still alive and with us and it is a different version of him that we see in the film.

It was always made very apparent by Lee that we weren’t doing a biographical account of either man which gave me a lot of freedom. Having met Latif, I was then able to go about creating two very different characters rather than impersonating him. I got an idea of who he was and used that as a foundation and drew out these two characters that I wanted to make very separate because ultimately if the audience is going to believe in a solution that one man is playing these two different people you need to be aware of who you are watching the whole time, which is much more important than replicating. And I did feel the strain of either Latif being there sometimes, or whether I was getting him right, or my own choices, such as whether Uday should speak in a ridiculous high-pitched voice with a cackle? No probably not, but nobody really knows, no one knows what these people said to each other, nobody knows what took place so you can’t say ‘this is a biography’, this is based on a true story but we have manipulated it for the sake of the film – but that was very free because one is almost a cartoon at points.


What do you say to somebody like Latif when you first meet them? How do you break the ice?

He said to me “I know whether I like someone in the first 30 seconds of meeting them,” which immediately put me at ease! It was quite daunting but in a way I don’t know why as I had reached a point where I just wanted to meet him, meet the man who had been in that story which I found so riveting and see the effects of him, you know he’s scarred and he will talk very freely about it. And sort of immediately, I had all of these questions to ask him. But we’re not making this film as an accurate historical account, who am I to start prying, asking all these questions. Every aspect of his amazing story is extremely touching and raw, so I let him just say what he wanted to say and it came in drips. Ultimately it was very painful, the man has lost his family, his country, his life, he has rebuilt it fantastically and he is very happy now, but it still felt like it was very much the recent past and who was I to interfere with it, but I got everything that I needed to create his guise.


Did you have any reservations about taking on the role? Did Lee have to convince you?

No I had to beg him. I auditioned for it and the script had been about for a while. When I first read it, there was something about it; I didn’t stop thinking about it and about the opportunity for an actor. I couldn’t believe that one man could play two completely different roles in one film but it worked, it just seemed totally compelling, that part of the world, that story, those men who I know lived. I remember when I was really young being told about Uday, I remember hearing something really serious, that they needed to be careful getting rid of Saddam because he would be taken over by his son who was much, much worse – I remembering fearing that and then still never really knowing any more about him and then seeing him in a working story about this regime, the awful gangster family which was controlling this city. A city that I also knew very little about, and felt guilty for not knowing about, especially for something which was very present in my growing up. So I loved seeing it from a completely different angle and learning about it and the people of Baghdad and then these guys who were in control of it. Sorry I’ve gone completely off track, but I loved this story and I kept asking about it and where it had gone and if the same people were still attached. There was actually a different director attached and the script had been around for around ten years and I think people did get scared of it because it was a lot closer to the collapse of the regime so I think people got worried about who it might upset. Then Lee came along and took it and I begged again for an audition. I had to get in that room somehow; I’ve had to meet him. I don’t know why I thought I should play the role of a son of a dictator.


Did you have any problem in the duality of switching during the film? Doing one and then the other, did the two characters bleed into each other?

They never bled into each other because they felt so incredibly different, I was always so totally aware of which one was which, it just felt like they came from a completely different part of my brain, I cant quite explain that but I just felt totally different as either one. It terms of the location and time we had, I needed to have the ability just to have a beat, a minute to myself and then become the other one. This is where I did the groundwork with Lee and great people like the voice coach and having embedded it in a reality – I knew who these guys were by the time we were filming. We would do a master shot of one character so we could duplicate it and then do the same exact shot as the different character and then I would go back to the shot as the different character and do the close ups, it was quite complex.



It sounds quite old fashioned, because I had thought that they would use a fair bit of CGI…

No, people will think that you can just bung a head on a body, it’s not like that at all. You could but I don’t think it looks as good and we didn’t have the money for it. I could bore myself talking about it but it’s a motion controlled camera that copies its move, and makes an identical move so you can layer, so that you’re just in the same space acting. It becomes very complicated when the characters touch or hold one another because then you can’t layer it which is when you have to use head replacement. I was just told not to be too physical.


The film, despite being hard-hitting is also funny at points. Are you surprised to hear that people are laughing out loud at it?

I love it when people laugh at Uday. When I saw some of the costumes I knew I would not be able to take myself too seriously. What I love is that he does take himself seriously and he does not see the irony or the ludicrous, appalling taste he has in outfits. When a man as violent as that, and disgusting, can turn up dressed in that…

Also, the guy had these ridiculous teeth and awful laugh.


Do you find it quite difficult to combine comedy with something that is a very sensitive issue to some people? Was it difficult treading on that, knowing that people were going to laugh in a film which featured quite graphic images and disturbing content?

Yeah I found it really hard, I didn’t think people would laugh out loud at it though; because I thought he was so horrific that there wasn’t a great deal of room for comedy. It didn’t ever feel like we were making anything funny because of the way in which Latif was feeling about the position he had been put in, his dilemma. I was constantly aware, I never forgot for a moment, it was what was so wonderful about having Latif there every so often, just reminding yourself that even though we are manipulating this story it is embedded in reality and history and these events did occur, he was this monster, they were this terrible. But you can’t start acting from that point, that won’t help with the story. Because they didn’t think about it when they were doing it, they didn’t think about it, they weren’t aware of how much grief and harm they were causing so you just have to play it out as though you were in that mindset.


You were saying earlier about the restrictive budgets on this, and obviously on Captain America there’s money to burn, do you enjoy the blockbuster experience as much as something such as this?

It’s so different; it almost feels like a completely different form of work. The Devil’s Double was the most exhilarating experience I’ve had on a film set because I was so much a part of the mechanics of it. I enjoyed talking through the complexities and technicalities of it, I was obsessed with how we were going to make it work, and everyone would have to throw in their ideas and its amazing how peoples wires get mixed up and it gets complicated but it really helps everyone just talking it out, especially because we were dealing with all this technical stuff that no one really knew a great deal about. Although there was one fantastic French guy there, and we would all be saying “it’s not working, it’s not working” and he would just say “je ne sais pas,” and that would be it and nothing would happen for hours and Lee would not tolerate it. Lee can’t deal with things not happening, not moving, which is why it took someone like him to make this film. His energy is completely incredible, he never allows me to think for one moment that I should feel tired. It’s really creative and I love that, I love feeling that much a part of the creative team  and when you do something like Captain America you feel small within this huge, wonderfully well oiled machine, everything is so precise and correct.



Captain America is out at the same time as Devil’s Double – so this must be a very exciting time in your career to have two of your biggest releases of your career coming out so close together?

Yeah I hadn’t thought about that. It’s great. I know people are going to see Captain America, and they should as it’s a really good film. But on the surface, people generally don’t know what Devil’s Double is about.


When you were just starting out, presumably you didn’t in your wildest dreams think that there could be a week that you could go to a multiplex and have a choice of Dominic Cooper movies to watch?

No absolutely not. I was hoping for just a line on the archers for the majority of my youth.


As Uday?

That’ll be good, Uday on the Archers. He could have his own farm. I like that idea.


Do you think it is inevitable that you’ll go to LA at some point?

I don’t think you need too. At least I hope that you don’t. I love it here and this feels like home and I love going backwards and forwards between the two. And I have a lot of friends in LA now which has made me grow very fond of it, because I used to find it very difficult there and very lonely, just the way that it works as a city.


What are working on at the moment? Do you want to go back on the stage?

I do want to go back on the stage, I don’t know when. As for upcoming work, I don’t know what I’m about to do next, I’ve just finished Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter…


Based on truth?

Yes, all based on truth.



Dominic Cooper Profile | The Devil’s Double Film Page