Dominic Cooper never envisioned himself as an action man. But, having just pulled over a £2.3m Lamborghini (he’s currently filming big-screen video-game adaptation Need For Speed), it seems he’s hurtling in that direction. Despite success in Hollywood with The History Boys and Mamma Mia!, the 34-year-old south London-born actor – and James Corden’s flatmate – has remained an enigma, albeit a hard-working one.
As well as Need For Speed, he’s about to star in thriller Dead Man Down – directed by Niels Arden Oplev, the man behind the original Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – alongside Colin Farrell. And after that, he takes on the role of Ian Fleming in Sky Atlantic’s dramatisation of the writer’s life. Once he’d parked the Lambo, and apologised for the blaring Sinatra music, ShortList got started on the serious stuff. Namely, his new life in Hollywood and Colin Farrell’s hypnotic eyebrows...
You’re currently filming Need For Speed. Are you a fast driver?
I’d like to think so – I’ve always loved cars. I’m driving a Lamborghini Elemento – there’s only three in the world. We’re being driven by racing drivers, so the terror on our faces is real.
Was it weird taking on a film that was originally a game?
Kind of, but the game is incredible. The director [Scott Waugh] wants it to be in the vein of a classic Seventies racing film. With Aaron Paul and Imogen Poots starring, it will be more than fast cars and big engines.
What was it like working with Colin Farrell on Dead Man Down? Is he still wild now he’s sober?
He’s not a wild child. With Colin, you feel at home. We went for dinner when we were filming in Philadelphia, and Noomi [Rapace] became a very good friend as well.
And were you mesmerised by Colin’s eyebrows?
I didn’t notice them, but he has good eyebrows. They don’t join in the middle.
What aesthetic changes have you had to make to aid your career?
I’ve had a full head transplant.
Have you done the Hollywood thing of having your teeth sorted out?
The fact that I’ve stopped having 18th-century British dentistry, you mean? Where I used to go, as long as they weren’t yellow stubs they just left them. But the constant consumption of Opal Fruits left me wanting to see a dentist who cared a little more. So yeah, I have. I poured bleach over my mouth.
Away from that, you’ve just finished playing Ian Fleming in a TV biopic. Did you uncover any of his secrets?
I found out what he really did for the war effort. I thought I would portray him as he saw himself – he would have loved to have been James Bond. That’s how he thought others saw him. He was quite a difficult, complex, old-fashioned man in his treatment of women. So he was a slightly failed Bond – he went through all the procedures to become a spy and didn’t quite have the nerve. But he was terribly imaginative and came up with some important revelations about how the Nazis were working.
Do you think that’s the closest you’ll come to playing Bond?
I’d like to get closer. I thought I’d have a cool car, but I was driving Russian tanks. “Where’s the Aston Martin?” I was saying.
Speaking of less glamorous things – you shared a flat with James Corden. Is it true he’d wake you up naked in the mornings?
Yeah, he’d do a full dive on to the bed. We lived together for ages, but were both extraordinarily busy, so kept missing each other. I started to think I should move when there was a cot at the end of the bed.
What kind of flatmates were you?
We worked well. But we were living out of the back of our cars for a long time. We were terrified of committing to the fact that our lives had changed, and this was what we called home: this ravished ram-shack.
And where was this ‘ram-shack’?
Primrose Hill. It was lovely, but it had no furniture, so we’d sit on the floor eating baked beans. They were a mixture of very happy and very lost times.
Did you have a plan B career?
I worked throughout drama school as a runner and assistant editor. I used to go into the edit suite after school.
Do you ever watch your films at the cinema to gauge the audience’s reaction?
I’m starting to shy away from watching them at all. I sense a reaction from people I love, who I know are honest. The things I am really proud of I like to see on the big screen…
So how often have you watched Mamma Mia?
Not a great deal [laughs].
Is it fun to switch between musicals and action films?
They’re completely different. I’m amazed I was in a musical. They are enjoyable though, and so exposing. I’ll never forget the Mamma Mia! audition – how vulnerable I felt.
Would you do another musical?
It depends what it is. Mamma Mia! was fantastic, as so many people responded to it. It was in a beautiful place, didn’t take itself seriously and the music is incredible. It brings happiness to people who don’t have a great deal in their lives.
Do you get approached in the street by Mamma Mia! fans?
No. I certainly don’t look like the person they remember from Mamma Mia! The creams aren’t working that well.
You starred in The History Boys on stage and screen. What are your memories of the late Richard Griffiths?
They’re the best memories of my life. This group of boys adored each other, we were all great friends, and he was our leader, our teacher – he was our ‘Hector’. I hope he knew how we felt about him, and what an important role he played in our careers and our lives.
Are you still friends with the cast of The History Boys?
Yeah. We all spoke to each other [after Griffiths’s death]. I’m in the US at the moment, but a lot of them met up.
Would you ever fancy directing?
Yes definitely, one day. When I can actually decide what kind of coffee I want in the morning, then absolutely. I’ve been picking up a video camera since they’ve been available.
You were in Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. Was it the best film about Lincoln in 2012?
No. But hang on, wasn’t Lincoln – the Spielberg one – out in 2013? So yes, it was. Am I right in saying that?
Ah, really? I answered my own question, then.
What’s your most ‘south London’ trait?
I live in north London now, which is unacceptable to my friends. I go back to south London every week. I still wear Reebok Classics [laughs]. You couldn’t help but wear Reebok Classics at the weekend, down to Bon Bonnes. Saying “I’m going up town”. Which no one ever actually did. You’d get on the Connex South Eastern, make it to New Cross, have a quick one in The Venue and then go home. End up in Gravesend having fallen asleep on the train.
You depicted a male prostitute in play Mother Clap’s Molly House. How was it stimulating sex in front of your parents?
I don’t know what my grandmother thought. We were having the time of our lives at the National – a place I took so seriously, thinking, “One day I’ll play Iago.” Instead, I was running away from a pig farmer in a dress.
It can’t have been any more awkward than when you starred in a Durex advert…
I don’t think that was embarrassing at all. I got paid well to be chased down the road by 1,000 sperm in Prague.
So you haven’t had any embarrassing jobs?
I did my fair share of being paid £2.50 an hour to manage grubby patisseries in south-east London, wearing my Reebok Classics. It was just to earn a bit of cash to get down The Venue.
Dead Man Down is at cinemas nationwide from 3 May