“The first time I saw it I was completely mesmerised by the pristine green lawns, blue skies and vastness on a scale I’d never seen.”
Dominic Cooper isn’t talking about a film set - he’s talking about the place that makes film sets: Hollywood, Los Angeles, birthplace of the blockbuster and occasional crusher of dreams.
Not his though. Ten years on since Cooper’s first visit to promote The History Boys, the Londoner’s career has grown exponentially, and with it so have his air miles, as he's returned again and again to this world, appearing in everything from Marvel films to Mamma Mia.
Now comes his biggest role to date, playing the titular anti-hero in Amazon Prime series Preacher. Adapted by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg from a comic book series once deemed unfilmable, Cooper, you’ll be glad to know, makes the role of the demon-slaying drunk his own.
We sat down with the star to ask what lessons he’s learnt in Hollywood so far. Earnest, eloquent and highly entertaining, it’s one hell of an insight.
Don't turn down an invite to Jack Nicholson's house
“Oscar night is mental. It really is. You're escorted around in various vehicles to various after parties and often have no idea where you’re going, only getting wind of where you are by the time you’re actually there. One minute we're at Madonna's house, the next we're on our way to Jack Nicholson's. My other ultimate Oscar night moment was dancing next to Beyoncé, tripping her up and falling down the stairs. Now, I can’t quite work out if it was a good highlight or a bad one, but it was a highlight. That whole night was a haze."
Thou shalt steal (sometimes)
“At any given time there’ll be a couple of scripts bandied around that people are talking about, so you quickly become aware of the good ones. Preacher was one of them. I was visiting a friend’s house, who, it turned out, had just been cast in the show, when I saw the script on a side table and nabbed it. It worked out for the best."
Be wary of the audition process
“I feel bad saying this but because of the scale of it in America, there’s slightly less care, or nurture, in those audition rooms. It can be a cold place. It’s more ferocious, it’s sad. I’ve always been fortunate to have done a lot of stage work early on in my career, which is a place where people are more hands on with you, whereas in LA you’re just another warm prop walking through the door, and if you’re not ‘it’ there and then, you can be back out the door in a matter of minutes."
And pilot season
“I’d never done pilot season so was unaware of how that whole system worked before. It’s awful, a meat market. Actors are having to learn pages and pages of dialogue every day, it’s exhausting, in and out, nonstop. To top it off, most shows don’t even get picked up, so even if you land a part you’ll do the pilot and it may see never see the light of day. Fortunately, Preacher was the first pilot I ever did and it was fine, but there's always a risk.”
Never undersell yourself
“One piece of advice I’d give to my younger self is to stop being so English and playing everything down. We’re appalling at selling ourselves - it’s too embedded in us, whereas American actors are at the opposite end of the spectrum. There’s nothing wrong with either, we just grew up with the mind-set that it was embarrassing to self-promote, to say how wonderful your last project was, to say you hit the performance of your lifetime – but that’s what the casting people respond to because that’s what they’re used to over there. After all, you’re selling yourself. You’d never get a businessman walking into a room and saying, ‘I’ve got a product that’s 'a bit sh*tty but it’ll get better in the future’."
But remember being British does have its upsides
“Lots of British people are getting the top roles. I know, I’m one of them, but why are so many doing it? Well I have a theory and it’s down to us being outsiders, because an outsider’s eye sometimes has more clarity of environment and of people.”
Don't worry about Scientology getting in your face
“I used to live very close to the Scientology mansion, or rather ‘Celebrity Centre’ centre, near Beachwood Canyon. It definitely has a presence there and influences people’s lives. Aside from that I know very little about it, apart from the documentary Going Clear. I remember being much more aware of things like that when I first moved over, the oddness of LA – it really is unlike anywhere else it really is – but like many things over there, Scientology is just one of those things."
Try not to be recognised
“That’s just the truth – I have a nice balance as I don’t get recognised all that often, but the business in Hollywood is a never-ending wave which is constantly rolling. One minute I’ll be recognised on every street corner and the next I’m not, it’s like that. You’ll pull up to somewhere over there and you’ll just get a car park full of actors, it’s the norm. It can be a condensed space, a goldfish bowl.”
Try to walk around occasionally“People think it’s a city and it’s not. Ultimately, it’s a sprawling suburb in a desert which shouldn’t really be there. It's also designed specifically for the car - all the tram lines were pulled from the ground and bought out by the tyre companies in the fifties - and for that reason it’s very hard to find a heart of the city where you can find company in the presence of others. You have to travel everywhere by car so you miss the human connection, there’s very little crossing of paths. You go from unit to unit in a metal unit, it's a lonely place.”
Never trust paparazzi
“I’ve experienced it through somebody I was once spending a lot of time with over there, and it was utterly unbearable. It was a continual chase, it was hounding, pressurising and crippling for that person, just awful. But then many people understand it also comes with the territory. You can make a very distinct choice in where you want to position yourself logistically, and whether you want to be seen or not. Some people want to be in that stuff, they survive on it, and so now there’s a divide of people wanting to be seen by the paparazzi so they can get the free handbags and flaunt it in the photographs, and the people who want a private existence and to get on with their work. You have every level in LA and so it can feel very desperate. Worse, the guys know where everybody lives too. So if you’re flavour of the month they’ll be outside your house."