In theaters today as Dino Brewster, the chief antagonist of director Scott Waugh’s Need for Speed, Dominic Cooper is rapidly proving his acting talents with a diverse range of roles that have already stretched from his incredible dual performance in The Devil’s Double to his potentially ongoing role as Howard Stark in Marvel Studios’ cinematic universe.
In the below interview with ComingSoon.net, Cooper discusses finding the humanity of Dino, driving fast cars and his British perspective on a film rooted in Americana. He also offers a brief update on his future in the MCU and teases that his upcoming role in Duncan Jones’ Warcraft may not be a character destined for more than one franchise film.
CS: There’s one scene in particular I want to ask about at the beginning of the film. Right at the story’s inciting incident, Dino has this reaction to a car crash where he dismisses any guilt and decides to keep driving. That’s a lot of character that is developed just through facial expressions.
Dominic Cooper: That scene is so, so horrible. It’s very hard. You try not to be aware of what people are thinking when they’re watching this. It’s 15 minutes into the movie and you see that this guy is capable of smashing into a young guy and finishing him off. But he knew what he was doing, right? He knew that that was his ultimate aim. He couldn’t lose face and he couldn’t lose this race. That’s all he wanted to do. There is no dialogue in that scene, so you have to go through those series of emotions as though they were genuinely happening to you as a human being. You can’t just have a villain and go, “He’s villainous. He’s capable of that. He’ll do it.” What he is actually is is someone who is desperately unhappy so he’s desperately clinging onto the only thing he has left, which stems from this envy he has towards this other guy who has always been better than him. It has to be acknowledged and that’s very kind of you to notice and say that. As long as there’s a process. You need to see that he’s gone through something and has come out the other side dealing with it in the same way that any murderer does deal with it, which is that they’re not really responsible and it’s not really down to them and they’ll just do what they can to get away with it. It then becomes about getting away with it.
CS: There is a sadness to Dino in that it seems like what he ultimately wants is to just fit in with the other guys.
Cooper: I think that’s absolutely it. I think he was always that guy who was on the scene, but he wasn’t actually genuinely talented with it. He came from a place unlike other people in that area. I think he came from a place of privilege. The people I know that are like that are the slightly lost ones, because they haven’t had to fight for anything. He just didn’t have any actual talent. Real talent. True talent. He’s a bit sad. It’s him and his turtleneck and him thinking he’s really cool. They mock him and his snakeskin boots. It’s very good that you saw that, because I think he is the outsider who has surrounded himself with very fast cars and musclemen to protect him. So yeah, he is exactly that. He’s very sad.
CS: I spoke with Imogen Poots at the earlier junket and she mentioned that she was very thankful to have another non-American on set who appreciated the value of things like tea time. Because “Need for Speed” is a very America-centric film, did you feel that you had a unique perspective on the production?
Cooper: I actually love the casting of this film, which was important to everyone, I think, because they had to make it very clear that they were not trying to make a franchise film. They were not trying to make another car racing film with a lot of CGI in it with sort of gun-totting muscle guys. It had to be very different from what we know and I think the casting of some quirky English girl in the midst of a very American world was brilliant. The fact that it’s Aaron, as well, is very different from what you might expect. I think they cast it in a really cool way that gives it an edge and makes it something very different. But I never felt removed from it. It could be set anywhere. The fact that it’s an American landscape is stunning. The backdrop of America is truly stunning in this. There’s that feeling of endless roads and this racing sense of freedom in a car that you have going across these lands. That’s really a big part of it. It would be very different going across England. The scope and scale is all part of it. Then there’s that helicopter scene. It’s unbelievable to see that. It always means that you have to embed it in some reality. The forefront of this movie is fast, incredible high-performance sports cars.
CS: How familiar were you with driving cars like that?
Cooper: I love driving them. I grew up loving cars. It was part of me growing up. To be offered the opportunity to be in a film where I could actually race them and learn how to control them was a complete non-brainer for me. This was my dream.
CS: There’s history between Aaron Paul’s Tobey Marshall and your Dino Brewster. Do you get much of a chance to sit down and work out the history?
Cooper: I think you have to. The purpose of the Dino character is to elevate the hero and create a revenge story. He is the villain. What you have to do is make sure you understand and know what’s feeding that and what’s making a person behave in that way. You have to have that backstory. Actors love doing that. You sit down and say, “Well, what was the background? What was the past?” It just informs everything. When you say lines in a scene, they might not be connected in any way at all, but there’s history there. When you meet, you remember that go-kart race that you could never win and seeing your dad on the sidelines being slightly disappointed that you never won. Having all that is just helpful. No one needs to know it. It’s just for you.
CS: Do you and Aaron Paul have a chance to sync up those backstories or does it not really matter for the end result?
Cooper: Yeah, always, and Scott Waugh as well. Before he was a director, he was a very successful stuntman and he went to acting school as well. He understands what the process is. He understands that it needs to be talked about.
CS: There’s something fantastic about you as a star and I think it’s a testament to your talents, but it seems like you move rather effortlessly between hero and villain roles.
Cooper: Yeah, that’s great. I think a lot of people can do that, you just have to be careful with not being one too much. Then people can only see you as that. If you have played someone extraordinarily villainous, your face can get associated with that. But it’s also about a certain look. It’s quite frightening, actually, to be offered these villain roles. It means you must look slightly terrifying or that you’re capable of looking quite evil. But it’s great fun to be able to play someone with that many layers. Often you’re playing a scene and you’re saying one thing, but you’re thinking something completely the opposite. Your intent in that scene is something completely different from what you’re playing, and that’s really fun to play against.
CS: You’re also all over the map in terms of film genres and types of projects. Is that variety something that you’ve very consciously sought out?
Cooper: Yeah, because that’s all we have. I’d go mad if I wasn’t doing something very different each time. Sometimes you’re not capable of it, but you have to challenge yourself. Sometimes people don’t like you entering a different world. They don’t see you there. You have to be prepared to fail at it. Some people don’t like that. It has to do with what you enjoy. You have to challenge yourself. That’s why people change their jobs and move on or hope to travel. I think we are very wired for change. To move around and to shift. That’s why I did it in the first place, to play a series of lunatics. To put a mirror up to the human condition and to be able to represent all those different humans that we are surrounded by constantly. It’s very fun to go and watch every single one of us. We’re all very different. I think that that’s the challenge and that’s what fun, to create that disbelief in others and to become someone that you’re not.
CS: Somewhat contrary to that, though, is the fact that you’ve got a number of different potential franchises building. In addition to “Need for Speed,” you’re very much a part of the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe as Howard Stark and now you’re heading to Duncan Jones’ “Warcraft.”
Cooper: It’s very exciting. Funnily enough, the actual characters that I am in all of those make it quite complicated as to how I can actually return. There’s always a bit of a complication to them, which I like. It’s very exciting the possibility of bringing back Howard Stark. I’m sure that, sooner or later, there will be a way and they’ll work out a way that it can happen. I’ve also experienced recently going back on stage and doing something I haven’t done in ten years. It was an anniversary of the National Theater. I got back together and did a play with a group of guys in 2000 and it came back like it was yesterday. That’s fun. That was saying the same lines again, because it’s written and done. To have new lines for something that you’re that embedded in terms of the character is terribly exciting. There’s no end to what you can achieve with that. The more the years go by, you don’t forget who that person is. You switch right back into it.
CS: Do you find yourself looking at roles you’ve done in the past and thinking that you’d play the part very differently now?
Cooper: Yeah, but you just can’t. You have to believe that, at that moment in time, you made all those decisions for the right reasons. Of course, I think everyone goes, “I don’t believe it. I shouldn’t have acted in that certain way.” But it’s where you were. You have to have faith that you did the right thing at the right time. You can’t look back. It would be a nightmare.
CS: Do you have a particular sort of dream role?
Cooper: I’d just like to do something as extreme again as my character in “The Devil’s Double.” I want to go into something again with that kind of chaos and madness. I love going into something and letting it completely take over while still making it my own, going to any lengths to really lose myself in a character without any framework. That’s what I really look forward to doing again.