Tonight marks a momentous occasion when BBC America‘s first original series, Copper, makes its debut. Back in the spring, I had the chance to visit Copper‘s breathtaking Toronto set and chat with star Tom Weston-Jones, who plays the lead character, Detective Kevin Corcoran. Here are some highlights from our conversation!
This is quite the set. I’m guessing that filming on such an elaborate set helps with your performance.
Oh absolutely. Acting and film is really all about being able to block everything out. Of course you should be aware of the camera, but there’s about 30 people in a room you’re trying to ignore when trying to make an intimate moment. You should be aware of your performance to the camera, but you shouldn’t really have anything distracting you. With this [set], half of that work is already kind of done because you really don’t have to imagine all that much.
Why don’t you tell us a bit about your character and the neighbourhood where this all takes place?
Well, Five Points is kind of the place that everyone talks about. Since Gangs of New York, that’s what people relate it to. That’s where the show is based, and its through my character’s experiences and eyes, that’s what the audience gets to see this world. And it’s not only necessarily Five Points, it’s the whole of New York. The way I put it is that is show is about this place that’s bubbling with potential but also with potential destruction. The place could fall to its knees incredibly easily, and that was a real idea around the end of the Civil War, during the Civil War, nobody really knew what was coming next, what was around the corner for America. That’s kind of where the show is. What I love about the show is it has this grand, arching story which is about my character’s pursuit of the truth in terms of finding out information about his wife who’s disappeared. Where the story picks up, he’s in search of any information he can get on his wife’s disappearance and his daughter, she’s dead and he doesn’t know if she’s been killed or if she died naturally, he just doesn’t know. That’s his obsession. I don’t want to say that every week’s a new case because it’s not a procedural. The whole thing is very much entwined. You’ll definitely get stories that stand alone, there will be new things to see every week but the story constantly moves forward. The show begins when he first starts getting small bits of information and will eventually explode.
From what I understand, historically, this was a time of corruption and bribery. Is the theme of your character trying to uphold the law in this climate going to come into play at all?
I think that the idea of corruption is played with in this. Even the people you’d consider to be the heroic types in the show do some very morally questionable things. It’s kind of like shifting the goalposts of what you consider to be right or wrong. The reason why I love my character so much is because so many of the things he does are really not that nice. You can call them into question.
You mentioned Gangs of New York. Did you have any knowledge of the time period besides that film going into this series?
It was very new to me. I did some research before hand when I did the audition just to get a bit of a flavour to it. Other than that, when I found out I got it, I was kind of naive about the American Civil War and Five Points, and New York in general. That’s another thing I love about acting. You’ll always get to dive into these things that you wouldn’t normally know about. I really find American history fascinating – I always have – but especially doing this because everything seems so rich and immediate and quick. Everything seems to spiral out of control very quickly. The show really picks up on that kind of anticipation of things tumbling out of control, it’s what the show is founded on. There’s a constant fear of things going wrong. The people involved in this story are just trying to make the best out of what they have.
How does police life compare to spy life?
(Laughs) Besides the costumes? And that Spooks was modern day – or MI-5 as you call it here? It’s very different. I loved filming Spooks, I really enjoyed it, and I was only in the last series (season) so I feel like I plonked on the end of this amazingly successful train and had a really good time doing it. It’s totally different to [Copper]. The scale – and I’m not saying that Spooks was anything small and not worthy, I think Spooks is a fantastic show and has a huge following, and I learned a hell of a lot on it, getting to know Peter Firth, he’s a great actor and a really good man as well, he’s a lot of fun, and Nicola Walker, too, and Alice Krige who played my mother in it, loved it. I guess what I learned from that is maybe being a bit more relaxed because I’ve only been out of drama school a couple of years so it’s all still quite new to me, and a little bit scary at times.
This is the first original series that BBC America is producing, so to be a part of this must be exciting for you. Plus, Tom Fontana is a TV legend in that he broke the mould in a way with TV dramas as we know them today. As a viewer, Spooks was always one of those series where I’d think to myself that I couldn’t believe they “went there” and took major risks, whereas US and Canadian series tend to toe that line.
In that way, there is a similarity between Copper and Spooks in the fact that we never know who’s going to go when, and that’s an interesting thing because the scripts come out when they’re finished and a hundred percent complete. We started this having only read the first two or three, so every time we got a script, people would flip through it and I think that’s the same in Spooks, you’re just hungry to find out what happens. And in filming like that, I really quite enjoy it because like most people, you don’t know what’s around the corner for you.
It must be challenging in a good way when you don’t quite know what you’re working toward.
Well, the best way about filming like that is all the actors that you are doing a scene with are all open people, and we’re all very humble, so we’re capable of making sure one person gets what they want from a scene and the other gets what [they want]. We like to work together through that, and there’s no ego to that, we’re all trying to make this as good as we can and as realistic as we can.
There are several period dramas on right now, some of which are more recent history and play a bit on nostalgia. How does this fit in with those?
A lot of the historical pieces, I find, there’s a lot of nudity and killing. Blood, guts and gore. A lot of the time, I think it has to do with titillation rather than anything else. Everything in [Copper] exists in a very real world. All of it is for the right reasons. I don’t think the show romanticizes the period – it tries to punch you with it.
Is there anything that you want to leave our readers with, that you’re looking forward to them seeing in Copper?
I was thinking about this the other day, and I’m really excited for them to recognize Toronto as a place that’s got a huge pool of talent. Coming in and being a series regular, I’m in pretty much every day, which is hard work but it’s fantastic. Then you get some actors who are from Toronto and they come in for the day, and I have no idea how they do it. I’d be so scared walking into this set not having done months of work. The amount of people that they’ve had on here have been fantastic and just really well cast.
The series premiere of Copper is on BBC America tonight at 10/9c. Canadian viewers will have to wait one more week until Sunday, August 26th at 9pm for its debut on Showcase.
Photo Courtesy of BBC America