Dominic Cooper stars in “Reasonable Doubt,” an exciting cat-and-mouse thriller opening January 17th directed by Peter Croudins from a screenplay by Peter Dowling. When up-and-coming Chicago District Attorney Mitch Brockden (Cooper) commits a fatal hit-and-run, he feels compelled to manipulate the case to acquit the accused criminal (Samuel Jackson) who was blamed for the crime. Following the trial, Mitch’s worst fears come true when he realizes that his actions freed a guilty man and he finds himself on the hunt for the killer before there are more victims.
In an exclusive interview, Cooper talked about what attracted him to the project, his research and preparation for the role, what it was like working with first-time director Croudins, playing opposite Jackson whom he admires tremendously as an actor, shooting on location in Winnipeg, why he looks forward to playing diverse roles, and the cool upcoming projects he’s excited for audiences to see including “Fleming,” a four-part BBC mini-series on 007 creator Ian Fleming, “Dracula Untold,” “Need for Speed,” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”
QUESTION: Can you talk a little about how this project came together for you and how you became involved?
DOMINIC COOPER: I read the script quite early on and then met with the director, and I just found it to be a very thrilling piece of work that kept you guessing. It was an interesting and very different character from anyone I had played before. I liked having to do the research for the court case scenes and then about the differences between the system here (in the U.S.) in court and the one in England. I loved the moral dilemmas that all the characters find themselves in and the very gray area of morality and the spontaneous decisions that we make and sometimes regret so hugely because we make the wrong choices to protect our own being and our family and our loved ones, and how we always seem to put them, of course, before others. With these films of this genre, they have to be clever enough to tantalize the audience but not to let them know too much of what is going on. When I heard that Sam Jackson was playing that role, I thought it was just perfect because he could emulate that very delicate and kind of broken nature of the man that we see at first. We have to believe that he is truly innocent. And then, to go to turn that on its head and become this very dangerous aggressor, I thought was just brilliant.
Q: You mentioned researching the court system. Was there any special preparation that you did for the role?
COOPER: Yeah. I know some barristers in England so I spoke to them at length about whether a lot of it was correct, because often when something like this is written for drama sake, some of the intricacies of it are wrong. I found it incredible how similar they are to actors, and how they have to perform, and how they have to convince, and how similar their job is to ours, and just the lives that they lead in terms of the people that they are surrounded by so often. To put yourself in a position where you are protecting criminals who more often than not you know are guilty is an extraordinary position and done through I suppose wanting fairness in the judicial system which is quite amazing to me.
Q: How did you find it working with Peter Croudins who’s a first time director?
COOPER: It was great. He was fantastic. He had a great knowledge of how actors need to prepare and the time that they need and the focus they need in any given situation. It’s very, very tough to make a film of this nature in the amount of time that he had. Under that pressure, as long as there’s always a focus towards actually what’s needed to be achieved within those scenes is all credit to them. I’m always in awe of directors because they’re just holding so much stuff in the air. They’ve got so many decisions that they need to be making and they have to have the complete overall look of what this piece of artwork is. They’re piecing it all together but they have to have the whole arc of everything, and certainly with something like this which is quite complicated at each stage where each character is in terms of what their objective is at any given time, especially with a court room scene. They’re quite complex scenes and he was just brilliant at pulling that apart and reconstructing it and making a very exciting thriller.
Q: How was it playing opposite Samuel Jackson, especially with the intensity and physicality that was required? Does the fact that you’ve worked with him before help?
COOPER: I think knowing him. I’ve always admired him massively as an actor and loved his work and knowing how brilliant he would be in this part was tremendously exciting. But what’s wonderful is that you just know you have someone with that much experience on a set where there may be less. He’s the person with the most amount of experience on that set. He’s done more films than anyone else, so you have to trust him and that he knows and that he can lead the way. With regard to action sequences and things like that, he’s done more than anyone. What it comes down to is when you’re in a scene with another actor, you are sitting there and you’re looking in each other’s eyes and you’re reacting and responding to what each of you are giving one another. And then you know and you feel completely safe and you’re at liberty to do as you please and to take quite big risks with your characterization. He was absolutely all those things I could have imagined and more.
Q: What was it like shooting on location in Canada where Winnipeg stood in for Chicago?
COOPER: We were in Winnipeg most of the time. That was a wonderful city and they really looked after us wonderfully and treated us really, really well. You couldn’t have asked for more. When you’re using a different location for an alternative one, you need people in the system within that city to direct you and lead you in the right direction and that know the absolute ins and outs of that place. There were some wonderful people in Winnipeg who have looked after the film world, who really want to bring in more work there and they took extremely good care of us.
Q: In retrospect, is there anything you wish you’d known when you first came onto the project?
COOPER: Looking back at the outcome of the project now, there always are things that you look at that you wish maybe you had chosen a different way in which to portray a certain emotion or something like that. But you must believe in your own instincts and your own instincts at any particular time and believe that they were the right ones for any given situation. So, there’s no point ever of kind of regretting something because you can’t properly remember the exact circumstances in which you were playing out this particular scene. You have to believe in your intuition and your instinct at that moment.
Q: You have a lot of cool projects coming up. Which ones are you most excited to have fans and audiences see?
COOPER: There have been lots and they’ve been very varied. In “Fleming,” I play Ian Fleming which will be out on BBC America in January who I loved portraying. There’s a lot of information about him. There was a lot of reading material to create a really diverse, interesting three-dimensional character. I’m very excited for people to see that four-part series. I just finished “Dracula,” and “Need for Speed” is looking really cool. There have been very mixed pieces of work and I’ve really enjoyed the diversity of them, and hopefully that will continue and I can pick very, very different roles.
Q: What about “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”?
COOPER: I’ve done what I needed to do. It’s not necessarily for that particular production, but it is for something either at the beginning of it or at the end of something else. I can’t say much about that.
Q: Are there directors out there that you would love to work with or a genre you’d like to work in that you haven’t before?
COOPER: There are all sorts. I never quite place exactly the people I want to, but there are so many tempting directors out there. Definitely what’s missing more than anything from the work I’ve been doing is a fair bit of comedy. That is certainly somewhere where I started out and what I really enjoyed doing when I first got into it, so maybe a bit more in that area.
Q: Any plans to get back on the stage and do something in the theater?
COOPER: There might be. Yes. I need to. I really fancy getting back on the stage again so maybe next year. I have to look for the right piece to do either in New York or the West End.