Dominic Cooper has been on the acting scene for years, with his turn as Amanda Seyfried’s fiancé in 2008’s Mamma Mia! solidly planting the British actor in the hearts of filmgoers. But it was his subsequent appearances alongside Keira Knightley in The Duchess and Carey Mulligan in An Education, his unforgettable turn as rock star Ben in 2010’s Tamara Drewe and his dual roles as Saddam Hussein’s son and his unfortunate double in last year’s The Devil’s Double that proved he has the chops to remain there.
As Tony Stark’s father Howard in Captain America: The First Avenger, Cooper has officially made it onto Hollywood’s radar – and his role as Henry Sturgess, cool and collected undead confidant in director Timur Bekmambetov’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, ensures that we’ll be seeing much more of him. We sat down with Cooper in New York City to discuss the bruises and, yes, bites endured while on set, his steampunk-style wardrobe, and the possibility of a flashback cameo in Captain America 2.
Happy birthday, by the way – even though it was back on June 2. Better late than never. Did you do anything fun?
Why thank you very much! I did — I had lots of fun. I wasn’t meant to have a lot of fun, but I ended up having stupid amounts of fun. I’m working in Philadelphia, and I came here and met a bunch of friends, and I thought I was going for dinner — the place is called Le Bain. It turned out to be a club with a swimming pool in it.
Did you end up in the swimming pool?
Of course! Of course I did!
Well, Henry is my favorite character in Seth Grahame-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter book. Did you read it before you did the movie?
Yeah, I did. Absolutely. And I loved the character, everything about him. And that was kind of what I desperately wanted to get across in the film, but I think I kind of misjudged in a way. I didn’t quite get right the tone of the film. It was very interesting seeing Timur coming up with that at the time, and it’s become much darker — in a good way. And I think I made Henry too light and flamboyant, even though he had that dark side to him.
I don’t think so! He seems like a fun character to play, but he certainly had his own agenda. He’s no hero.
No, he’s terrible! He’s doing everything selfishly and for his own benefit — and for revenge. So yeah, he changes dramatically. I loved his complexities. And yes, you are playing a vampire in a genre film, but you have this wonderfully well-written, multi-layered character that you can kind of relate to and understand why he’s doing what he’s doing. It all kind of made sense in seeing his elaborate house and the kind of chaos that he lived in.
Tell me you kept a pair of those awesome steampunk-style goggle sunglasses you were always wearing.
I wasn’t allowed to! They’re really rare, all those goggles! They were really cool. I think they’re from some of the original early sunglasses made. They were beautiful, they were really delicate. I tried to steal them, but they kept making sure they got them back. It was important that he had a style and a certain eccentricity and a ludicrous coif.
Did you bring any of those style elements in yourself?
I wanted him to have a sort of punk, huge coif with shaved sides, but I thought it’s got to exist in some sort of era, a little bit.
I loved the training sequences with you and Benjamin [Walker, who plays Lincoln]. Did you guys train together off-camera for those?
[laughs] Yeah, we did.
Did you guys get competitive trying to one-up each other during training?
There was no competitiveness because he was just so much better at it than me. I got there slightly later than him, by which time he was so advanced in his ax-wielding that I thought, “Oh this is cool. I’ll get the hang of this.” Uh, really really difficult. What he does with that ax is really tough, because I tried for a long time, and I got to a point — when I saw Timur’s face when I first showed him what I had achieved with my ax work, it was funny.
Rufus [Sewell, who plays the lead vampire villain] mentioned that he lodged a tooth in you. Did you also get hit with the ax? Is it going to be like the scene in Jaws with you on every film set from here on out, showing people your Abraham Lincoln scars?
[laughs] Yeah! He did — he left his tooth in my cheek! It was not pleasant, but not as dangerous as we’re probably making out. With the fight scenes — again, with Timur, unless it’s absolutely as he wants it, he’ll get rid of it and change it, which is great, but you can get quite frustrated because you learned this huge piece of choreography. … It’s really hard to learn fight moves in your head. I suppose it’s quite similar to dancing, you just have to learn the sequence and try and memorize them.
You’ve done theater work, as well. What’s more exhausting, shooting these intense action sequences or having the stamina for a stage piece?
It’s all dependent, really. Fight sequences are hard, but they don’t last. It’s strength and it’s looking after yourself and it’s making sure you work tremendously hard. But you can also be comfortable in the knowledge that you can get the stunt double to step in and rescue you. Which I always, always end up doing! [laughs]
So have you heard any news about Captain America 2? Maybe you’ll get in on some flashbacks?
Please, yes! There should definitely be some flashbacks! Haven’t quite heard anything.
I think we’ll need to incept that into Anthony and Joe Russo’s minds.
I think we might have to. I think that’s a very good idea.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter opens Friday nationwide.