Whether he’s co-founding S.H.I.E.L.D., training former presidents to hunt down the undead, or oozing evil from every pore while sitting behind the wheel of a $500,000 luxury spots care, Dominic Cooper is fast becoming one of the go-to actors for high-octane genre cinema. With upcoming roles in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Warcraft, and a rumored part on the Agent Carter series, the charming British actor is becoming a staple amongst Comic-Con-ready properties. Recently, I had a chance to sit down with Cooper before the Need For Speed premiere in Los Angeles where we discussed the specialty sneaker market, driving like a maniac in Need For Speed, what draws him to these genre roles, and much more.
Dominic Cooper: I really like your trainers. Where did you get them?
Nerdist: eBay, actually. I used to own a pair in 2007, but I wore them into the ground. I had to use eBay because they only made a certain amount of them.
DC: How much did you pay for [them on] eBay?
N: I paid $60, which was around what I was willing to pay.
DC: Do you remember Reebok Pumps?
N: Of course, yes! They even brought them back. They’re making new ones.
DC: Oh, really?
N: They’re making designer editions now, because there’s a huge market for throwback sneakers.
DC: You get addicted to that.
N: Exactly! I know.
DC: “Oh, I remember those! ’82 Michael Jordans.”
N: Yeah. [laughs] It was a bit of a problem, I was running out of closet space. I had to limit myself a bit.
N: So, I saw the film and it was one of those things where when I left the theater last night, I was like, “Oh shit, I can’t drive like a maniac. That was onscreen.” They put that disclaimer in for a reason! Did the experience affect you at all as a driver? Do you find you’re more confident now? Are you like, “I can take that turn!”?
DC: Ha! I’ve always loved driving. I mean, that’s always been a massive passion of mine, always, since I could remember. It’s all I ever really wanted to do. But yeah, there’s a temptation once you have been with professionals and learned properly how to handle a car. I was very tempted to just start using my handbrake almost…
N: Oh, of course!
DC: But you just have to go, “That is really stupid and can only lead to disaster.” And you do – you just go, you know what? If you really want to, you can go a track where you can do that thing. You can’t do that sort of stuff; You also learn how quickly things can go wrong. How unbelievably dangerous it is.
N: I feel like the issue is more like, you might know what you’re doing, but everyone else doesn’t know what they’re doing.
N: And that is definitely the case here in Los Angeles.
DC: Yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s everywhere. Every major city, you are constantly amused by what people are capable – how little people have any inclination of what’s going on around them.
N: Some of these people should never be allowed to see a car, let alone get behind the wheel of one.
DC: I’m still amazed that people are allowed to take this huge chunk of metal…
N: Right? [laughs]
DC: They have this mirror that is pointing towards their face, just to do the make-up or to do whatever they’re going to do to their face. And the texting that goes on now!
N: It’s horrifying!
DC: I’m just, like, I can’t quite believe on the freeways, what I see.
N: I saw a gentleman reading a novel, and I….
N: Yeah! And I was like, this has to be a joke! This has to be a joke.
DC: That’s what worries me. I wonder, is that a lack of understanding what can possible wrong in any given moment. How it takes 1 millisecond for the whole thing to become a catastrophe.
N: I think it’s just a profound lack of self-awareness.
DC: Yeah, it just really heightens-it really heightens how self-important people feel they are in cars.
N: Yeah, you feel like you’re invincible.
DC: People feel like they’re invincible-they have no acknowledgement of anyone else. It’s quite astonishing.
N: Yeah, it’s mildly terrifying.
DC: It is, actually.
N: And speaking of mildly terrifying as I segue this back into this movie, did you also have to go through a rigorous sort of stunt driving crash course, for lack of a better term?
DC: Yeah, well, we did, yeah. We went out to a track and it was such good fun! I just loved every bit of it! We just learned how to skid into a stop, how to donut the car – all those sorts of things. But they will end up being in a safe way, when there are cameras, when there are people, when there are crew around. But the truth was, even as we had those early conversations about how this would be filmed for real, and it would definitely be us driving them a lot of the time, it was never going to be us, really driving the cars at full speed. Near the end of the race, it just wasn’t going to be the case. So we had a lot of fun doing it, but it was naïve to think it would ever be us. But I loved all that stuff.
N: Cool. It definitely looks awesome up on screen. I feel like this is the kind of film that you have to see up on a big screen.
N: Just to really appreciate some of those breathtaking moments. Your character had this sort of like modern Snidely Whiplash quality, which I really liked. He was decidedly villainous. He’s a bad guy – he’s very slick, but he’s a bad guy. I’m wondering if there’s something – do you prefer playing these characters with a villainous side to them?
DC: I just get asked to play them. It’s always a big worry. But you do have a lot of fun playing them, because you’re playing in opposition to what you’re revealing, which is always fun. So you’re saying something to a character on screen, you’re thinking something completely different, and the audience is implicit in that, in that they know, they’re kind of understanding what is behind your thinking. They know you’ve got a business falling to pieces, for example, yet the person who you’re in the scene with doesn’t, so there were lots of layers to be.
You still have to make it – and I read that guy, read about him and saw what he was capable of, and found that I could no sympathy or empathy for anything, any of his decisions, but yeah, I had to find a route in – I had to work out why he was prepared to do this. To just create something that I could at least acknowledge where it all stemmed from. And that’s satisfying in itself. You know you are there with necessity. You know that you are there to heighten your hero, innovate him into this.
N: Yeah, you need to give them an appropriate foil to throw them into sharp relief.
DC: Exactly. But you still can have a lot of fun with it.
N: Of course!
DC: You still must realize that’s actually our job within this huge, elaborate car race scene, with these incredible, high-performance, very expensive vehicles around the country, and that’s what people are looking for. That needs to be supported by content and story and relationships.
N: Yeah. You need to care about who is inside the vehicle.
DC: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah.
N: So tell me a little bit about working with director Scott Waugh. I know he has a stunt background, which I would imagine is something that you would want in a director, especially with a production like this.
DC: Yes. I thought he – I loved what he was saying about how he wanted to shoot it, and I loved that he just missed watching car racing, how he remembered his dad’s – the films that his dad worked on and was in. And I loved that he knew exactly what he was doing, and how he was going to shoot it.
What I was really mesmerized by – and amazed that other directors don’t do something so simple – was that at the beginning of each day, he’d bring everyone together, and just explain what he needed to achieve. Because it was so dangerous, but it made everyone feel that whatever they were doing was completely relevant and very important that everyone got it right, and everyone would do anything for him. And having that support and that focus was priceless, and I’ve never seen anyone have that kind of support from the entirety.
N: That’s nice.
DC: It was amazing, and everyone was doing it. You just watch that and go, what does it take? 15 minutes?
N: Yeah, exactly. Just get everyone on the same page.
DC: Instead of being this sort of misty figure in the distance.
N: Just lurking behind the monitor.
DC: Yeah, go talk to everyone. They’re all here. They’re all here to do a job, and they all want to do the job to the best of their ability, and he completely and utterly got that out of them, and that’s what made – because the stunts were terrifying to watch, and those guys were putting their lives completely at risk, every time they got into a tin can surrounded by explosives. And there was something quite mesmerizing about the silence and the focus that took hold over there, like we were moving into the forest, and they would hug each other, and they would go in and you knew, every time they did this, it could be – because it happens. Daily, those cars were traveling at those speeds, and at a certain point, a car had to hit that car at exactly that time, to set off an explosion that flipped the car – I can’t believe it. These people are mental.
N: Yeah. [laughs]
DC: They are a different breed.
N: They definitely have a certain boldness of character that you’ve got to admire.
N: So between films like the Captain America franchise, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Warcraft, and Need for Speed, it seems like you’re doing a lot of projects, genre projects that kind of make the rounds of Comic-Con. Are these projects that you seek out? Are they something that appeal to you more than others, or are you taking them on a role-to-role basis?
DC: I don’t know why it has happened that they seem to have been there when I have been available, and I have been excited by them. It’s absolutely not a choice of – I was in a position where I only did it from reading the scripts, where they were really exciting and I would love to be a part of them.
DC: And you have a huge responsibility to – often the fan base already exists, and they’re cool films! They’re fun! They’re great fun to watch. Of course I’d love to be doing a black-and-white artistic piece set in the outback of Iceland, and which I hope to continue to do in between them. But these movies are exhilarating fun to watch, and they certainly – Warcraft, the movie, is a really exciting story.
N: I am super excited about that because I played those games for years and years.
DC: Yeah, yeah. And so it has to be something very, very special. They tapped into Duncan Jones as the director.
N: A brilliant choice. I was so excited when that news broke that he was going to be tackling this.
DC: It will be really – it will be something very special, I hope.
N: Is there anything you can tell us about your role at all?
DC: I can’t say anything.
N: OK, I know. I had to ask.
DC: I can’t. We had a memo. I was prepared to talk almost all about it extensively.
N: Yeah! [laughs] “You guys aren’t going to believe what happens!”
DC: Yeah, I think they just want to be really careful with how they release the information. I think especially because it has such a huge fan base, it’s going very, very well. What I’ve seen looks amazing and wonderful to feel like you’re – and the guys who created the game, you’ve watched them coming to set and watch them be in awe of this. For this to have been in their brains for however many years, you feel very proud and privileged to be part of it.
N: Yeah, exactly. Especially because it had such a robust online community, all over the world.
DC: 60 million online at any one time sometimes.
N: Are you a gamer?
DC: No, like that? No. I had to – you should probably try to stop yourself from doing it, because you do find that your life is ebbing away, even with Need for Speed, I went back to play. I got involved in it again, because I hadn’t for so many years. And I could sit in front of that for just days.
N: [laughs] Yeah.
DC: It’s such good fun! So I have to just stop myself. I just can’t. I just can’t.
N: Yeah, it can be a real time sink.
DC: Not if I want to achieve anything in life.
N: I know Captain America: The Winter Soldier is coming up around the corner. I was very excited to hear that you would be back for that, because I really liked seeing you as Howard Stark. It’s important to see the hero’s past so you can understand them and how they came to be in the present. Can you tell us how big is your role?
DC: There’s a bit of confusion – we were filming a short film, and I think they were doing a little flashback scene, where you see the character.
DC: We’re not very present, because we’re frozen. But we will be, but they mention a way in which they can possibly come back. And I’m terribly excited to imagine that there is a possibility. I think – I’d love it. I even given up opportunities to do that short film, it’s so much fun.
N: Awesome. That’s cool. I have one more question. What would be inside your ideal burrito?
DC: Inside my ideal burrito? Do I have to have a normal burrito?
N: It’s your ideal, man.
DC: I guess something very hot. What’s in there normally?
N: You might get some rice, some beans, some cheese, a protein.
DC: It’s a tough one. I don’t – some sort of – something that would be good. Kangaroo!
N: Kangaroo sounds tasty.
DC: It’s not tasty. It’s horrible.
N: It has the consistency of steak but the taste of chicken.
DC: Can’t you make something up? Something hot. A hot fish.
N: Seafood burrito? Nice. They’re tasty.
DC: A seafood burrito – very spicy.
You can catch Dominic Cooper in Need For Speed in theaters now. Then, read Witney’s review and let us know what you think.