NEW FACES

Nesta Cooper Is a Fangirl at Heart


Self portrait by Nesta Cooper for W Magazine.

Nesta Cooper wonders if, in another lifetime, she could have been an athlete instead of an actress. Not because of any particular sports aptitude—it’s just in her nature to work hard. “I’m a very all-in kind of person,” she told me via Zoom one afternoon this summer, calling from Toronto. “If I feel like I could be good at something, I’ll work at it until I am very good.”

Cooper became obsessed with acting from a young age, working hard until she actualized her dream and made it her job. Her dad, however, did want her to be a track and field star. “He taught track and field and he’s Jamaican, so he was like, my Jamaican daughter is going to be a runner,” she said with a laugh. “He tried to train me, but as soon as I decided I wanted to do film and television, I threw all that to the wind.”

Perhaps some of that training stuck, though. Plus, the idea of Cooper being an athlete isn’t that far out—the role she plays now is a physically taxing one. On the Apple TV+ drama series See, she’s in the Canadian wilderness as Haniwa, a girl who has the ability to see in a post-apocalyptic 21st-century world where the surviving humans have lost their sight. “I’m more drawn to intensely physical roles, which is [funny] because I wasn’t a super athletic kid,” Cooper said. “I was more of a theater, arty, gawky kid who watched a ton of anime.”

Appearing on screen alongside big names like Alfre Woodard and Jason Momoa, Cooper has now gained the perspective and wisdom of a veteran in the industry. It’s helped her see her character through an empathetic lens as well. “This season, Haniwa is coming to the conclusion that she’s not trying to hide her sight, she has a gift,” Cooper explained. “What she has to wrestle with is that other people aren’t going to find it to be a gift. Other people are either going to try to exploit it or they’re going to hate her for it. But I think she refuses to feel oppressed.”

“She’s just very young and naive in a way that I can completely identify with, but I’m finding as I get older it is harder for me to remember thinking that way,” Cooper went on. “I understand her and empathize with her because she’s incredibly misunderstood by her family. Her ideas come from the right place and she may not be very good at putting those ideas into practice yet, but I’m proud of her for trying.”

Since the show premiered in 2019, it was renewed for a second season, which will be available on Apple TV+ starting August 27, and a subsequent third season. The show’s success has also positioned Cooper to amass tens of thousands of followers on Instagram, which shocked the actress at first, making her think she needed to respond to every single comment to make sure each fan felt heard and seen. “Before I even started acting professionally, I was first and foremost a huge fan. I was always fangirling over actors, musicians, shows. I was on Tumblr. I was in it,” she said.

But lately—partially because the pandemic has forced her to slow down and reflect—Cooper has been trying to give herself a little bit of an Internet break when she can. “The majority of actors I look up to don’t read reviews, don’t read comments on their posts,” she said. “I’m starting to get to that point, but the second season of See could come out and we could get a whole bunch of new fans and people who want to talk about it. I wouldn’t want to ignore anyone who comments on the show or asks questions about it.”

Self portrait by Nesta Cooper for W Magazine.

Offline, Cooper has found herself in a calmer, more confident state of mind thanks to recent developments in her closet. Before the pandemic, she was often out and about wearing garments from Thom Browne and Chanel, establishing herself as a certified fashion girl. “With fashion, I can create different characters,” she said. “It wasn’t accessible to me before because I couldn’t afford it and I wasn’t in those spaces. Now that I’ve had a couple of years with it, I can fall into the artistic part of it and ask, what do these clothes mean and how do they feel on me? What do I want to say with it?”

“I think a lot of my self-confidence comes from saying I’m going to do something and then actually doing it, over and over again until I can trust myself. It’s translating into my more artistic endeavors,” she said while reflecting on ups and downs that many actors faced this past year. “With fashion, I want to be more bold and with acting, I want to create more characters and do things I wouldn’t have done a couple of years ago. I’m feeling hopeful that I may be getting my mojo back.”