Although Dominic Cooper is best known for playing sunny characters in films like Mamma Mia!, his role on AMC's Preacher gives him the opportunity to explore his dark side. And that's just one of the perks of having a career in TV today. Here, the 40-year-old British actor explains how he went from the London stage to two of Hollywood's most divergent projects—and why he will always love Ferris Bueller's Day Off.
Did you always want to be an actor?
No, I didn't always want to be an actor. When I realized there was little else opportunity for me when I was at school, I fell into the drama department and discovered something that I did have a passion for, and luckily they were very good at the time so they managed to get me involved in the school productions. One of which was Cabaret. I played the emcee. It was quite a fun production, and then those teachers knew certainly more than I did about the possibilities of it being a career and the possibilities of it going to drama school. I didn't know anything about that and luckily I managed to apply for a drama school the day before all the applications were due, and I managed to get into one. There was only one in the end because I had left it all too late, like everything.
And so that changed your life, no?
Yeah. I suppose so. The director of the play I did directly out of drama school was Nicholas Hytner. I did two plays with him, and then Philip Pullman's Dark Materials and a Mark Ravenhill play. Then straight after that came History Boys. That was so all extraordinary lucky. Then I suppose I got involved in the film world via History Boys, which also became a film.
Actually, I haven't spent much time in New York since History Boys was on Broadway. I've maybe been here once or twice, so every time I come back into the city I do have very fond memories of that particular time and I'm always very aware of how lucky and how quickly that propelled the group of boys into the world of television and film. We didn't really know how lucky we were, to live in New York and be in a hit on Broadway. There's nothing more magical than that,
Tell me about your new show, Preacher. How did that role come about?
Preacher is based on a very dark comic book, with a lot of humor to break up the darkness. I wasn’t a comic book kid, but I know someone who had a brother who wore black leather jackets, had a lot of piercings, and would never come out of his bedroom. We once broke into that boy’s room, and he had Preacher.
When I heard about the script, I looked at the comic again. On one of the covers, I saw this drawing of a head. I saw a demonic, demented, psychotic person staring back at my face, and I thought, That’s sort of me.
Seth Rogen is one of the producers of Preacher. When I went to meet him, he had huge hair and a massive beard. He was in a haze of marijuana smoke. He was trying to explain to me that the show would have people with assholes as faces and other people would sort of have sex with meat. I thought, No—this isn’t for me, thanks. But, obviously, I had inhaled so much of what they were having that I was mesmerized. I signed up straightaway. And I'm not regretting it. Now it's three years in, could be seven.
When you play a dark character like this, does it effect you? Do you carry him home with you?
No. It does with some projects, but not so much with this. It can because you're that person so often, more often than you are yourself, I suppose, if you're doing 14-hour days and the turnaround is so quick. You're in front of the camera all the time, and you're just being that person. With my character [in Preacher], he is very conflicted. He’s half good and half evil, and the reason that entity can retain itself within him is because that is what he is. He has exactly that from his childhood and from the damage caused by the death of his parents.
He is full of hatred and bile and anger, but is also a very godly person who's desperately trying to redeem the wrongs of their past. The things that he does, even to the people he loves, can be malicious and ill-natured. It’s really fun to play.
What were your favorite TV shows growing up?
Knight Rider, Magnum, A-Team. I also liked Twin Peaks, the original Twin Peaks.
What about movies? Which movies made the biggest impression on you as a kid?
Weird Science. I am a big John Hughes fan. I liked Ferris Bueller's Day Off; Trains, Planes and Automobiles; and Back to the Future. Seeing Ferris Bueller drive my favorite car in the world, having the day off school...I know they're really obvious to say, but that was when I first started going to the cinema. They weren't the films that had a massive impact. I remember watching early Mike Leigh films and finding them much more emotional. I think that's what ultimately, along with plays and things, got me wanting and realizing the impact that this could have on people as an art form.
What kind of car is your favorite?
It's a Ferrari California, which was the first Ferrari—I found this out only yesterday—that Mr. Ferrari was pushed into making, because he was a racing driver, for the American public, and they were going to buy cars because he needs to make more money for Ferrari. I can't believe that's true, but apparently it is. That's why it's called California. It's stunning.
What do you drive now?
An old Austin-Healey Sprite. An Austin-Healey has got a little bit more delicate grill and bumper, but it's like a miniature version of that Ferrari. When I originally had one about ten years ago, it was my pretend thing to be Ferris Bueller.