BBG Presents: Oliver Coopersmith

14 September 2017

Photographer Caoimhe Hahn
Fashion Abena Ofei
Interview and words Hedvig Werner

An evil character is often a dream come true for an actor - the joy of playing someone at the complete opposite side of the spectrum from oneself deems enticing. There is something intriguing about the intensity that a great actor can potentially reach with such a character at hand, but it must be emotionally draining. Actor Oliver Coopersmith has a handful of streneous roles under his belt, but photographer Caoimhe Hahn is able to capture a part of Oliver we haven't seen before. A lighter place that highlights his off-screen personality - surprisingly a very comfortable persona compared to his on-screen character of Whitey Brown, which he plays on the new Sky TV-series 'Tin Star' starring Tim Roth and Christina Hendricks.

Oliver refers to himself as; ‘Five foot six baby-faced guy from Essex’, but he proves taller than anyone on screen while playing Whitey Brown. His character is harsh and aggressive - he commits an evil act at the beginning of his storyline, which then goes on to affect him later on in the series. A lot of the visual strength comes across in the tenseness of his chin - that physical aspect gives him a broad presence on screen, which also underlines the terrifying aspect of Whitey’s character and actions.The series is chilling in itself with a premise of murder and corruption at the backbone. The cinematography of the series stands out, with wide nature shots reminiscent of Kubrick's 'The Shining'.

Before securing the role as Whitey on ‘Tin Star’, Oliver has had a number of credits in both film and TV projects such as Netflix original film 'iBoy' and the BBC drama 'Dickensian'. However, he began his career originally on stage in the play 'The Cryptogram' by David Mamet. Previously this spring, he starred as ‘Alan’ in the coming-of-age and coming together play ’46 Beacon’. His character was a 16-year boy coming to terms with his sexuality during a meeting with an older man in a hotel room in 1970s America. Stylist Abena Ofei challenges Oliver’s down to earth self with menswear that feed his character choices - classic pieces in rendez-vous with the unexpected.

'Tin Star' is now running on Sky Atlantic in the UK - a new episode airs every Thursday. The show premiers September 29th on Amazon Prime for the US audience to enjoy.

How are you?

I’m okay. I survived the photoshoot. There were a couple of interesting clothes there that I wouldn’t normally wear, but it was very exciting.

Caoimhe is great - she is a great photographer.
Brilliant, and she is so subtle. She is so gentle and lovely to be around. It can sometimes be quite intimidating when there is a camera in your face and you think; ‘What face shall I pull? Should I do like this?’ It’s ridiculous, but yeah, she’s great.

And it’s a bit of a different scenario, because it’s you in front of the camera - usually it’s not you. You’re always playing a character, so I’m curious, who is Oliver?
That’s a really interesting question. Well, I was born in Essex and I grew up in Essex, went to a normal state school and I got into acting because I used to like 'Spider Man' and things like that - I would perform stunts and play out in the garden. To me watching films, acting was like pretending to be a superhero - pretending to be someone else. As a kid growing up I loved pretending to be characters and so that is what sort of lead me to here. That sort of explains me career wise, but the person - I’m still figuring that out. I like to have a good time and make people laugh - I’ve got a big thing about others feeling comfortable in my company. I don’t like people feeling uneasy.

Yeah, you seem very easy-going. I noticed that immediately.
I don’t like the idea of people feeling uncomfortable, so I want to make people feel at ease as much as I can. It’s interesting, because you're not often asked who you are as a person. It’s almost like therapy haha. I bet people come away from this and go; ‘I feel like I’ve just released.’

Yesterday someone said that.
Really? That’s a great thing. My mum is a therapist and she works mainly with families. Closely with kids and their relationships with their family. I think a massive part of my family is that we talk our problems out and we’re sort of very good at communicating how we feel. Maybe that’s where it comes from, because I like that people are able to talk about things.

I guess that also helps with the acting.
Yeah, since I have to be linked in with those emotions. There are some moments where you really need to feel horrendous - with ‘Tin Star’ there were some really emotional scenes. I’ve never had to go that deep before.

If you’re forced to go unpleasant and emotional places within yourself, do you find that it’s easy to get out of it after completing the scene?
Normally, yes. Playing Whitey Brown in ‘Tin Star’, because he is so complex, harsh and aggressive, was very intense. Later on in the series he has to get to a really emotional place - things happen to him and he just crumbles. Getting to that point was hard, but then when you have to stay at that point for such a long time, when you go away from it and come home, you just feel knackered. It’s a privilege what we do, and I would never moan about it ever, but then when you get home you feel emotionally drained because you get yourself to a point where you’re crying and you’re physically feeling what your character might be feeling. Sometimes it can be difficult to switch that off, but I think it’s important that you try very hard to do so. It does influence you. I had to do some training for ‘Tin Star’ and eat a clean diet - get into a certain physical shape. That affected me - I was becoming snappy with people. My girlfriend was like; ‘God, you’re so annoying.’ I sort of didn’t like myself at this point, because it really affected me. It’s amazing what you put yourself through and how that affects your daily life and mental attitude. I think you have to be very careful in keeping it all separate. I like to keep work to set or stage and then go home and try not to worry about it too much.

I don’t want to reveal any spoilers, but your character does something quite terrible. How do you avoid judging your character for the bad choices that he makes - I can imagine that it's difficult to play a character if you're actively judging that character's actions?
That’s very true. I think when you’re playing a character - you’re always biased. You’re almost like backing him up. I found myself trying to justify Whitey’s actions and I could understand them. I think by the end you’ll be able to justify the character’s actions. You have to have such an attachment to your character that you can justify their actions and sort of have an excuse, because you’re the one closest to the character since you’re playing him. But he does some really nasty stuff and it really hits home what Whitey does and how that impacts him as a character. He might not show it at first, but when you do something that evil, whether he meant it or not, it massively affects you.

How was it working with Tim Roth and Christina Hendricks?
Absolutely mad - it’s the biggest job I’ve ever done and I remember at the read through - sitting next to Christina Hendricks and other side of the room was Tim Roth, I was like; ‘what is going on?’. But working with them - Christina I didn’t have much to do with, but Tim, you learn so much from him. He’s so professional and in control of his character. He is always prepared and he knows his character better than anyone. If you feel strongly about something in regards to your character, you should stick by it. The way he holds himself on set, you see that he has been doing this for years - you can only learn from him. He does so little, but yet, it’s so believable. Everything he does comes from a completely natural place. That is the best type of actor there is.

You started out on stage in the play ‘The Cryptogram’ by David Mamet. I know that Mamet is very fond of the Meisner technique and he does tend to include repetition into his plays, is Meisner or another acting technique something you’ve explored in your own acting?
It’s a strange thing, because I didn’t go to drama school. The technique that I’ve developed is my own. I’ve never studied a technique, I’ve never really studied acting - I’ve just learnt from the job. For me, the most fascinating thing about acting is that every job is like starting over. Every time I do a job, I’m like; ‘this is the moment, they’re going to find me out. This is a fraud’. But yeah, every time, you have to start again, and I think that’s the most important thing - you have to approach it with a new head and a different approach. I don’t know if there is one technique for it all. I think you figure out ways for yourself to get to a certain emotional headspace, and I’ve got different ways for myself to get there and other actors do as well. There is no real technique - that sounds awful, doesn’t it? Winging it basically… Winging it. Every job. I think doing a David Mamet play at that age, I was 12-13 when I did that, and I think you don’t consciously learn when you’re a child. It’s all you picking up things subconsciously and absorbing. I was in that environment early on and I think that I benefitted from that. Also, it’s a strange thing, because I think I was a better actor when I was a child. I had no inhibitions. You’re not self-conscious. At 18-19, I had sort of forgotten how it worked - you pick up bad habits just because you’re self-conscious.

How was the transition from theatre to film and TV?
Difficult, because I was going into auditions and I had planned it like it was 300 people, but then it was a little room with one man and a camera. ‘Stop shouting at me.’ It’s two different things in terms of projection and things like that, but actually in terms of the story and getting into character, it’s the same principle. I remember being on a show for the first time and I didn’t know quite what to do and there were cameras everywhere. And you become very self-conscious when there is a camera around, because I just wasn’t used to it. And also, not to have an immediate reaction, because when you’re in the theatre, there is an immediate response. If there is a funny line, they laugh. If there is a really powerful moment, they gasp or something. I think the main difference is momentum. When you’re doing a play you tell the story the whole way through in just one go, so you build upon momentum as you go. In film and TV, it’s very stop and start, so you have to be careful not to let that drop or play the wrong note.

Let’s return to you for a moment, what makes you happy?
Carbs. That’s what makes me happy, honestly. Pasta, pizza - the euphoria that goes through my body when I eat those sugary carbs… When I was doing the diet for ‘Tin Star’ I lost my mind, I would fantasize about white chocolate biscuits from Marks & Spencer’s. My girlfriend came to visit and she brought them over for me - it might have been my best day up to date. I love them so much. But no, on a serious note, what makes me happy is my family, my girlfriend and playing football. I love playing football with my mates. Those are the things that make me the happiest. I never thought about the fact that the things that make me the happiest are outside of acting. I love acting, it’s brilliant, but I love my family more. I don't think you should aim to get your worth and confidence from the work that you do, if you get what I mean?

I get you - work isn’t everything.
Work isn’t everything, and you know in our job, there are big chunks of time where you don’t work. That’s where the pasta and pizza come in.

How do you handle those big chunks of time and uncertainty that comes with the acting occupation?
You just have to keep your mind creatively stimulated - something that gives you the same stimulation as acting gives you. Obviously, I didn’t go to drama school and train, so recently what I’ve been trying to do is read more plays. I haven’t had the opportunity to study plays and playwrights, so I’m trying to do that a little bit more. That’s all you can do really. Keep yourself busy, because there is always something to learn from life that you can apply to acting. If you took a dance class, there would be something there that you could apply to acting. Something about the way you move or the way that you feel while you’re dancing. Maybe you’ll go on to do a play as a dancer at some point - you never know.

Let’s talk about your theatre career. Spring this year you were in the play ’46 Beacon’ - a story of coming of age and coming together.
It’s about Alan who is a 16-year old boy who has one night with a much older man. Alan is coming to terms with being gay and it’s set in America in the 1970s. He is coming to terms with that, but he is not realizing it and he has a sexual experience with this older man. The play is basically set in a hotel room as they talk and sort of have a sexual awakening. It leaves you with a really positive message that it’s okay to be who you are. That is a really important message. It was great - I loved it. It was a two-hander and there was a bit of nudity, so it was challenging. 90 minutes straight. Everything took place in the room. It was great and the response was really warm. The people who came to see it were really complimentary. We spoke so much in the play about how important it is to remind ourselves how far we’ve come. The LGBTQ community has come so far, but it’s good to remind ourselves that there are still things to be done. There are still difficulties when it comes to young men in the LGBTQ community and issues related to mental health. It’s great that theatre can have that sort of message.

What is your relationship with mental health?
My mum’s a therapist, so she is very aware of it. She has kind of cared for our mental health perfectly. I feel mentally very strong. I’ve never had any problems with it, but I think it’s a really taboo subject for young men, which I think is terrible. There is statistics that state that the biggest killer for men under 40 is suicide. Of the people who were killed last year, 6000 were from suicide, and 75 per cent of that were men. There is something about the way men are raised or the restrictions society places on us. I think there has to be done something for it to be easier for it be talked about more openly and frequently, and that it’s not a weakness to seek help. That’s really important.

The term masculinity is starting to change and evolve, what does masculinity mean to you?
I think I associate bravery with masculinity, but that might be me having a traditional idea of a hero. I think bravery comes in so many forms. It’s brave to say that you’re feeling weak. Masculinity is changing I think and for the better. A key figure came out to speak about it recently - Prince Harry. He came out and spoke about his mental health following the death of Diana. Stormzy, has done a song about depression. Two massive different ends of the spectrum are both suffering from a similar thing. Masculinity is changing because people are coming out to speak about these things.

Who influences you?
My family influences me a lot. My dad made a great life for us. He started a company when he was like down and out and he influences me to work hard, to get what I want and to start a family of my own someday. I’m quite easily influenced when I watch something, because if I watch a film I’ll cry. If I watch a superhero film, I’ll come out of it wanting to be the superhero. I’m easily led by what I see if I can see myself in it. Maybe that’s just the big kid in me wanting to be the superhero…

What is your dream role?
Spider Man. If you find out that Tom Holland has been poisoned and has dropped dead somewhere, it's probably me.

What is it about 'Spider Man' that is so alluring to you?
Because 'Spider Man' is going through changes at an age where we all go through changes - he is a teenager and he is going through puberty - the metaphor for him to be bitten by a radioactive spider and his body going through those changes and coming out on the other side being Spider Man is something that people love. That’s why I think Spider Man works. Also, he slings webs. Climbs walls. Jumps buildings. There is also that, but the deeper meaning is self-discovery. I love the new 'Spider Man' film, but I prefer the story where he is bitten by the radioactive spider.

Onto a bit of a different topic, in light of social media, fake news and the state of general politics, what is your relationship with honesty?
I feel like I’m a pretty honest person, which for an actor is a strange thing because as an actor you’re playing someone else, which isn’t very honest. But then you have to be completely honest with your own emotions in order to access them. I think honesty is important. There are white lies of course, we all tell little white lies. What an interesting question…

It’s an important question to ask - especially in the world we’re living in.
I think the dishonesty we see on social media with for instance putting a different image out there for oneself is linked to insecurity. We like to portray that we’re all happy and everything’s fine, but that’s where these problems come from. We’re really picking apart society, aren’t we?

It’s important though.
I’m going to start doing this more often…

You mentioned previously that you had a girlfriend, so I have a bit of a fun question for you. How would you visualize the process of falling in love?
I feel like falling in love is a bit like you’re plodding along and you’ve got this straight line, and then you fall in love that line might go down a bit and then it plods along like that for a bit. The line doesn’t quite know if it should go down or up. Then you realize that you’ve fallen in love and your line goes right up and then you stay up at that line for a sustained period of time. That’s how I see it. It’s just a line, nothing more. This is therapy for god’s sake. I see things in lines… What does that mean? I have absolutely no idea.


Above: Oliver wears T-shirt by E.TAUTZ, Trousers by WOOYOUNGMI, Coat by MARNI and Accessories by LINKS OF LONDON


Above left: Oliver wears full look by BURBERRY and model's own accessories
Above right: Same as before


Above left: Oliver wears Jumper by QASIMI, Shirt by RAILS, Trousers by WOOYOUNGMI and Sneakers by SUPERGA
Above right: Oliver wears Jacket by ZADIG&VOLTAIRE and Shirt by SUNSPEL


Above left: Same as above
Above right: Oliver wears full look by MARNI

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