“A Double Dose of Dominic”
An interview with THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE star,
The name may not mean anything to you at first but I assure you, you have seen Dominic Cooper before. It isn’t easy for an actor to make a name for themselves these days, not one that lasts longer than five minutes anyway. Cooper’s career has been burning slowly for years now. He has stood out in smaller films, like THE HISTORY BOYS or THE DUCHESS, and he has tried to break out in bigger projects, like MAMMA MIA! and CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, but in every case, his contribution has always been supporting in nature. Turns out, all he had to do to take the lead was make a deal with the devil.
“I just had a burning desire to play it; I kept hounding people about it,” Cooper tells me when we meet on the Toronto stop of his press tour. The “it” in this case is the lead role in Lee Tamahori’s THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE, and it is no ordinary part at that. THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE, a Sundance breakout, tells the story of Latif Yahia, an Iraqi soldier who was forced to become the body double of Uday Hussein, the eldest son of Saddam Hussein. After undergoing cosmetic surgery to perfect his look, Uday owned Latif and would have Latif fill in for him in public whenever he didn’t feel like it or thought there was a chance he might be killed. Cooper would play both of these roles.
“What on earth made me think I could play the son of an Iraqi dictator, I have no idea,” Cooper exclaims, as if he is still surprised any of it actually came to pass. And while the 33-year-old, London native, might have been skeptical of his own possibilities at first, he needn’t have been. Still, I can appreciate his apprehension. Not only was Cooper about to take on the head space of a notoriously evil human being, but he would have to jump back and forth between that horror and its complete polar opposite. The potential for madness was massive but Cooper didn’t care one bit. “The rewards from it were just endless,” he beams. “I loved every minute of it even though I was completely exhausted and going slightly schizophrenic.”
The filmmakers decided that THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE would be based on Yahia’s life but that they would not be pursuing a strict recreation of who Uday and Latif were as people. This would allow them the freedom to focus more on the story and allow Cooper to draw the performances from a more genuine place. It also meant that Cooper did not need to trouble the real life Latif, whom he met with before production in Malta began, with too many personal questions about what he endured. “His mental and physical scars are very present and not long healed,” Cooper confides. “It’s not that far in the past. I didn’t want to start prodding and poking at things that are probably,” Cooper trails off here but then refocuses, “things that I don’t want to actually know about, quite frankly.”
Cooper does not shy away from the torment and torture Latif and his family endured at Uday’s hand in THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE. As Uday, he is in a constant state of mania. He is always throwing things at walls and having his way with women and shooting people for no apparent reason. He gets what he wants at all times like the spoiled child he has always been, no matter what the cost, even if that cost is someone else’s life. Naturally, Cooper struggled with finding a point of connection between Uday and himself, any scrap that could help him find a place to grow this character from. “I didn’t understand how anyone could carry out these atrocities without falling to pieces,” he begins, and then reveals what he learned. “He just takes drugs and pills and drinks and that’s how he sustains his life. He had to go that speed to not allow himself to think.”
When pressed as to whether he enjoyed playing one more than the other, Cooper seems torn. “With Uday, there were no limits to playing him; I could do anything and I did.” He ponders a moment. “But Latif was also very enjoyable because you have the stillness of him; things can process.” Covering that range allowed Cooper to go somewhere on film he never has before. “For the first time ever, I’ve watched something I’ve done and gone, ‘yeah, that kinda worked.'”
Cooper stops here for a moment. The pause allows me to absorb his ruggedly handsome face and his impressive sense of style. I can’t tell if he is tired from the long day of interviews, of which this is his last, or if he is just done. Just then, he chimes in cheerily, as if a feeling has just come over him, “It’s extremely rewarding because you know that you’ve removed yourself from you and you’ve actually created something. It was really great fun”
And with that, I’m happy to see the new leading man thing hasn’t gone to his head.