Dominic Cooper rose to cinematic fame when he starred in the theatre to cinema adaptation of The History Boys in 2006. He then went onto feature in the blockbuster Abba musical Mamma Mia! and The Duchess in 2008, before replacing Jude Law opposite Carey Mulligan in An Education in 2009. Now with several more big hitting films under his belt, including Captain America: The First Avenger, he’s taken on the dual roles of Uday Hussein and his body double in The Devil’s Double.
Recently in London, he spoke to View’s Matthew Turner about the technical and emotional difficulties behind the role, the horrifying details of the real life story, and how soon he can replace Daniel Craig in the role of James Bond.
Did you take two salaries from this film?
I did. [Laughs] No.
It must have been daunting going into it, though?
Yeah, but I think I'd been so positively active about getting the role that by the time I did have it I was so excited about doing it and made sure that there was rehearsal time to make two very separated characters. I mean, it was daunting, but from the moment I'd read it and because I'd actively chased it, I felt like there's no point being scared now.
It wasn't going to be a political statement, it wasn't going to be a biographically detailed account of events. I wasn't studying these two guys and then mimicking them, I was gaining an essence of who these people were and then creating two different characters, really.
That reassured me and made it less daunting. The problems that arose were playing somebody that ultimately I despised – I could see no redeeming features about him and the more I unearthed about him, I was repulsed by him.
I think if he'd stopped and reflected he would have had a breakdown. He was a psychotic maniac. He was a madman...
You say no redeeming features, but a lot of actors will say that even when they're playing Hitler, they've got to find something. Was there really nothing about Uday at all?
No. I thought, 'Well, let's make him a child', a lost kind of little boy and I needed to find out something so I could look through the eyes of the man and get under the skin of him and try and find where that bile, aggression and pure hatred towards the rest of humanity comes from. So I just thought about his relationship with his father, having this all-powerful figure in his life, and how Saddam, I don't think, paid him any real attention and actually thought he was a bit of a moron. He didn't give him any huge responsibility within the regime, he certainly didn't want to hand him the reins of power after he stepped down. I think that's humiliating to someone of that culture, as an eldest son. That gave me some indication of pent-up aggression towards a domineering father, and his love of his mother gave him a sort of essence of humanity and his hating his father's treatment of his mother.
And his exposure to scenes of horrific violence and torture when he was a young man, which Latif says happened to him. His father would show him films of torture when he was four, so those kind of ideas, at least gave me some indication of a human being, which was not what I was getting from researching his crazed antics. And actually, how the drug and alcohol fuelled chaos of his life was about how he's not able to deal with some of the things he's done. You see sometimes, in the film, flashes of him actually, for a moment considering the horrors that he's caused. I think for a moment, if he'd stopped and reflected he would have had a breakdown. He was a psychotic maniac. He was a madman.
You said you were sporadically going between the two characters. Was that difficult? Were you given a bit of time between the two?
Not really, no. We would film a scene, and if they were both in the scene, you'd film something on a motion-control camera that ran on a track so that it could replicate its moves exactly and therefore I'd do Uday once, and then I'd run off, change and step in as Latif and the camera would repeat the move and then you could paste the two images over one another.
That became difficult when there was any contact between the two because it wouldn't work, so therefore we had to use head replacement whenever they contacted one another. What that meant was that I'd always ask to be Uday first, because it took more energy to be him and he was more dynamic within the scene. He was often the creator of the architecture of the scene, how it worked, how it played out. Then Lee would have to choose a particular take so that I could have an ear-piece of my performance in my ear so that when got back into Latif mode, I could just be reacting and responding to my dialogue.
But it was a gift in a way, because you just didn't have time to ponder too much and I felt like I'd established the basics of who these men were. Then I was at liberty to do what I pleased. But the physical presence of each of the men - the vocal range, how they spoke and the space that they took up, their mannerisms, they were all decided so that I could sort of just flick into that mode and feel comfortable. They felt to me like they both operated from completely different spaces in my brain. When doing either one, there was never a case of me getting mixed up - “Hold on, who am I?” - I always felt very different as either guy.