Copper (Sundays, 10/9C) is BBC America’s first homegrown original series. Set in the New York City of the 1860s, it contrasts the lives of an Irish police detective, Kevin Corcoran, from Five Points (the poorest section of town), with the lives the 5th Avenue crowd including the lovely Elizabeth Haverford.
Tom Weston-Jones (Corcoran) and Anastasia Griffith, (Elizabeth Haverford) recently talked about the show with a group of journalists/bloggers.
Anastasia Griffith: Hey how are you?
Tom Weston-Jones: Hi.
So since both of you are here, I wanted to find out, we’ve seen the first two episodes. And I’m noticing that there seems to be maybe an interesting little triangle happening between Elizabeth and Corcoran and Morehouse.
And I was wondering if you guys could sort of talk about that and those three relationships both, you know, like individually and all together?
Griffith: Yes I mean I’ll step in and then you can take over, how about that?
Weston-Jones: No worries.
Griffith: As far as Elizabeth is concerned, she obviously is friends with Morehouse. And is more from that world, that 5th Avenue world. That’s more her social scene. But she is someone who has come over from England. And I think to find a freedom, a sense of freedom from the stifling of British Society that she had grown up in and I think found very frustrating.
And she comes to Manhattan. And although she finds 5th Avenue I think quite disappointing in the sense that it’s still as stifling as the UK was for her. I think she sees something in Corcoran that kind of represents a freedom and an integrity that her own society doesn’t lend itself too. And quite quickly finds him fascinating and intriguing. And the fact that he can act out in a way that people in her own community can’t. And kind of take matters in his own hands in a way that Morehouse isn’t able to because of his social standing.
And it really starts out that Morehouse and Elizabeth are best friends. I think you see quite quickly that he has some admiration for her. And the interest really further (digresses). It’s quite directed towards Corcoran quite quickly. But yes, I think it’s an interesting commentary on where she’s sort of allowed to put her attentions. It’s very unusual for her to put her attentions into someone from Five Point. And I think it shows that she’s quite forward-thinking woman that that’s even a possibility.
Weston-Jones: Yes well I agree with Anastasia in that it is quite a friendly relationship at best. I think with – there’s certainly a fascination between Elizabeth (Haverford) and Corcoran in that I don’t think either of them (suffer fools) gladly or easily. Yes with Morehouse and Corcoran, they do have a very complicated connection in that they’re bonded through a very traumatic experience.
And I hazard to call them friends because it doesn’t seem like a very, it’s not necessarily I’ll invite you over to my house for dinner kind of a relationship. It’s more of a they know how to use each other. And they can see the potential in each other for what they both want to achieve. And if anything with Elizabeth, I don’t necessarily think Corcoran would tie Morehouse and Elizabeth as together in his head. I don’t think he’s really too concerned with their relationship.
But Corcoran, I think he’s fascinated by her. It’s a world that he knows very little about. But she’s, the goodness in her and the truth. She seems to loath bullies just as much Corcoran does. So yes, I think there’s plenty of room for things to happen within that triangle.
All right. Do you both find that your characters have the same sort of strong personalities? And like a strength that is just attracting them to each other?
Griffith: Yes. I think that’s true. I think what Tom just said is very pointed actually that they both have a loathing for bullies. I think that should be the point. And I think for me this whole series is a lot about freedom. And I think Elizabeth is someone who speaks out for the freedom of others. And I think Corcoran does too. I mean there’s a really nice moment in I think it’s the first episode with Longin. Is his name Longin, Tom? The guy who…
Weston-Jones: Yes. Yes, Bill Longin, yes, played by AG. Yes.
Griffith: Longin who, yes there’s a really nice moment where Corcoran seems to just really want to stand up for justice. And even though Longin himself seems to be happy with the situation, he really doesn’t want to accept that inequality. And I think Elizabeth is exactly the same. And I think it’s unusual for someone from the higher echelons of society to kind of stand up for that inequality. And I think the fact that they both have this is (extensive). Right and wrong but with out a morality necessarily. But just…
Weston-Jones: Well it’s also kind of being the underdog isn’t it really? I think both Elizabeth being a woman in the situation that she’s in. And she’s certainly the underdog in a lot of respects, just as the Irish could have been back then.
Weston-Jones: And also Matthew Freeman’s character being, you know, one of the only black doctors around. Then he’s certainly the underdog. So I think there’s a connection…
Griffith: And even when you look at the Morehouse character, there’s a sense of him being the underdog. You know, his relationship with his father, I mean he’s sort of backed down by this man. And so I think they’re all coming up against adversity in some way. And I think as a result, it makes all of these new characters somehow stand up for what they believe in.
Griffith: And I think that’s really the connection between the two. I also have an interesting thought about Elizabeth that I don’t think she’s from a particularly well to do family. I think it’s something – I think she’s sort of made the best of herself. And so I think…
Weston-Jones: Well you always describe her as an opportunist don’t you as well so?
Griffith: Yes. I think she’s…
Weston-Jones: So she’s capable of manipulating, herself.
Griffith: Yes. And I think she’s pulled herself up through the – through the sort of higher echelons of society. And kind of found herself in this position. I mean I don’t mean by any means that she’s working class or anything like that. But I think, you know, she’s probably a middle child who wasn’t sort of going to go for – going to get a great marriage in the UK. And so she’s done the best she can. And she’s just constantly striving for the freedom she thinks that she deserves as does everyone else. And, you know, she achieves that over and over again.
So I think that, I think they kind of meet on those terms. And I don’t think it is as much a massive difference in personality in so much as expectation from the world that they live in.
Wow, I want to go have a beer with you guys. That was great conversation right there. All right, well I’ll be back. I’ll let somebody else talk now though. Thanks.
I have to say, great show, absolutely fantastic show. I’m so happy it’s coming on BBC. And I just want to say congratulations.
Weston-Jones: Thank you very much.
You’re welcome. Thank you. The first question is for both of you Tom and Anastasia. Did you all do any kind of research for the role? Did you go back and go back to research 1864 New York? And if you did, what was the most interesting or biggest curdle of wisdom that you learned from that research?
Griffith: I did a lot of research, I think – I can speak for both of us in that we’re both schooled in the UK or actually Tom in Dubai, but a kind of British schooling.
Weston-Jones: Well yes, talking about Tom. Where were you at again Anastasia? You were at Lambda.
Griffith: I was at Lambda. But I mean even at school we didn’t…
Weston-Jones: Yes right.
Griffith: School when we studied history, we didn’t learn about Lincoln or Emancipation Proclamation or the Civil War. So these were all major backbone aspects of the show that we had to school up on. So I looked at the (unintelligible) documentaries about all of them. And felt that I…
Me as well. They were amazing.
Griffith: Like took all of that in. And that kind of informed a lot. And then the more specific research that I did obviously was a lot about the women and what roles women could play. Like what kind of roles Elizabeth could really aspire too.
You know, what the physical restraints were about the (corsettetry?) and, you know, what happens when a woman gets pregnant? What kind of contraception do women use just trying to like really get into the daily life of what it is to be a woman at that time.
You know. And I think we all had our own little corners. But I think the weirdest thing for me was just how restraining the day to day life was. Like just wearing, and I figured it out by wearing the costumes to be honest more than doing research on it. But, you know, they would have ribs removed so that they could look more doll-like in these dresses.
Oh my God.
Griffith: Yes. They’d have smelling salts in their purses because it was a daily problem that they would pass out because they couldn’t breathe. And I think just the expectation that that’s okay for women to have to live like that blew my mind. You know.
Weston-Jones: I did a very, I did this (actually with) Anastasia because it’s, as she said, it’s a period of time that coming from Britain, we really don’t have the sort of background in education on that period of time.
So just doing as much reading as I possibly could. And I tried to find as many newspaper articles from the period as I could. And obviously they are similar to the newspapers nowadays where they’re quite sensationalist. And they kind of blow things a little bit out of proportion. So you kind of have to take them with a pinch of salt, which is interesting when you’re trying to get a perspective on things.
But I was amazed at the bare-knuckle boxing side of things. I found a great book. I can’t remember what it’s called at this point. But it’s basically, I think it’s called Bare-Knuckle Fighters of the Era. And just a series of photographs and roundups of the fights they would go through.
And the reason why I wanted to find out so much more about it was when I read the first script and the first scene is I think (Howard) said once we have a (unintelligible) so you fight (Mike McCoole) and you – 60 rounds, not in the 60th round. And that to me seemed ridiculous. But they did. They went – they did. The fights themselves were gargantuan and very long. And there was more rules to deal with the actual gambling side of things rather than the actual safety of the two people fighting.
So they really were gladiators up there. And I, to me gave me a complete sense of the brutality of the era and how violent had a very different meaning.
Kind of like the fight clubs of the 1860s.
Weston-Jones: What was that?
Kind of like the fight club of the 1860s.
Weston-Jones: Yes exactly, exactly.
Well I appreciate – well again, thank you very much. Oh, before I let you go, the accents. How did you all decide on the accents if there’s really no recording of what people sounded like in those days?
Weston-Jones: Well with the action, I mean I originally wanted to go for an Irish accent because of in the Five Points, I mean the Irish stick together so well, don’t they? We all know this. It’s all communities wherever they go.
But because he is a detective and because he’s lived in New York his entire life and mixed with a variety of different people, I thought that an American and Irish mixture would be important. Because as there is no recordings, we kind of have to go with our gut instinct. It’s not just the melting pot of different sounds at the time because there’s so many different varieties of cultures there that what I kind of came up with is just a mixture, a mongrel actually really.
Yes, I don’t know about Anastasia. You…
Griffith: For me my character is pretty much fresher off the boat. She was really brought up in London. So she’s still very British. But for me as an actress it was hilarious because I have played Americans now for five, six years solidly. And have kind of begun to lose my Britishness. So when I went to Canada, I actually asked if I could have a voice coach to help me speak in my own accent. Just to make sure I wasn’t bringing in any kind of strange vowel sounds.
So I ended up having a Canadian voice coach teach me how to do my own British accent. And I just ended up finding it very frustrating and having to politely decline and just trust my instincts. But he was a very good voice coach. It was more just I couldn’t handle that. I found it a little strange. But yes, so for me she just had to be as inherently British as possible.
But the one thing I didn’t want was for it to end up getting terribly English. I wanted it to be very, something that people could really relate too and understand.
Weston-Jones: Yes. I think what I really like about your accent Anastasia is it kind of does tread the line very carefully. And there’s no point I think where people think it’s a characterization. It flows very natural I thought.
Griffith: Yes and that was really the aim. I mean I think you could look at Downton Abbey and you see how well you can do period accents and make it seem absolutely, you know, of the time but completely still identifiable in today’s world. And then, you know, that’s something I thought about quite heavily actually. Because I don’t think that that terribly, terribly English accent really came in until the war anyway when radio started coming in.
Griffith: Queens English, RP. And so I think people often think that it’s, you know, the old English. But it’s really not. The old English when you go back to Shakespeare is probably not something that was country. So yes, I just wanted it to be very relaxed basically.
Tom, in San Diego we were talking about, you know, how you got into or why you got into acting. And you talked about how you thought art was cool because, you know, you tell stories that make people stop and listen and think about what they’re doing. And I was wondering if you could apply that – this is sort of putting you on the spot a little bit. How does Copper do that?
Weston-Jones: How does Copper tell an important story that people need to hear about?
Yes. I mean what is the, yes what is the – what is the story that is going to make people stop and listen and think about what they are doing?
Weston-Jones: What I think this story, I mean that is a (unintelligible) question really. But yes, I’ll give it a go. I think me, looking – whenever anyone looks back or tries to make comparisons to now, it’s amazing how if you watch an incredible science fiction film or a historical piece that’s basically either, it’s otherworldly isn’t it?
And it’s looking at the human condition in a removed sense because it is supposed to be unlike what we’re doing nowadays. But I do believe that in looking back or forward, you’re able to for some reason remove yourself so much that it actually does answer some questions or beg the question or raise questions, whatever you want to call it.
With Copper I think it’s important nowadays because there’s so much change going on. Change is happening all the time, especially in places like North Africa and the Middle East. It’s quite relevant to the time we’re living in now. And that’s exactly what New York was back then is a time of change. And going into the unknown. I think that’s kind of what we’re doing nowadays, isn’t it? We’re going into a very unknown period of time that we can’t necessarily predict what’s going to happen because that we have so many ways of predicting that we don’t know which one to turn too.
Everyone’s an expert in their parti – in all areas. But we have no way of actually knowing who to follow and why. So maybe – I hope that answers your question. But maybe I just took it a little too slow.
Griffith: Can I jump in because I also, for me there was quite a clear thing that I felt was important in this story of Elizabeth is that as women now, I don’t think we really think about where we get our equality from.
You know, this is a sense of feminism and women become passe and sort of over the top actually in my opinion. And I feel that we always kind of are going away from the point. And I think it’s actually very important to look at where we started. And see, you know, the journey that women have gone through in society. And who these women were who started the journey to allow women to have freedom of speech.
And so we don’t take for granted the fact that we can vote, that we can wear jeans; that we can work out and train for the Olympics and perform in the Olympics. That, you know, we can work in the same workplace as men. And garner at the same…
Weston-Jones: Well this is also the first year that we’ve had a woman in every single team at the Olympics as well.
Griffith: Exactly. And I think to me it was really important. So that was the story that I wanted – I felt very passionate about telling I think.
And obviously, you know, it’s not about just preaching. This woman isn’t just a do-gooder. She’s not just doing it for the good of all women. But I, you know, no human being in history was all good or all bad or all black and all white. But I think perhaps it will make people think about how lucky we are today to have the freedoms we have as women. And from the start taking an interest in what that means and how we can kind of own that for ourselves and our end generations.
Yes that was very important to me. And I personally hope that it doesn’t always have to be the reaction against men that women can begin to kind of embrace being feminine because being feminine is an awesome thing. And not just as a reaction to what men will allow us. And so that was really it for me. It was a very important topic there.
All right great. Tom did you – you talked about practicing the boxing and everything. Did you learn – is there a special way to smack somebody in the face with brass knuckles without hurting your fingers?
Weston-Jones: Yes. I learned that, there was a particular moment in one of the later episodes where I injured someone’s hand using them. And we were sort of deliberating whether or not to use the real ones or the plastic ones. And I quickly discovered that I had to hold them the way I was told because in the rehearsal kind of messed my hand in doing it in the stunt. But yes, there’s definitely a method to it.
It seems like it’s just kind of point and shoot really. But no, you really have to hold it quite more gently than you think because you got to let it do all the work, yes.
All right and then one more for Anastasia. The costume, Tom talked about how the costumes and the sets and that the sets even sort of smelled. And that that whole environment really helped get, you know, into character and everything. Do you find that that always helps as well?
Griffith: Oh goodness yes. I feel like, you know, that there was a question about research a minute ago. And I feel like we can do all the research in the world. But it’s really when you start putting that costume on. I put my hair in a wig. You walk into those sets. That’s where the kind of the visceral reaction is. It’s no longer in the head. It’s in the body. And you really just feel, start feeling like the character and really inhabiting the character.
For me, you know, I didn’t spend all that much time down in the Five Points. So it wasn’t so much the smells and, you know, the shit on the floor. It was more walking into these houses and realizing how precious the furniture was. And that you really can’t recline. You really do have to perch. And being in the corset and realizing I can only move this far to the left and this far to the right. And just what it is to navigate spaces with that hoop. And, you know, Tom and I would have to do scenes where we’d get close to each other. But that’s quite hard with a hoop in between you. And so it’s just a lot of those practical things.
And then, interestingly, that scene at the end of Episode 1 where I go to Tom’s house. It was really interesting walking into that space because I really didn’t want to touch anything. It was filthy and it stank. And it was dark and dingy and everything. You know, and it just gives you so much and informs so much about the scene. And this particular job, I’ve never done a job where you have so much at your fingertips and so much of this has been created authentically for you.
You know, you open the door and your prop is in there. And the smells are there and the horses are there. And so you just have to respond to it really. It was such a gift.
This first question is for Tom. What is the main difference between, you know, working on a set like Copper and working on a set back in the UK? It’s very kind of, you know, it feels much more kind of like a movie set. Can you tell – can you speak a little bit about that?
Weston-Jones: Yes. I think you’re right in terms of scale. I mean I’ve only worked on one show in the UK while I was in the (strips), called MI5 over in America. And I can definitely say that the scale that you have to work with is much smaller. There’s just not as much money. And money means time and all of that kind of thing.
So when I walked onto the set in Toronto, I was kind of blown away by it. And you have to do a very strange thing of trying to forget about everything to be able to actually achieve it. But yes, it’s a very strange thing to be able to forget about all of it. To try and forget about the scale of it, to just kind of be in the moment. But that’s what’s so good about the sets is that you have to use your imagination so little to feel like you’re actually there.
Right. This next question is for both you and Anastasia. What kind of life do you think you would have if you we’re living in 1960s New York? And particularly for Anastasia, I mean your character being a British woman living in New York City.
Griffith: Well if it was me, Anastasia, living in 1860s?
Yes in New York City.
Griffith: Yes. To be honest I don’t think it would be massively different from the character I’m playing unfortunately. I kind of, I have like a wish when I watch the show to be playing one of the prostitutes for some reason. I just think it looks so fun. Like just the boobs and the hair and, you know, just let it all hang out. And they just seem to be like cavorting around town. And like it looks so much more fun.
So I don’t know. Dare I say I’d like to be one of the (Eva)’s girls? I’m not sure that represents me very well. But I think the likelihood is, you know, there were no middle classes at that time which is where I firmly fit into the UK society. So I’d have to either pull myself up to 5th Avenue or down to Five Points. And I think maybe I’d be more of a Five Points girl.
Griffith: I think maybe I would be. Maybe aspiring to become 5th Avenue, much like Eva Heissen.
Weston-Jones: I think I agree. I think I belong in the Five Points really. I feel – I felt quite at home with all the grunginess and the dirt of everything. And I mean I don’t know whether or not I’d be a detective. I’d probably end – wind up just being a barman. But who knows. I’d probably wind up with my face in a puddle somewhere.
Griffith: Maybe you’d just be a drunk.
Weston-Jones: Yes maybe.
Griffith: No I think that’s an interesting point, you know, that there was no middle class at that time. So it’s very hard to sort of position yourself.
Griffith: A different polarization than goes on these days. Although who knows where we’re going to end up in ten years time. It looks like middle classes are getting squeezed out now too. So we’ll see.
Right. And for both of you, how familiar were you with the work of Levinson and Fontana? And what kind of tell tail signs will we see in Copper that, you know, kind of show this to be a Levinson and Fontana show?
Griffith: Well I mean as far as they go as individuals, I was a – my whole family were massive Levinson fans as far – in Rain Man. Rain Man was a favorite movie for us. So obviously he got is movie side of things.
And then Homicide: Life on the Street, and then Oz was something I think for me changed the role of television. Suddenly it was – it became an art form as far as I was concerned. It really paved the way for the Sopranos, the – all of these pictures. And so, I mean that, I was familiar with that. And knew of their reputation through that I guess, what about you Tom?
Weston-Jones: Yes I mean coming from Dubai and the UK, there was very little in terms of television that I was actually exposed too. But film-wise, all of Barry’s work, as you say Rain Man, Good Morning Vietnam, the film…
Weston-Jones: (Brought RPA) yes that’s films that I was kind of brought up on. And the telltale signs that I think you expect is having, now, having grown up and watched more of what Tom has done, having watched Oz and things like that. I think people will really feel at home with how unpredictable things can be in the script. And how things can unfold very quickly and spiral out of control very quickly. That’s a telltale sign of their work.
Griffith: And I think the level of finding humor on the drama. I think there’s a lot of that too.
Weston-Jones: Totally, yes that’s a really good…
Griffith: There’s a lightness in the dark. And I think that’s something, especially when we have Barry, or either one of them, but when we have them on set they’re very keen to sort of chuckle in the corner. And sort of find character moments in a scene. And Barry will watch the scene and then sort of come in with a just, he’ll just be laughing about an idea he’s had. He’s like try that, try that. And inevitably it makes it in the cut because it just brings the scene more to life. It makes it more real.
Yes, I think there’s sort of brilliant balance between light and dark in that stuff. And I think you’ll definitely see that.
What do you hope American audiences take from Copper? What are you hoping they, of course we learn to watch it. But what do you want them to take from the show if there’s something in particular that you feel strongly about?
Griffith: I just want them to really enjoy it. I want it to be an hour of television where they feel intrigued and entertained. And they can laugh. They can cry. And they can be sort of taken out of their lives and in – and just completely enveloped into a narrative. That’s what I enjoy from watching television. And that would be amazing.
Weston-Jones: Yes. I think what I really like about this show is the fact that it deals with very heavy subject matter and very uncomfortable things. But does it in such an entertaining way.
So that’s kind of – I agree with you, Anastasia, that I want people to kind of come away from it not really realizing that they’ve actually – what they’ve witnessed. They haven’t – they don’t realize they’ve witnessed people losing their lives (unintelligible). They feel like compelled by it. They feel – but also entertained at the same time. I think that’s the key. That’s what I’d love.
Photos courtesy BBC America/Cinefilx (Copper) Inc.