Anastasia Miari interviews British acting talent Christian Cooke – lead in BBC’s Stonemouth.
Brit-born actor Christian Cooke has come a long way since his first television appearance aged just ten years old. A Captain Bird’s Eye beef burger commercial kick started the 28 year-old’s acting career, followed by a string of TV appearances – from ‘Magic City’ and ‘The Chase’ to BBC’s ‘Doctor Who’ and Peter Kosminsky’s ‘The Promise’. He played a leading role in Ricky Gervais’ feature film Cemetery Junction in 2010 and has most recently appeared in the lead role of Stewart Gilmour in the BBC adaptation, ‘Stonemouth’.
Currently based in Montreal for four months – shooting on location for Sony’s new network, Crackle, with Dennis Quaid and Kate Bosworth – he manages to squeeze in a call with me. I comment on his busy schedule and he’s quick to admit that the days on set are flying by. “All the days just kind of role into one,” he says, after admitting that his days off are few and far between. I ask him what he did at the weekend and he can’t recall. He does however mention the occasional bender. “I do need that sort of release,” he says of the odd cast and crew night out. “You do need moments where you’re not thinking so intensely about what you’re doing all the time.”
He’s very into it. “I work with a dialect coach and stay in accent during the days while I’m at work,” he says. Today, he breaks out of the American accent that he adopts all day on set (and off) to speak to me in his Leeds lilt. He seems instantly at ease and I very quickly warm to him.
He grew up in Yorkshire, where he first discovered acting in an after-school drama club with his brother. His parents were not dramatically inclined, but for Cooke, the realisation that acting was what he most wanted to do came early in life. “I’ll never forget my first commercial,” he says. “I was only ten and the costume lady said, ‘what do you want to do when you grow up?’ and I told her I wanted to be an actor. She replied with ‘Well, then I’m sure you will be.’ I remember thinking – ‘no one would say that to a ten year and not mean it – so it’s gonna happen.’
It’s a surprise to hear that Cooke has had no formal training. “I’d argue I’ve done it a very modern way,” he tells me. “Back in the day you probably had to go to drama school to get an equity card but I already had an agent and I was working, so I chose to just keep doing what I was doing.”
His route has served him well. Bypassing drama school and the hefty tuition fees that come with it, he signed with his current agent at the age of just 17. Since then, Cooke has steadily built a body of work on the small screen, leading to meatier leading roles, like that of Stewart Gilmour in the BBC ‘s latest romantic mystery drama Stonemouth, set in the Scottish highlands. Perhaps he’s testament to a new generation of working actors that learn on the job and break the conventional paths to stardom. With so many young actors funnelled in and out of the drama school system – often disappointed and disillusioned post graduation – there may well be something to be said of talent that is nurtured on-the-job.
It’s clear to see that Cooke approaches every role with integrity. For Stonemouth, he spent two months filming in Glasgow with an all-Scottish set, insisting on remaining in accent for the entire time that he was there. He chooses his roles carefully, telling me that his character’s journey in Stonemouth – “a young man returning to a small town that he’s sort of been exiled from” –was what drew him in. Does he ever return home to Leeds? “Not as often as I should, to go and see my mum,” he tells me. Seven years in the Big Smoke have turned Cooke into a Londoner. “It’s the best city in the world,” he tells me over the phone – and I know he’s smiling on the other end.
Cooke appears to have his feet very firmly planted on the ground. His friendship group back home in London is not made up of actors and directors. Instead, he keeps company with the best friends he’s known since he was 12 years old. “All my friends are northerners,” he says, commenting that the four-month filming stint can be difficult at times. “I get a bit homesick towards the end because my friends are what I miss the most.” He then quickly adds, “…but I love the job and I can’t complain because it’s all completely worth it. You just pull your socks up and get on with it.” Spoken like a true northerner.
Listening to: Beirut
Watching: Mad Men
Reading: I brought a few books with me and haven’t lifted page 1 yet. I have a Hemingway book that I keep meaning to start – something about bells? (For Whom the Bell Tolls.)
Recommending: Montreal – it’s a really cool place
Stonemouth – BBC One Scotland from Monday 8 June & BBC Two from Thursday 11 June
Words Anastasia Miari
Photography Fabrice Jacobs
Styling Magdalena Marciniak
Hair Ronnie Woodward
Make Up Yin Lee@ERA using M.A.C. Cosmetics
Styling Assistant Jackson Forster