f actors are having a Kristen Stewart-forged moment of taking a step back from the limelight and focusing on their craft instead, Christian Cooke is the British example of the moment in question. Underneath his handsome exterior, Christian is shy and unaffected. One might say he’s even vigilant not to come off affected. And this is in spite of having been called the British Zac Efron.
Yeah, but that being said, every piece I’ve read on you mentions what a brilliant actor you are… as well as looking great. Ultimately you just want to focus on the roles. That’s what you do. I’m not a model, I don’t want to be a model.
Christian was having a hectic weekend when we shot him. That same evening, he was attending a preview of his actress girlfriend Vanessa Kirby’s new play, The Acid Test. The day after, he was going to the BAFTAs to support The Promise: the acclaimed miniseries, in which he plays a British soldier stationed in the Middle East in the 1940s. Born in 1987, Christian first took to acting at a stage in his native Leeds. After appearing in several local projects and commercials, he “just sort of carried on”, as he says.
You don’t like it? It was a really good experience for me. It was my first lead role, so it was a good opportunity to experience what that’s like. But I think the show could have been a lot better. You know, I only really see my career having started in the last two years. That’s the time period that I’ve been doing work that I’m really proud of. Everything before that is valid because it’s stepping stones and experience.
After a string of roles in TV series – some of which earned him the Efron tag due to certain undressed scenes revealing his impressive physique – 2011 became the year when Christian emerged as one of Britain’s most exceptional young actors. First in The Promise, then in Ricky Gervais’ feature film, Cemetery Junction. Next year, Christian will make his international debut in Magic City, the hugely anticipated new drama from the American cable giant, Starz.
How did you become an actor? My mum took us to the local stage a lot. My brother and I weren’t really into anything else. I was quite shy as a kid so my mum probably thought it would be good for me. I think drama is a great thing for kids to do – it makes you more social. My mum never preempted that I would have a career as an actor, but I started to enjoy it and I started getting jobs and realised that’s what I wanted to do. And now you’re going to the BAFTAs. Yeah, right. What are you wearing? I borrowed a suit from Armani. Good call. I said to Anthony you’d probably be happy that someone finally put you in clothes instead of shooting you half-naked… It’s just a few TV shows that I did with a couple of scenes, which people seem to have remembered. Is it quite tedious talking about it? Well, it’s not what I do. I had a couple of scenes in a couple of TV shows, but the way the internet is, those are the sort of pictures that make it online. So that becomes the focus as opposed to the actual work you’re doing, you know?
Let’s talk about the acting instead, then. Demons… It’s a terrible show.
Are you quite a perfectionist when it comes to your work? Yeah. I’m quite anal about getting it right. The film is a director’s medium so you can’t be completely in control of the final product ever. It doesn’t matter how good you are or how bad you are – ultimately it’s the director’s medium so you’ve got to make sure you give him as many options as he needs. Do you watch your own work? I’ve watched the last few things I’ve had out, because I’ve been very proud of them. I just did The Promise, which is nominated for a BAFTA tomorrow, and I did Cemetery Junction. I know a lot of actors don’t. I think you can learn from it. You learn from watching yourself, and you learn about the director as well. You have the experience on set, so you get to see how that’s been put together in the editing room and that helps you on the next job. You learn from it whether you’ve given a good or bad performance. What are you most proud of, then? On the whole, it would be The Promise. It’s quite heavy watching. Ricky Gervais. Thoughts? I love him. He’s great. Amazing writer, director. Really humble. I can’t say enough good things about him. That set must have been so much fun? It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had on a set. It was stressful as well because it was my first film and it was a studio movie and there are a lot of great actors in it, but it was so much fun everyday, going to work with Ricky and Stephen Merchant and all the other actors.
What’s your most memorable acting experience? I think your memory is sort of skewered by how good or successful the thing is. If something’s really good, you tend to have better memories of it. But it would probably be my memories from doing The Promise in Israel. I also did a film up in Newcastle before Christmas called Unconditional, where I got to do a lot of improvising, which is great for an actor. Quite scary, no? But also very liberating, especially if you feel comfortable in the character. I was playing a character, who was quite different from myself, and it was quite nice being able to hide behind that. I was playing a bit of a psychopath. Do you go quite deep into your characters, in a way that they take over your life? Not really. I think that when you turn up on set, you have to try to commit to that character, but I don’t go home and maintain the role. I don’t know if people really do that… But you know, whatever works for you. I know some actors prefer to maintain their characters’ accents. I actually just came back from America, where I played an American and spoke American all the time. It definitely is easier to maintain the accent if you do it on the whole, so that’s something I did continue off the set. Do you want to do more things in America? It’s not really about where it is, but rather what it is. You have to be more careful about what you do as you get older, and as your career progresses. My next job is in America, actually. I’m going to Miami in two months to do a TV show called Magic City. Tell me about that. It’s set in Miami in 1958. It’s about crime and politics, sort of like Mad Men meets The Sopranos. It’s being developed by Chris Albrecht, who runs Starz. He used to run HBO, which he’s responsible for transforming into what it is today, and he wants to do the same with Starz. It’s incredible what Starz, HBO, Showtime and AMC are doing. It’s like TV is the new film. I completely agree. Those cable shows and the writers and directors—such as Mitch Glazer, who’s writing Magic City—get such a broad compass to develop their ideas. That’s why actors now want to do TV. The scripts are better. +
Christian Cooke wears Moschino