CELESTE M. COOPER Going the distance in Range Runners
By Alex A. Kecskes Born and raised in Joliet, IL, Celeste M. Cooper is the youngest of four children of Keith, the former warden of Joliet Correctional Center, and Anitra, a special education teacher. A former shy athlete (track and field, basketball, volleyball, and swimming), Celeste got the acting bug after several teachers persuaded her to start acting. She eventually skipped track practice in her senior year of high school to audition for You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown. Soon after, Celeste was cast as Lucy Van Pelt and never looked back. Celeste went on to study acting at Tennessee State University and then DePaul University’s The Theatre School, where she received her MFA in Acting in 2012. Less than a year out of school, Celeste performed at one of the top theaters in the Midwest—the Goodman Theatre—where she played Juliet in Measure for Measure. A few months later, she co-stared on Chicago P.D. as Medical Examiner Cooper, which turned into a recurring role. In 2014, Celeste was named Most Promising Actress at the Black Theatre Alliance Awards. In Range Runners, Celeste is Mel, a distance runner who encounters two drug criminals on a rugged mountain trail. After being beaten, tied up, and badly injured, she summons the courage and will survive. Thank you for taking the time for this interview. What drew you to Range Runners and the character of Mel? Celeste M. Cooper: As soon as I got the sides from my agent, I identified with Mel, which included being pushed and encouraged by her father and running to please him. I thought, OMG, I completely understand this woman. Succeeding in sports was part of my father’s dream for me and Mel was trying to prove that she could distance run and ultimately fight for her life. Did you audition for the role, if so, what was that like? Celeste: Yes, I got the sides and went into PR Casting. After doing both sides, they set up a callback but I was rehearsing for a play, so I met them at a shooting warehouse in Chicago. And when I saw the producer, director, and
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writer, and no one else, I just assumed that the other actors for the role had come for their callback on another day. But I learned later, that I was the only one they called back. After seeing how I ran and engaged in fight coordination, the stunt coordinator, Aaron Crippen, who is amazing, liked me. Then the director, Philip S. Plowden started talking to me like I’d already got the part, saying, you’re the one I want for this. So I was a bit surprised. But then I thought, well, I proved that I could act and do the physical stuff, so why not? Being the only person in a callback was something I’d never experienced. I sometimes like auditions, just so I can prove to myself that, yeah, this one’s mine. I’m going to rock this thing (laughs). Are you a runner? Did you train for this physically grueling film?