Comic-Con 2011: Dominic Cooper spills about tackling dual roles in THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE

Kristal Bailey

July 27th, 2011

During Comic-Con weekend, Dominic Cooper took some time away from all the geekery to talk about his latest project, THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE. It was definitely quite the change of pace from all the superheros, science-fiction, and fantasy tales that got their moment in the spotlight at Comic-Con.

THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE follows a young Iraqi as he gets swept into the Hussein family, as the son’s look-a-like. How do you keep hold of who you are when playing someone else in public? How do you keep your family safe when any false move could bring down the wrath of one of the most unstable and dangerous men in the Middle East?

Dominic Cooper explored these questions and more in a chat he had we me and a few other journalists. Find out his thoughts on Comic-Con, the true story of THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE, and more in the full transcript after the break.

How does it feel being here for a blockbuster like CAPTAIN AMERICA but also for this transformative performance in THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE?
They’re such difference projects. It’s such an incredible experience to see the fan reaction for something like CAPTAIN AMERICA. It’s rare to see the fan base for something as huge as that and see how passionate the people are about it. I feel that the people that enjoy that film will hopefully enjoy THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE even though they couldn’t be more different; I hope it’s just as exciting.

It’s great to be a part of this, I never had any idea about Comic-Con, I only heard about it last year when the cast came out for CAPTAIN AMERICA halfway through shooting.

What would you dress up as at Comic-Con?
I wasn’t really in to comics or superheroes as a kid; I just wasn’t excited by them. I keep trying to say when you are involved in something like Captain America people always say “did you enjoy comics?” and I didn’t I don’t know why I just wasn’t excited about them. I look at them now and I’m like they are beautiful incredible pieces of artwork and I just didn’t get it. I’m not sure, I think I just played with cards. I was obsessed with cards and now I understand the obsession that people had with comics.

What can you share with us about this movie?
It was something I was desperate to be a part of when I read it, it was unlike anything I had ever read before and knew very little about the subject matter, which I felt very guilty about because that part of the world and the war was so present in my life for so many years and I felt so removed from it and the people who were involved in it had no real emotional connection. Not that the film is about that or trying to make a political statement, but I was intrigued to find out the inner workings of that world or just the people of that society and find out what it was like to have that dictatorship looking over your life. I knew just what people had mentioned about the son and the only real conversation I remember having about Saddam’s kids was its almost worse if we get rid of Saddam. The guy Uday, who would take over, would be much, much worse and I was thinking, “Wow, he must just be awful.” And while researching him for this job, I realized the full horror of that statement. I was just compelled, and also meeting Lee and getting his take on it, I liked the fact that he didn’t want to make a political or historically accurate biographical account of the people in that world. It was more like this is a gangster film about the gangster regime in place in this country with no limitations put on them. They can do what they please. This guy in the center of it, this maniac is at liberty to do anything he pleases and that in it is an incredible story. And then you have this poor hero, this man who I had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know quite well, who was thrown into the environment he had no choice to get out of and for me, I was mesmerized by it. And more on selfish terms as an actor you don’t ever get a chance to do something like this.

There are some real public experiences of Latif as Uday that have video footage. Could you tell the difference between Latif and Uday?
Yes, I could always tell from the photos and the live images who was who; I was kind of amazed they got away with it and that the public didn’t realize. They’re remarkably close, but I could tell once I got to know Latif. But he was incredible at it; that’s what surprised me so much was that a normal, happy family man was thrown into a situation he had to act his way out of. He really had to impersonate someone and do a good job of it and that he did. It was wonderful to have all that, and the complete riches for an actor to look back onto and have a place to work from.

If I had been a method actor I would have gone and studied him and lived with him for months and months, but I didn’t think it was a necessity to do that for this. We ended up using some artistic license to stretch and manipulate the story, so I thought the most important thing would be to make really clean comparisons between these two men. No one really knows what Uday said and there’s no one to make accurate and believable accounts of what took place so therefore it’s a story. So for me and for Lee the only way it could work is if we as an audience believe that we are seeing two different people.

How much time did you have between playing the two characters? Were you Latif one day and Uday another?
No, that would have been a real pleasure! If it would’ve been a big movie, I suppose you would have done all the scenes as one character then done all the scenes as the other but literally because of time restraints and financial restraints, I would have to flip in the moment. I asked if I could do Uday first because he was very much the driving force in most of the scenes. He established how a scene would work because of his energy and haphazard nature and how much space he took up. So I tried and asked if I could do him first and then because you had to get an establishing shot and then immediately flip and try and make those changes to be Latif and have to guess and remember and have an earpiece doing a performance of what I had just done. Lee would have to make a decision on which take he liked the most because that is the take he would have to use in the film because that is the take I would be referring too and referencing as Latif. It became so complicated at times like, “Who am I doing?” and “what am I?” but it was extremely exciting. And then Lee would haphazardly stick marks on the wall in the hope that’s where the eye line would be. So he would stick it over there in the hope that that’s where I was, ‘cause if that didn’t work it would fall to pieces. If the eye line was out it just wouldn’t work.

How do you approach a character who isn’t an actor but is acting?
It was like playing three characters for me. That intrigued me to play Latif trying to act, and I hope that it comes across that he is slightly more tentative and finds it difficult and painful to step in those shoes. But its a matter of life and death for him, so he has no choice. I wanted him to not be very good at it. There were so many more avenues to go down with that and it always raised more questions for me with Latif. How much did he use it to his advantage? How much was he involved? With the trust that took place, whether he had to for the sake of his life and his family’s life? And how or if he started to really enjoy it to be completely in control of everyone around him and to suddenly go from a very average guy normal life to the realms of power…it must have been extraordinary. But yeah to be that was like another character all together.

How did Latif feel about the project?
Again he was there, he wasn’t there all the time, I think for my sake. It was difficult him being there. He’d be reliving what were essentially the most horrific moments of his life. I think in general he was extraordinarily excited about seeing his story. He wrote a book about it, he wanted people to know about it. His life’s been destroyed; he lost his family, his home, he has no identity. He’s stateless. But I think he loves it in a way; he loves the fact that people are seeing his story exposed. It was very moving to sit through a screening with him; he was always very supportive of how I chose to portray him or my idea of his character should be and what Uday’s character was like. But yeah it was… sitting next to him in Berlin when he first saw it, he had breathing problems and was extraordinarily anxious and you forget you remove yourself from it and you forget the story we are embellishing it and manipulating it and that’s not really what happened, and you have to remind yourself that he actually went through this.

You mentioned big embellishments; can you elaborate on what was changed?
Who really knows the whole thing? Actually, it’s one guy’s story we are taking on here. I don’t know…Michael Thomas the writer didn’t know what he actually said and how he was, but we know how he behaved towards people. In some respects, we dumbed down many of the horrific events that took place.

For example, what was dumbed down or left out?
I think you don’t believe it. There’s a bit in the film that we left in, the killing of his father’s best friend, but for me the most shocking is what he used to do with the newlyweds. The brides are about to be married and picking up school girls, for me it was all so disturbing and it was more so to kind of ludicrous life style. The ordering of a 25 story cake…you can’t put that in a film because people just wouldn’t believe it. That’s the excess; it’s too much, it’s not believable.

And the torture that took place! We had to take that out because you can’t accept it. We thankfully don’t live in a society where that’s part of our lives and you take a second glance and its disturbing and you don’t need it. I think it’s a good thing, but some of the stuff we did shoot and then thought, “well, this is unnecessary.” Lee, he knows that world, he knows those people. He knows that violence and I think he chose that it wouldn’t be necessary as long as you have an idea and understanding of what the man was capable of, which was anything without limits, but there aren’t specific things. Everything, everyday, that I ever read about him was truly disturbing. He was horrific and that for me was a very difficult part of playing the character because I couldn’t find anything which I could remotely relate to as a human being. He had no moral grounding. He was obviously truly, truly disturbed and that was my key in with this man, with his relationship with his father, having a dictator as a father and being exposed to scenes of torture from the age of 4.

THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE is out in limited theaters starting Friday, July 29.

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