We speak to The Devil's Double star Dominic Cooper at Comic-Con for the Lee Tamahori film
Over the course of Comic-Con, I watched "The Devil's Double" late one night, and then returned to the theater the next morning to see "Captain America." Both of those movies feature Dominic Cooper, who effectively plays four roles between them. In "Captain America," he's Howard Stark, forebear to none other than Iron Man himself, Tony Stark. In Lee Tamahori's "The Devil's Double," he's doing triple-duty, playing Latif Yahia, an Iraqi man who was coerced into being the fiday—the public body double—for Uday Hussein, Saddam's son, whose insanity and sadism were simply legendary. But he also plays Uday at the same time, and the two characters often shared the screen at the same time through the miracle of CGI. On top of all of that, Cooper also played Latif playing Uday. It's all a lot to take in, and so is the film, which is savagely, viciously violent, and often disturbing in its portrayal of excess. Cooper sat for roundtable interviews during Comic-Con, and touched on all of these topics, as well as the challenges of playing two men at the same time, one of which cannot stand the other.
"The Devil's Double" is scheduled for an August 5 release.
Between "The Devil's Double" and Captain America, we've seen you in four roles in the last twelve hours.
Dominic Cooper: Yeah, it's a bit much. That's an overload.
Did you go into this project knowing you were going to have to tackle three different personalities?
No, that kind of occurred to me while we were doing it, actually. I really enjoyed that aspect of it. I was mesmerized by that aspect of the story, how this normal guy was just thrown into this world and had to be a good actor, spontaneously, had to try and act like someone who he was utterly horrified by. I hadn't thought enough about that, and then as those scenes came up where he was transforming, I spontaneously established who he was, the character I created and developed, knowing what I knew of Latif and knowing where I wanted to go with this person. It happened instantaneously. I didn't think too much about it, because of the nature in which it was filmed, and the speed with which it was filmed, and the lack of budget and time. Sometimes people think I played out Uday first, and then a week later I played [Latif]. It wasn't [that way]. It was a case of literally doing an establishing shot of the scene, and then constantly running, doing the teeth, changing the hair, getting into costume, and then running back in, trying desperately to remember how I did the scene an hour or whatever it was ago. And I'd ask, often, to play Uday first, because he was so much the driving force within the scene itself. What was terrifying was that Lee was having to make spontaneous decisions about which take to use, because we'd have to use that take, and I'd have to remember that particular one, how I sounded, how I did the performance, and then I'd have an earpiece to hide, and I'd be guessing where I was. Which was often quite haphazard, because I was allowed to improvise and go off the page with him. Therefore it was kind of chaos. I remember Lee running around, sticking things on various walls, going 'you were there, and then you were looking over there.' But that had to be so accurate, because if you saw on the film and he was looking in the wrong place for a reaction, it just wouldn't work. None of it would work.
Did you get paid twice to play two characters?
Was it as exhausting as it sounds to do all that? And did you ever forget what you were supposed to do?
It was exhausting. But I never forgot, and I was so exhilarated by it, and by performing those two very different guys. It was nonstop, but I was inspired to do it. I loved the energy, I loved the input that I was allowed to have, which rarely happens on a film set. The creative input, I felt so much apart of the crew, I felt part of everything, the decision making. Yes, I was exhausting, but I liked it like no other job that I'd done before. The beauty of that was not having time to contemplate or regret or think too much about if you'd done the right thing or if the performance was going the right way. I'd had time enough, Lee had allowed time to really establish who these guys were, and our artistic license within it. Yes, I met Latif, yes, there was a certain amount I could find out about Uday, and get to know him. But my fear was that these two guys had to be very, very different, from the audience's perspective. You had to know--it was essential that you knew who you were watching at every moment, for me. That was my biggest fear. So therefore, to divide them, they're not necessarily like that. Uday didn't necessarily speak with that ridiculous high-pitched voice. But they were all techniques to make sure that we knew who we were watching. Physically changing each of them, hopefully and very differently, and then vocally changing them. I loved all that stuff.
Were you amazed at how seamlessly it turned out?
I was quite, actually, yeah, from seeing the chaos I experienced on set. But I always had faith in the team who was doing it, and Lee. He was completely inspiring to be around and to watch, his energy levels.
How do you feel about the shocking violence in the movie? How do you prepare for something like that?
Another one of the challenges was the fact that I could find no remorse or sympathy for this hideous monster. I despised him, even though actually you have to see the humanity of the person you're portraying, whose eyes you're looking through in some respects. So the violence, the more I read and the more I saw, I didn't know where to go. I couldn't understand it in any capacity whatsoever. So I had to look into his psyche, why the man behaved the way he did, in terms of Uday and what he did. You just look at his childhood, I suppose, and the fact that he was exposed to scenes of torture when he was four. His father made him watch stuff like that. His deep love of his mother, I suppose. These are the aspects of him that I had to cling onto to understand if there was something good in him, somewhere. But those things happened, the torture happened. We toned down the torture, we toned down the things he did. You're right, you step back and think, we're just making a film, and then Latif turns up and you go, 'This was real. This all happened. This really affected people in the most horrific way. This man destroyed people's lives with no care and no remorse.' But you needed to see it. You need to know it. Otherwise it's romanticized and the situation isn't as powerful. You have to understand the threat. You have to understand the situation in which that man is in and why he can't get out of it. They're not mucking around. You're in that situation for real and you cannot get out of it. They will kill your entire family without a second thought. But it was never meant to be an accurate, descriptive, political, historical reference to that time. It's what Lee is great at, from his first film. If anyone is going to make a film about a gangster-run state and country, then it's him. He understands how those people work, the psychology behind those people. The violence was important.
It sounds like it's still kind of carrying it around a little bit.
But Uday doesn't consider himself to be a monster--he's able to justify everything he does. Can you talk about what went into that for you?
Yeah, and that's what so disturbing about him. What's intriguing about it is that it was a gangster-run country, but it was one with no limitations set upon it. Gangsters have a point where they're going to be prohibited from doing what they're doing, or be told to calm down or to stop. There was nothing. He killed his father's best friend, he was sent to Geneva, he killed an American tourist in the space of hours, lost millions at the roulette table, and killed someone as a result. Nothing happened to him. He was sent back home. He could do anything he pleased. He had as much money to spend as he wanted, took as many drugs, had as many women. There was nothing to prohibit him from doing what he wanted. Which begs the question, are you born like that? Was he always like that? Did he have that inside of him? Probably not, it's how he was allowed to behave. There were stories going into school, bringing girls into school, and teachers saying, 'I don't think that's possible. You shouldn't do that.' And then the teacher was gone, they never turned up again.
Which were you on first, "Devil's Double" or "Captain America?"
I did "Devil's Double" first.
So how do you go from one extreme to the other, between Latif and Uday and a playboy eccentric billionaire?
They're all challenges in totally different ways. I actually, in a way, found "Captain America" more difficult, strangely, because those parts, where you go in and you a day here and there on a huge set, where you may not have worked for three weeks, you don't know the crew, and you don't really know who you are within the framework of that particular job. Because it's so enormous. You have to really cling onto what you've developed, because there's only that much of that character within that script. So you're clinging onto who this person is, with a desperate hope that you're getting it right. When you're completely immersed in a character like Uday and Latif, you're firing on all cylinders and you're there the whole time. It's within you, and you click from one moment to the next, and you go into that person. When you're sitting around for a day and then you're called to do you're line, you wonder, 'was that any good?' You have no idea. So truly, answering that question, it's more difficult, for me. I find maybe it's because I prefer rising to a challenge. I'm much more invigorated by maybe getting it wrong, by not really knowing what I'm doing or where I'm going with something, but it's more enjoyable for me.
Is "The Avengers" like that, too?
I'm not in "The Avengers."
Oh, how many Marvel movies are you signed for?
None at all.
You've talked about the transitions from Uday to Latif in terms of the physical changes you went through, but going from one extreme to the other must be an enormous emotional transition, as well.
You just need a minute. I just needed to focus and re-adjust. All those things helped tremendously. They were basic principles, they were really obvious in a way. I changed the physical language of him, I changed the vocal language. I had the teeth, which changed the shape of my face, which allowed me to get in the mindset in some way. I can't even really explain that. I often heard actors, when I was younger, saying, 'yes, when i put on the shoes...' and I thought, what a load of crap. But actually it's totally true. The moment those [the fake teeth] went in, I suddenly just took on a different persona. So then I just needed to adjust. It's like having a split personality...which I have anyways. It was exhausting, but at the same time great. What was difficult was to do Latif when he was furious, when he got angry, because you felt yourself wanting to slip back in. But you had to just really, really make an effort to remember how a different person operates. How totally different we all are. How we respond and listen and react, and all those things are so different amongst each and every one of us, as individuals. You just have to not allow yourself to seep too much into the performance, and try, kind of, to be really clear.
How were you able to switch off when you'd get home?
I had my brother there with me, and it was great to hang out with him. It was one of those wonderful experiences where we'd all either play soccer or went go-karting every day. Literally. We were so exhausted, but it was so good to just go do something completely opposing what we'd done during the day. I shouldn't have been go-karting, the film and the producers wouldn't have been very happy to know that, but it was nice to just get it out and do something different.
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Genre/s: Action Drama
Release Date/s: Juy 29, 2011 (Showtimes & Tickets)
Production Company: Herrick Entertainment
Official Site: Official Site for The Devil's Double
CAST and CREW FOR The Devil's Double
Starring: Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier, Raad Rawi, Mem Ferda, Dar Salim, Khalid Laith, Pano Masti
Directed By: Lee Tamahori
Written By: Michael Thomas based on the novel by Latif Yahia
Produced By: Paul Breuls, Emjay Rechsteiner, Catherine Vandeleene, Michael John Fedun
The Devil's Double SYNOPSIS:
PLOT: The year is 1987 and Baghdad is the playground for the rich and infamous- where anything can be bought, for a price. When army lieutenant, Latif Yahia (Dominic Cooper), is summoned from the frontline to Saddam’s palace, he is faced with an impossible request – to be Iraq's notorious Black Prince Uday Hussein's ‘fiday ,’ his body double. With his family's lives as well as his own on the line, his fate is decided. Latif begins his journey as Uday Hussein, a man as widely hated as he is powerful. As he learns to walk, talk and act like Uday, he experiences the extravagance of a world filled with fast cars, endless money, easy women, and deeply depraved violence. Knowing who to trust becomes a matter of life or death, as he battles to escape from his forced existence alongside Sarrab (Ludivine Sangier), Uday's notorious concubine. In a dynamic and chilling portrayal of Latif Yahia’s autobiographical novel, THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE charts one man’s struggle in a world of bloodlust, power and seduction.