INTERVIEWS: Tom Weston-Jones & Anastasia Griffith Discuss BBC America's New Original Series COPPER
From Academy Award winner Barry Levinson and Emmy Award winner Tom Fontana, Copper is a gripping crime drama series, set in 1864 New York City, filled with intrigue, corruption, mystery and murder. Copper airs Sunday nights exclusively on BBC America.
Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones), an Irish-American former boxer turned cop, returns from the Civil War to find his wife missing and his daughter dead. Corcoran seeks justice for the powerless in the notorious immigrant neighborhood of Five Points. Bonded by battle to two Civil War compatriots – the wayward son of a wealthy industrialist and an African-American physician who secretly assists the forensic investigations – Corcoran is thrust into the contrasting worlds of elegant and corrupt Fifth Avenue, and the emerging African-American community in Northern Manhattan. The three men share a secret from the battlefield that inextricably links their lives forever.
Copper, BBC America's first original series, stars Tom Weston-Jones, Anastasia Griffith, Kevin Ryan, Dylan Taylor, Kyle Schmid and Franka Potente. The show is executive produced by Academy Award winner Barry Levinson and Emmy Award winner Tom Fontana. During a recent round table interview, the show's two main cast members offered insight into the preparation that went into playing their characters and their relationship in the story:
Did you go back and go back to research 1864 New York for your roles?
Anastasia Griffith: "I did a lot of research, I think - I can speak for both of us in that we're both schooled in the UK or actually Tom in Dubai, but a kind of British schooling. I was at Lambda. But I mean, even at school... when we studied history, we didn't learn about Lincoln or Emancipation Proclamation or the Civil War. So these were all major backbone aspects of the show that we had to school up on. And that kind of informed a lot. And then the more specific research that I did obviously was a lot about the women and what roles women could play. Like what kind of roles Elizabeth could really aspire too.
"You know, what the physical restraints were about the (corsettetry) and, you know, what happens when a woman gets pregnant? What kind of contraception do women use just trying to like really get into the daily life of what it is to be a woman at that time. And I think we all had our own little corners. But I think the weirdest thing for me was just how restraining the day to day life was. Like just wearing, and I figured it out by wearing the costumes to be honest more than doing research on it. But, you know, they would have ribs removed so that they could look more doll-like in these dresses. They'd have smelling salts in their purses because it was a daily problem that they would pass out because they couldn't breathe. And I think just the expectation that that's okay for women to have to live like that blew my mind."
Tom Weston-Jones: "I did this (actually with) Anastasia because it's, as she said, it's a period of time that coming from Britain, we really don't have the sort of background in education on that period of time. So just doing as much reading as I possibly could. And I tried to find as many newspaper articles from the period as I could. And obviously they are similar to the newspapers nowadays where they're quite sensationalist. And they kind of blow things a little bit out of proportion. So you kind of have to take them with a pinch of salt, which is interesting when you're trying to get a perspective on things.
"But I was amazed at the bare-knuckle boxing side of things. I found a great book. I can't remember what it's called at this point. But it's basically, I think it's called Bare-Knuckle Fighters of the Era. And just a series of photographs and roundups of the fights they would go through. The fights themselves were gargantuan and very long. And there was more rules to deal with the actual gambling side of things rather than the actual safety of the two people fighting. So they really were gladiators up there. And I, to me gave me a complete sense of the brutality of the era and how violent had a very different meaning.
There seems to be an interesting little triangle happening between Elizabeth and Corcoran and Morehouse. Could you expand on those three relationships?
Anastasia Griffith: "As far as Elizabeth is concerned, she obviously is friends with Morehouse. And is more from that world, that 5th Avenue world. That's more her social scene. But she is someone who has come over from England. And I think to find a freedom, a sense of freedom from the stifling of British Society that she had grown up in and I think found very frustrating.
"And she comes to Manhattan. And although she finds 5th Avenue I think quite disappointing in the sense that it's still as stifling as the UK was for her. I think she sees something in Corcoran that kind of represents a freedom and an integrity that her own society doesn't lend itself too. And quite quickly finds him fascinating and intriguing. And the fact that he can act out in a way that people in her own community can't. And kind of take matters in his own hands in a way that Morehouse isn't able to because of his social standing. And it really starts out that Morehouse and Elizabeth are best friends. I think you see quite quickly that he has some admiration for her. And the interest really further (digresses). It's quite directed towards Corcoran quite quickly.
"But yes, I think it's an interesting commentary on where she's sort of allowed to put her attentions. It's very unusual for her to put her attentions into someone from (Five Point). And I think it shows that she's quite forward-thinking woman that that's even a possibility."
Tom Weston-Jones: "I think with - there's certainly a fascination between Elizabeth (Haverford) and Corcoran in that I don't think either of them (suffer fools) gladly or easily ...with Morehouse and Corcoran, they do have a very complicated connection in that they're bonded through a very traumatic experience. And I hazard to call them friends because it doesn't seem like a very, it's not necessarily I'll invite you over to my house for dinner kind of a relationship. It's more of a they know how to use each other. And they can see the potential in each other for what they both want to achieve.
"If anything with Elizabeth, I don't necessarily think Corcoran would tie Morehouse and Elizabeth as together in his head. I don't think he's really too concerned with their relationship. But Corcoran, I think he's fascinated by her. It's a world that he knows very little about. But she's, the goodness in her and the truth. She seems to loath bullies just as much Corcoran does. So yes, I think there's plenty of room for things to happen within that triangle."
Do you both find that your characters have the same strong personalities? Is that strength what is attracting them to each other?
Anastasia Griffith: "I think that's true. I think what Tom just said is very pointed actually that they both have a loathing for bullies. I think that should be the point. And I think for me this whole series is a lot about freedom. And I think Elizabeth is someone who speaks out for the freedom of others. And I think Corcoran does too. I mean there's a really nice moment in I think it's the first episode with Bill Longend... where Corcoran seems to just really want to stand up for justice. And even though (Longend) himself seems to be happy with the situation, he really doesn't want to accept that inequality. And I think Elizabeth is exactly the same. And I think it's unusual for someone from the higher echelons of society to kind of stand up for that inequality."
Tom Weston-Jones: "Well it's also kind of being the underdog isn't it really? I think both Elizabeth being a woman in the situation that she's in. And she's certainly the underdog in a lot of respects, just as the Irish could have been back then. And also Matthew Freeman's character being, you know, one of the only black (doctor)s around. Then he's certainly the underdog. So I think there's a connection..."
Anastasia Griffith: "And even when you look at the Morehouse character, there's a sense of him being the underdog. You know, his relationship with his father, I mean he's sort of backed down by this man. And so I think they're all coming up against adversity in some way. And I think as a result, it makes all of these new characters somehow stand up for what they believe in."
How familiar were you with the work of Levinson and Fontana? And what tell tail signs, if any, will we see in Copper that indicate this to be a Levinson and Fontana show?
Anastasia Griffith: "Well I mean as far as they go as individuals, I was, my whole family were, massive Levinson fans as far as Rain Man. Rain Man was a favorite movie for us. And then Homicide: Life on the Street, and then Oz was something I think for me changed the role of television. Suddenly it was - it became an art form as far as I was concerned. It really paved the way for the Sopranos, the - all of these pictures."
Tom Weston-Jones: "Coming from Dubai and the UK, there was very little in terms of television that I was actually exposed too. But film wise, all of Barry's work, as you say Rain Man, Good Morning Vietnam... those films that I was kind of brought up on. And the tell tail signs that I think you expect is having, now, having grown up and watched more of what Tom has done, having watched Oz and things like that. I think people will really feel at home with how unpredictable things can be in the script. And how things can unfold very quickly and spiral out of control very quickly. That's a tell tail sign of their work."
Anastasia Griffith: "And I think the level of finding humor on the drama. I think there's a lot of that too. There's a lightness in the dark. And I think that's something, especially when we have Barry, or either one of them, but when we have them on set they're very keen to sort of chuckle in the corner. And sort of find character moments in a scene.
"And Barry will watch the scene and then sort of come in with a just, he'll just be laughing about an idea he's had. He's like try that, try that. And inevitably it makes it in the cut because it just brings the scene more to life. It makes it more real."
Copper airs Sunday nights at 10/9c only on BBC America.