We got a chance to catch up with British actor Dominic Cooper to talk to him about his role in The Devil's Double. This role of a lifetime puts him on a whole new level - he is absolutely genius! Perhaps even garnering his first Oscar nomination and the critical praise he deserves.
Tough to watch at times, Cooper plays the double role of Latif Yahia and Uday Hussein - two men who look similar, but have completely different personalities.
Latif spent years as the double of Saddam Hussein's sadistic son Uday - a man described as completely psychotic. Many parts of the film have been dramatized and exaggerated for Hollywood purposes, but the main ideas and many of the actual events are from Yahia's own book The Devil's Double.
Cooper sat down with us to talk about the challenges of playing two completely different characters and how he managed to differentiate between the two.
"I just had to go and go and go and once we established a way in which to work and for me to say ‘look because I think Uday drives these scenes, he’s the force behind the scenes and he’s frantic and moving around and his physicality’s much bigger, lets establish that and then I can try and step into Latif, who’s much calmer and stoic and a voyeur and much more simplistic really.' Once I got into that pattern, it felt second nature – just like someone with a split personality. And there were little things, the very basic tricks we’d come up with to really make sure you could decipher between the two men. That what was going to decipher if it was really working, otherwise it would become a mess. But once we made those decision, which are basic, but they seem to work, and it really helped me."
There were also physical attributes that helped Cooper stay in the right character at all times.
"Just basic things like his physicality and how they stand and sit and the vocal register- changing that. Making one have a very low baritone voice and the other having this ridiculous high-pitched cackle. And then the teeth were amazing. I always heard actors say, ‘I didn’t know the character until I put his shoes on’ and I always thought ‘come on – stop it.’ But actually the moment I put that in and just the expression and the face muscles changed, it kind of did this really weird – you inhabited it, the character."
Cooper actually got a chance to meet Latif, who now lives in Ireland. Although they decided to take major creative license with the film, Cooper felt it was necessary to sit down with the real-life figure.
"I wanted to sit with him. For a number of hours we sat. He’s a very imposing, huge man and once you read the book, you do wonder what this guy's going to be like. The first thing I think he said was ‘I know whether I like someone my first 30 seconds of meeting them.’ So I’m already kind of terrified, but he’s a very kind man and whatever he’s been through, if even a fraction of that is true, it’s more than you can even imagine. More than I could ever imagine I would ever experience or be able to handle. I think we made a decision very early one that it shouldn’t be a detailed, biographical, historically accurate account of these events because there’s no one really to say exactly who these people were, exactly what they said, so who are we to say. We are interpreting a story and that helped me because with that dramatic license."
And most of his knowledge about Uday came from Latif himself - through Cooper's interview and the book.
"From looking at the very small amounts of video footage there were, you could just see the terror that he instigated on the people around him at party’s. He’d just be this strange, dark presence in the corner. This coil waiting to unfoil. I could just imagine the terror that people had around him. The majority of it was from Latif actually."
But Cooper says he didn't have trouble getting out of character - especially Uday.
"I had the gift of probably performing Latif afterward and switching immediately, so at least having the time to just get rid of the madman. But you do inhabit this kind of unbelievable vanity and arrogance this man had because he was in charge of everything. He was in control. There was absolutely nothing that could get in his way or stop him. I luckily had my brother on set with me and I would go and do something as far removed from the film as possible. Go go-karting or go and play soccer, which we did almost every evening."
But not everything is entirely like Latif's book, much of the film is dramatized for Hollywood purposes - perhaps even dulled down at times (amazingly enough).
"The book, I just remember every page was ghastly. As long as you have some vague understanding of how horrific it was and how horrific that regime was. I love how the film gives us a different perspective of that society and the war."