Dominic Cooper’s portrayal of Uday Hussein comes off the screen like a Universal monster. There’s a distinct physicality and horror that Cooper, suitably, manages to bring to Uday. He completely lacks any redeeming qualities or moral sense. On the other side of Cooper’s dual performance is Latif Yahia, who represents both the eye and moral conscious of the audience.
He’s the good son.
Unfortunately, I did not get to ask Cooper about his performance as Latif, which is arguably as challenging as playing a live-action cartoon. Uday must be an actor’s dream role, in many ways. Being a larger than life man allows a performer to go to so many places, tonally speaking, and Cooper did just that.
Here’s what actor Dominic Cooper had to say about facing challenges, the unhinged nature of Uday, the polarizing reaction the film has received, and how The Devil’s Double is no Scarface:
It must be nice to have Captain America and The Devil’s Double come out around the same time. I don’t think the two could be more different.
Yeah, it’s really good. I wish it could always be that way, but it’s terribly hard to do that. They were very different to work on. People tend to enjoy them for different reasons, and I like seeing how people respond to them.
You seem to do that quite a bit, though. Didn’t you go from Tamara Drewe to The Devil’s Double?
I think I did, actually. It’s nice because you need to constantly challenge your different muscles and push yourself. When I read The Devil’s Double script, I was mesmerized about a story of two different people. Nothing for a moment made me think I could play the son of an Iraqi dictator. Then you imagine if you could do it, and maybe I could look like him? It becomes a possibility. I think it’s always about reminding yourself of those challenges, and the outcome of those challenges is often so much better than anything else. You tend to believe you’re not capable of doing something, then you break those barriers of fear down and take a leap of faith. Whether the outcome works or it doesn’t, at least you gave it a go.
A lot of actors and directors say that – how they prefer to do projects that intimidate them.
Yeah, that’s so true. In my experience, when you go on to a project, where you think you know what you’re doing and don’t think too much about it, then you’re never pleased with the outcome. You want to try something that pushes you. You can find that on the stage doing a Greek tragedy, and imagine performing in a theater in front of 14,000 people. I have to do everything in my power to make it work, and it’s painstaking and difficult. You rip your hair out, but the feeling you get afterwards is absolutely worthwhile.
When the film premiered at Sundance, some critics were comparing it to Scarface. That seemed like an odd comparison because The Devil’s Double doesn’t really glorify what it’s focusing on. Do you think that reference is inaccurate?
It doesn’t glorify it. I think it’s more about the imagery and the richness of color. Both are potentially about… it doesn’t necessarily glorify it, because you see the man break down, because of the rules he lived by. At the end of the movie if you think it’s glamorized, then you’re slightly insane. I can understand the reference, but again, people like to put something into a pigeonhole. People like to explain things by what else they know, and I think that’s what it’s about. I can understand the reference, but The Devil’s Double certainly doesn’t glorify.
The general reaction has been pretty polarizing. Usually, that’s the sign of an interesting film, so were you expecting this level of divisiveness when you signed on?
I think it’s wonderful. I’m really pleased with a reaction down the middle. It’s very diverse and very particular, and I think that’s great. I’ve always been interested in people’s opinion on this film, and I agree with a lot of what people say. It just completely depends on your taste and how you’re taken by it. For me, I find it completely fascinating that any man has experienced anything like this, and how he changed his appearance for something he hated. There is also a father-son relationship, which is a breakdown of a family.
When it comes to Uday, it’s a character that’s completely unhinged. Is there a lot of fun in playing a role where you don’t have to think all that much about finding a middle ground, and just get the opportunity to be spontaneous and bizarre?
It’s really fun. Of course, I hate the man, despise him, and don’t empathize with him, but ultimately, I enjoyed him. Once I found out how he worked and behaved the way he did, I could almost laugh at his life and no moral boundaries. I wanted him to be someone you can laugh at like a cartoon character. In a way, what he did was so ludicrous and foolish that you’re just stunned by his idiocy. That’s enjoyable to play. I had to take up space in the way he did, and be egotistical. It’s great to laugh at it, and not take one’s self so seriously.
The Devil’s Double is currently playing in limited release.