In close-up - Dominic Cooper

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He’s the bronzed one in beachwear in Mamma Mia! and the shiny-suited son of Saddam in this month’s The Devil’s Double, so for British actor Dominic Cooper, modelling this season’s essential monochrome tailoring in New York is a cinch.

Figuring out how the movies work is a waste of time. The guy who said that in Hollywood “nobody knows anything” has a penthouse in Manhattan and two Oscars, so he must have known something. But seriously: how can it be that Dominic Cooper, that nice young man from Mamma Mia!, The History Boys and An Education, is playing Uday Hussein, Saddam’s elder son, a man for whom the depths of depravity would never be low enough?

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“I was desperate to do it,” says Cooper, and he means terribly-keen desperate, not will-work-for-food desperate, for here is a 33-year-old actor who has worked steadily in theatre, TV and, more recently, film, since graduating from drama school in London 11 years ago.

“There was nothing else I had 
ever read that would give an actor these kind of opportunities, give as much fun causing so much chaos,” 
he says.

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What he read was the script for The Devil’s Double, a new film that tells the tale of Uday, and his body double, Latif Yahia. Uday, famously, was killed in Iraq in 2003 by the American invading force, after which his appalling behaviour came to light.

Over a decade earlier, Latif had escaped to Austria after several years forcibly spent as Uday’s double, 
taking his master’s place at public events and, theoretically, in the cross hairs of assassins. Cooper plays both parts in what is his first film as the biggest name on the poster. You wait ages for your first starring role, then two come along etc, etc.

“I knew it would be hard, but I loved feeling part of it all,” says Cooper. “You can feel a bit removed on a film set, coming in to do your scene for one day, three days. You’re just a warm prop, really, which is why 
I relished doing this so much.

“I watched Dead Ringers, and Moon, which I thought was an incredible film,” he says, referencing two movies in which the leading men — Jeremy Irons and Sam Rockwell respectively — play dual leads, 
“and I also looked at the brothers 
in The Social Network. But all those guys are meant to be twins or  
clones, whereas this is two very different people.”

He’s not wrong. The film’s early focus on Latif’s dilemma switches as Cooper’s astonishing turn as Uday becomes its driving force. He proves that just because you haven’t previously played a psychopathic maniac with a foul blood lust and an unsettling Oedipus complex while carrying a big gun made of gold, doesn’t mean you aren’t going to excel at it when you do.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Cooper channels Al Pacino’s Tony Montana in Scarface, Joe Pesci’s Tommy in Goodfellas and, with a glint in his eye, the bucktoothed Freddie Mercury of Queen.

And yet, aside from a few choice lines of dialogue that highlight Uday’s ludicrousness to the point where one must bark out a little laugh to relieve the pressure (choicest of all, in explaining Uday’s one-track mind: 
“I love cunt more than I love God!”), this is not a film to put a smile on 
your face.

“I don’t know how people will respond to it, but I’m proud of it,” says Cooper. “We were always worried this lunatic would be the focus of the film, but it’s difficult for him not to be. He was an horrific monster... but these are the juicy parts, the ones you can lose yourself in — you have to, really. You can’t do them halfheartedly. 
Uday was an unstoppable force.”

Unstoppable forces form a theme in the next few entries on Dominic Cooper’s CV. In Captain America: The First Avenger, he plays Howard Stark, the father of Tony “Iron Man” Stark, who helps to kit out the titular super-soldier.
In My Week With Marilyn, he plays the photographer-confidante of Norma Jean. And then, in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, out next year, he’s the mentor who teaches 
Abe how to fight the ever-living. Cooper has spent four months of his 2011 in New Orleans filming the latter. He’s busy.

“Maybe I’ll have some time off 
and see what’s coming next. The temptation is to rush into stuff because you think you’re never going to work again — every actor has that at some point. You think the last job you did is going to kill you off.”
Career suicide? If you can take on Uday Hussein and come out unscathed, there’s no danger of that. 


The Devil’s Double is out now. Captain America: The First Avenger is out now.

Words by Paul Wilson

(Top picture - Grey wool suit with felt trim, £1,048; white cotton shirt, £135; grey silk tie, £75, all by Emporio Armani. Black calfskin boots, £710, 
by Dior Homme)

 

Grey wool jacket, £695; grey/white checked cotton shirt, £135; grey flannel trousers, £235, all by Hilfiger Collection. Black leather shoes, £165, by Russell & Bromley. Black leather belt, £60, by DKNY

 

Grey wool suit, £930; grey cotton jumper, £420; dark grey cotton shirt, £245, all by Prada

 

Grey/black wool puppytooth three-piece suit, £1,300; white cotton fitted shirt, £194, both by Dolce & Gabbana. Brown leather boots, £300, by John Varvatos

 

Grey cashmere suit, £3,500; grey cashmere jumper, £830; black calfskin boots, £710, all by Dior Homme

 

Grey wool tweed blazer, £650; white cotton shirt, £125; grey wool trousers, £225; burgundy/grey striped wool tie, £85, all by Dunhill

 

Suit, £599; blue denim shirt, £115, both by Boss Black. Navy knitted tie, £85, by Boss Selection. Black leather shoes, £165, by Hilfiger

Photographs
 - Guy Aroch
Fashion - 
Gareth Scourfield

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