As BBC America’s period drama nears its second season premiere date, lovely Copper co-star Anastasia Griffith generously agreed to spend time with Press Pass L.A. to offer insights into her role on the gritty, critically acclaimed New York-centric series. Still in Toronto, shooting Copper’s fifth Season Two episode at the time (of an expanded thirteen episode season), Griffith kindly indulged my initial inquiry into her recent guest appearance on Alan Ball’s Banshee.
PPLA: Your guest shot on Banshee was a pleasant surprise to see, is that a series you might be on again?
AG: I think Banshee’s a really great show and I’d be very game to be more involved with it. Antony Starr, who plays the lead in that show, is awesome and its showrunner, Greg Yaitanes, is such a talent and has been a friend of mine since directing me in Damages. I would love to go back there and work with them again. It was a great experience. It was only one day of shooting for me so I was in and out pretty quickly. It happened to be their final day of the entire season so absolutely everyone was there, it was a little bit like the end of holiday camp. Having all the execs sitting behind the monitor was quite nerve-wracking because, especially going in as a guest star, it’s really not your territory but everyone was quite supportive. It’s a cool show and it was a really fun thing to do in support of and in contrast to my work on Copperwhere, being a period drama, I have to wear such intense outfits such as hoop skirts and corsets. Doing something as modern as Banshee was awesome.
PPLA: Speaking of your wardrobe on Copper, one would imagine you’ve developed a special relationship with your costumer?
AG: Absolutely. Some of my closest friends and colleagues on the show are in hair & makeup and wardrobe. Delphine White does all of the wardrobe and is such a lovely person. She loves her job and takes it so seriously but she does it with so much fun. She’s got her work cut out for her in a big way on our show but there’s never anything but joy in her work, and she’s one of the best historical research people on the set. Last year both Franka (Potente) and I learned more about our characters from Delphine than we did almost anywhere else. She’s a real joy to spend time with. Colin Penman is our new head of makeup and is just such a talent, and we’re really fortunate this year to have a wonderful hair stylist named Ryan who has made Elizabeth hotter and more beautiful than ever; I feel so comfortable just letting him do his thing. Actors always have a close relationship with Hair & Makeup. They’re the first people to touch you in the morning and the last people to touch you at night. When you have intimate scenes or emotional scenes they’re the ones who are there with you as you guide yourself through, so you usually have a very intimate relationship with them.
PPLA: Elizabeth Haverford really didn’t wear much makeup in Season One, did she?
AG: None! None! It was painful. It was very hard, actually. I found that really difficult. I actually wouldn’t look at myself last year at all because I found it very austere and I had nothing to hide behind. I didn’t feel sensual. It was very correct for the time but it didn’t feel very relevant to who she was for a modern audience looking at her and I found that dichotomy really difficult. So I truthfully chose not to see myself because the minute I saw myself I had a different reading of who this character was. This year I feel like that’s been married a lot more by our bringing in more makeup and more beautiful hairstyles that, perhaps, aren’t quite so correct to the time but are a more modern interpretation of who she would have been and what she would’ve looked like. I certainly feel that the outward expression is now a lot closer to the inward expression of who Elizabeth is.
PPLA: What have you found to be the most challenging aspect of portraying her?
AG: It’s funny because it’s different this year compared to last. I found the most challenging thing last year was finding how to be a fully fleshed out woman living with the constraints of the clothes and rules of that time that were imposed upon women. When I watch it back, I almost feel like there was too much reverence paid to the period aspect of it. I really found the clothing very restrictive, it imposed a lot on me in so far as how I would carry myself and how she would even breathe and talk and move. This year we’ve all made an effort to be freer. We’re trying to free that up a bit so things feel a little bit more sensual and a little bit more relaxed in Season Two. I think the secret of doing good period drama is not being too reverent to the period so that these characters can feel like they’re still relevant to us today. That was really tough for me last year. This year I’m not finding it to be as much trouble. I guess the biggest challenge this year has been doing justice to the woman so that we understand her motives and can feel compassion for her while at the same time letting her remain strong and independent.
PPLA: Has Elizabeth changed a lot in Season Two compared to Season One?
AG: No, I don’t think she’s changed, though she does have to face some things about herself. I just think we get to see more of her vulnerabilities. We get to see more of the difficult situations a woman of that time could find herself in and how women had to be quite strident to find their space in society. There’s a lot more that’s transparent about her this year. Things do take a turn and she’s going through her own questions and her own struggles and that involves some action. It’s definitely juicy but she’s not a completely different human being, we just get to see more of her thought processes.
PPLA: What has been the easiest part of portraying her?
AG: I guess it’s the sparkle in her eye which is also the most fun aspect, to be honest. She’s very spirited and always looking for the next opportunity. It’s really enjoyable to play someone who has that little sparkle. She’s playing by her own rules and that’s always fun, it gives you freedom to play outside the box a little bit.
PPLA: Have you had much input into how your character has developed?
AG: Yeah, I think we all did. There are ideas that we’ve all come up with that have come to fruition in the show, some small, some big. Last year we all sat down with Tom Fontana, who was our showrunner, and discussed at length what our characters’ backstories were. We all were very involved and had a lot of freedom in those discussions to sort of build our characters’ backstories. And although they were always there and informing what we were doing, I didn’t feel that any of the characters were as well fleshed out as they are this year. I think the decisions we made last year are now coming to light which is really cool. Everything that we did and discussed last year have been the building blocks for what’s happening now, so I think we all feel quite responsible for the directions that our characters are going in, which is great.
PPLA: Any ideas or scenes you can cite as examples?
AG: The first season scene where you see Elizabeth and Morehouse taking opium together was something that Kyle (Schmid) and I came up with. I’d been researching how well-to-do women at that time wouldn’t really drink but would instead occasionally take liquid opium, and that blonde-haired, blue-eyed women tended to get more addicted to that. So that was something that was interesting about our characters’ relationship and how these two characters spurred off each other and gave each other cover but not always in the healthiest way. That was something that we came up with and there were other little things. The rest of the cast frequently came up with similar such things. Kevin Ryan, who plays Det. Maguire, came up with his knife being such a big part of his character. These are just little things that actors sort of hold on to to flesh things out a little bit.
PPLA: Are there any notable traits or similarities you share with Elizabeth?
AG: Looking at these people in such a different social setting to us, we make choices about how to play them that make us kind of judge them but then over time you start realizing that all their behavior is coming from a very real human fear and a need to survive. I think that goes generally across the board for people living during that period of time. I can’t speak for everyone but I think that’s true for all of our characters. For me particularly, I think that was really it. I identified with the fear that she felt and her need to protect herself and put her best foot forward at all times. It’s really about finding compassion for their decisions. I don’t think I would ever make those same decisions but I’m also not living in that period of time and there isn’t as much at stake for me. I found such a sense of understanding and love for her that I think came out of her very human fear for survival and needing to survive. I think we all have that. I think it’s part of the human condition. Other than that, like Elizabeth, I’m also quite opinionated and spirited and maybe will share my opinions too easily. We’re both maybe even a little too opinionated sometimes. She’s a woman in a man’s world and I’m also very comfortable being a woman in a man’s world. I’ve grown up with six older brothers [including actor Jamie Bamber among them] and some of my best friends are men. I’m very comfortable in male company in the same way that she is and I admire her ability to be so outspoken within those circles when, at that time, it would be seen as untoward for a woman to express her opinion at all. So, I think I share her strength of character in that way.
PPLA: Are the women of Copper’s cast particularly close? Do you hang out together on set?
AG: Absolutely! Tessa (Thompson) and I have definitely formed a sort of sisterhood and actually live together in Toronto. She even moved in with me in Los Angeles for a little bit when she was in-between places. Franka’s in a different place in her life from Tessa and I, being married and a mother, but all three of us absolutely admire, respect and love each other very dearly. I love getting advice from Franka about the work and life. She’s a very strong woman with a really cool outlook on what it is to be a woman in this industry. So, yeah, we women have absolutely come together in a big way and it’s not just us, Larysa Kondracki who’s a director from our first season has come back for Season Two and we’ve formed a tight bond with her also. But I don’t think there’s a division at all between the men and women, we all get on very seamlessly. Everyone’s very relaxed in each other’s company, but, I would absolutely say that my two best friends on the show are Tessa and Franka. I couldn’t respect those two women more for who they are, how they live their lives and how they approach their work. I admire them a lot. Copper’s producers have cast really strong, really cool women in this show.
PPLA: Kiara Glasco (as Annie Reilly) has done some seriously dramatic work on the show. Does the cast or producers take measures to shield her from the mature subject matter some of her scenes involve?
AG: She’s an incredibly mature kid. She’s more than capable of processing and understanding what’s going on but we do sometimes remind her that she’s a child, and we do feel protective of her in that way. She’s really well taken care of by her mother and she has a great tutor on set at all times who’s very good with her and very careful to protect her from anything she doesn’t need to be exposed to. All the producers are very aware of how young she is. She’s an extraordinary girl. Most of the time she’s really just one of the gang.
PPLA: Will Copper have a panel or be otherwise represented at San Diego’s Comic Con next month?
AG: I don’t know if the show is going or what the situation is with that but I would love to go. I’ve always wanted to be a part of that. Tom Weston-Jones went on his own last year so if he goes again this year while I’m in L.A. I’ll probably make the trip with him.
PPLA: Copper’s first season left off in late November of 1864, will Season Two move into 1865?
AG: Yeah, I believe we’re starting in February of 1865. So we’re making a small jump forward but nothing substantial. We’re still very much in the Civil War, Lincoln is still very much alive and we’re still responding to what the Civil War does to America and to New York City. It’s still very political. We’re really looking at that interesting period of time towards the end of the war and the abolition of slavery.
PPLA: April of 1865 saw the end of the war as well as Lincoln’s assassination, will any of that be depicted this season?
AG: I’ve only read this season’s first seven scripts, so I don’t know how far along it’ll take us yet. We make very small jumps in time each episode and that’s something I really like about the show. It’s almost in real time. You kind of watch these characters’ lives develop each week rather than spanning months on end. We’re very specific about the days that everything takes place. At the beginning of each script there’s specific information that they share with us about what was happening around the world on that day. We try to be as specific to each particular day, week and month in time as possible.
PPLA: Have you shared any scenes with newly added cast member Donal Logue?
AG: We’ve had a couple of scenes together so far but I’m not sure how much Elizabeth will interact with his character in the future. I’ve admired Donal’s work in the past, he’s such a cool man. I just really enjoy talking to him, he’s so interesting. It’s really fun having him around. For the moment he’s doing more work with the boys because he’s in the police precinct but his character’s an upward climber so I’m sure he’s got his eye on breaking into the upper echelons.
PPLA: [Spoiler Alert] Many viewers were perplexed as to why, in Season One’s seventh episode “The Hudson River School”, Elizabeth didn’t alert Kevin the moment she realized she’d accidentally sent Annie back to her abuser so they might rescue her together immediately?
AG: It was very clear to us all that Elizabeth is someone who will take matters into her own hands. I think in that moment, when she realizes what she’s done, she knows the repercussions it will have in Kevin’s mind and out of self-protection and cowardice she doesn’t come clean immediately. I think that she felt that she failed, and I think she felt some shame about that. And I think she genuinely felt that she could get her back on her own. I don’t think she thought she’d get a gun pointed to her head. When you see her arrive at that farm the next day, her level of unrealistic bravado against this man is absurd and I think sometimes she’s just not really thinking all that straight and since she’s not of that world she doesn’t really understand the danger she’s putting herself into. I also think in a lot of ways she’s a coward. If she’d been braver, more self-confident and less afraid, she would’ve said to Kevin, “This is what I’ve done. We have to go and get her now and we have to go together,” but she’s not confident enough that Kevin’s going to still want to be with her and that he’s not going to fly off the handle. She’s not prepared to risk losing him or risk losing face. One of the things that we all discussed at the very beginning, and what this show is kind of about for me, is that none of these characters are black and white. No one is. We all have varying shades of light and dark. And good people sometimes do bad things and make bad decisions. I think we’ve always sort of encouraged each other not to have too much judgment about these kinds of decisions that our characters make. How often do people lie in the face of being caught at something and make things worse, not out of vitriol but just out of a fear of surrender. I think that’s what she was going through at that time. She was not able to let go of the fight at that point and she made a huge mistake because it only made her look like she was lying all the more. Those are the moments where you have to look at your character’s mistaken decisions and have compassion for why they make the decisions they make and not just judge them as bad. I think Elizabeth is very afraid of being left alone, of her not having a protector in this world, of not having money and that’s her survivalist aspect. That’s her achilles’ heel. And in that moment, when she first realized her error, she’s looking at losing the person who can protect her. But at the same time she’s kind of thinking that she’s bigger and stronger and more powerful than she really is out there in the big wide world. It’s an interesting dichotomy, an interesting paradox, really. But it’s not like we don’t always see that all the time in life, everyone has these varying levels of contradictions.
PPLA: Can you tease any tidbits about Season Two’s first few episodes?
AG: It’s really a continuation of the last season in that it’s only a couple of weeks down the line and we’re just sort of seeing those relationships develop. The first season ends with quite a big cliffhanger about the role my character was playing in the Civil War and I get to dive into that a little bit more which has been great. It’s been very psychological and we’re really examining who Elizabeth is and why she makes the choices that she makes, we’re beginning to understand her a lot better. There was a lot of facade to her in the first season and while I always knew what her depth of character was we didn’t get to see it that much so, for me, Season Two’s really about exploring that. We explore her past a little bit, explore her choices, her fears and why she makes the decisions she makes for her life. All things that I find very interesting in building a character and things that we didn’t get to see very much last year. I’ve really been enjoying it.
Copper’s first ten episodes are available to Netflix subscribers and OnDemand so there’s plenty of time to get caught up with all the Five Points action by watching Season One from the beginning before Season Two launches. And make sure to tune in June 23rd when Copper returns to BBC America’s Sunday night lineup @ 10/9c with a season premiere you won’t want to miss!