There is no denying that whodunits are sure-fire entertainment. From the double crossing to the mysteries unravelling, every cinephile loves a cold-blooded murder case. Now the latest flick in the beloved genre, See How They Run, is racing to theatres, and to celebrate the big release, The Digital Fix sat down with one of the upcoming drama movie‘s prime suspects – Charlie Cooper.
Directed by Tom George and set in the ’50s in London’s West End, See How They Run follows the murder of a sleazy Hollywood director who is killed during a celebration for the acclaimed play by Agatha Christie – The Mousetrap. The list of suspects is long, with the comedy movie‘s cast featuring the likes of Ruth Wilson, Reece Shearsmith, Harris Dickinson, and David Oyelowo. One of the persons of interest is Dennis the Usher, played by none other than This Country co-creator Charlie Cooper.
In our interview with Cooper, we discuss his time working with George, filming during Covid-19, and the ethics of true crime stories. And most importantly, we learn how he reacted when he first read the script of See How They Run and how even he, a seasoned and award-winning writer, was floored by the upcoming movie’s big reveal.
The Digital Fix: What was your first reaction when you read the character of Denis the Usher?
Charlie Cooper: Yeah, I mean, I sort of knew instantly, as soon as I saw him, as soon as I saw the script in general, that this was something that I really want to do. And it didn’t feel a million miles away from who I am anyway, which makes it easier in terms of acting (laughs). So yeah, really appealing. Straightaway, it was a yes.
Without spoiling anything, your character does have quite a strong connection to The Mousetrap play that is featured in See How They Run. Did you do any research before you went into your role?
I did, yeah! I mean, I love murder mysteries. So it was quite exciting to be able to sort of discover all that again, Agatha Christie and specifically that play; I mean, I learned a lot, which was brilliant. But I did do research. Definitely.
I think it always helps just to get into the character you didn’t know and get familiar with the world you’re treading into. But that is always really fun, and this was really, really fun too. Especially the fact that See How They Run is sort of a period piece in the 1950s. That was just like another aspect that I loved.
So you’ve worked with Tom George before on the TV series This Country? I wanted to know what was it like, being a part of his feature directorial debut with See How They Run?
It was brilliant because I know how he works. And we’re good mates anyway. So when he called me up, he was sort of like, ‘Look, I’ve just been offered to do this film. I’m really scared. Will you do it with me? So I have a friend on set.’ And I was like, ‘Absolutely’.
Then when he told me who else was in it, I was like, ‘are you joking? Do you really want me and not someone better?’ He said, ‘no, I do want you.’ So I was like, ‘fine’. And yeah, it’s just the best thing ever. I mean, I would have felt really out of my depth and sort of terrified had I not had him there.
He feels like an anxiety-reducing sort of animal that you can take around with you.
But because I know what he wants, and I know how he works, having done three series of This Country, it was a really nice and comforting experience. And if I ever had any questions, I didn’t feel scared to ask him, which is brilliant. I love the way he works as well. You know, he’s so character-driven and meticulous with detail and stuff. Everything that I love.
You said Tom called you up. So was that how you got the part of Dennis? Or was there more to the casting process?
Yeah, he just called me up and said, ‘Would you do it?’ and I just said, ‘Yeah, where do I sign.’
One really exciting point in See How They Run is the ethics of using real-life court cases for whodunits. And I want to know, because you’re also a writer as well as an actor, what are your thoughts on using real-life crimes as inspirations for stories?
Well, if it’s done well, I don’t see a problem with it. I mean, I was actually in an ITV drama, and it was about a real case that happened locally from where I grew up. Actually, that was one of the reasons why I ended up doing it because it felt quite close to home.
And again, it was interesting seeing that process because the whole family were involved in and had various interviews with the writer, and we all went for lunch before the production and stuff. And it was done so well; it was by Jeff Pope, who is an amazing writer.
You know, you’ve got people who were involved in the story, who are on board with it and are okay with it. It’s got their sign-off, and so, yeah, it can absolutely be told. Sometimes, like, if it’s historical, it’s, it can be different, so when it comes to those cases, I don’t quite know.
You guys filmed See How They Run during Covid-19 in the second wave of lockdowns in the UK. Were there any challenges?
I guess it limited being able to interact with the other cast. I think it limited rehearsal times and stuff like that. Which is a shame because sometimes you come in on a job, and you want to be able to meet everyone or have that time to improv stuff and get into your character. To find out more about the other characters, and yeah, it just felt a little bit limiting when we didn’t have that freedom.
I don’t think there was any Covid-19 cases during the whole production, which is a miracle, you know? Because it was so meticulous, all the testing, so I guess that side of it was so good in some aspects too. Actually, I mean, the good thing about filming during lockdowns was we were able to film in these locations like the Old Vic theatre on the West End.
And because it was a slimmed-down set, there weren’t as many people as there would normally be. So you’re in these amazing locations, sort of by yourself sometimes. And sometimes you would look and say to yourself, ‘you know what, it’s really nice’ because you’d never have the opportunity to experience this otherwise. But yeah, it was a surreal experience. But again, the production was just brilliant in that respect.
It sounds like you had a lot of fun with this detective movie.
What were the best fun moments that stick out in your memory from your experience with the cast of See How They Run?
I mean, I got on really well with Jacob [Fortune-Lloyd], who played Gio. And we sort of got really bored one day and just made up our own game where you had to throw this water bottle and get it on a chair from different points in the room. That sounds really bad. But we ended up creating these amazing rules, and we got a few of the other cast members involved.
And again, that’s the thing about Covid-19, because there’s a lot of waiting around in one room, you had to fill that void for that time. So that was nice. Yeah, there were pretty laughs, sort of onset and offset.
So we touched briefly on This Country and how you are a BAFTA-winning writer for your work on that show. After See How They Run, do you think you’ll ever write a whodunit?
Do you know what? I would love to. Definitely. I mean, it’s something that feels like it’s possibly been overdone, but there’s always a way of making it feel fresh, I think. The great thing about this film is actually that it uses all those sorts of whodunit tropes, like even the characters are characters you would have seen in any whodunit ever. But because it’s a comedy, you can make light of that, and that’s really nice.
I think I’d definitely like to approach it as a comedy murder mystery. Definitely do something like that. There’s so much scope for it, I think. Because it’s what we love. I love to watch all those murder documentaries, just brilliant. Something about it really taps into people’s interests.
So you wouldn’t adapt an Agatha Christie novel. You’d want to do something new and fresh?
Possibly not Agatha Christie, but something else? Definitely. Yeah. Yeah, just finding inventive ways of people being killed is quite fun, is it not? (laughs)
(Laughs) I mean depends on who you ask, right? So the one big thing about whodunits is that everyone is a suspect. As an actor, did you ever find it challenging trying to be suspicious but also not too suspicious? How did you walk that line?
Yeah, I had talked a lot about that to Tom. I mean, he’s hands-on. And he’s so good as an extra pair of eyes. But I think a lot of it is in the edit and how they knit those scenes together. I think it’s so mathematical if that makes sense?
It’s like how long you see a character on screen before it becomes too obvious that they might be the killer. There is a formula to it. Definitely. And I think they found that through the edit. But in terms of my character, it’s probably more on their shoulders than mine, I think.
But it is really interesting how they put it together. I fall for the red herring every time. Even though I’ve watched hundreds of murder mysteries. My partner always managed to know who is the killer straight away, but I just haven’t got that mind. So yeah, I just fall for the red herring.
Were you shocked at the big reveal in See How They Run then when you first read the script?
Completely! Yeah. Completely, which is really nice. Yeah, totally shocked. So as a viewer watching it for the first time, I like to think everyone else would be as well.
So This Country has been a massive success, and now you have See How They Run coming out. Can you tell us if you have anything else lined up?
Not really. Just writing at the moment; I’ve got early days on the project that I’m sort of trying to make headway on. Yeah, I’m quite slow with some things. I always have just one project on at a time. A bit lazy in that respect, but no other acting things, just that at the moment.
See How They Run hits theatres on September 9, 2022, in the UK and is set to release in the US on September 16, 2022. For more murder cases, here are our guides to the best thriller movies and best action movies of all time.