Dominic Cooper star’s in the about to be released on DVD/Blu Ray flick NEED FOR SPEED playing the badboy Dino Brewster, you may have seen him in other films such as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, My Week With Marilyn and Captain America: The First Avenger. Take a read of our chat with him about the movie NEED FOR SPEED.
Q: Are you a car lover?
A: I’ve always loved them and sort of obsessed over them. I suppose a majority of boys do. I remember, at a very young age, polishing my models of Ferraris in my bedroom. While other kids were out riding their bikes, I was polishing Ferraris. It’s very bleak.
Q: Was Ferrari the first car that you obsessed over?
A: Yeah, they were. I had loads of books about cars, and for some reason they were the ones I liked best. It probably had something to do with Magnum [Tom Selleck in the television series “Magnum, P.I.”] driving that 308 GTS. I loved that car, an ’80s Ferrari. But then there were films like “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and it had a beautiful classic Ferrari in it that I adored. And so I got my own when I was a teenager — not a Ferrari, but an Austin-Healey Sprite — which looked similar.
Q: Talk about the cars you’ve been driving in this movie.
A: Well, my character Dino gets to drive a few nice ones. I’ve had a couple of Lamborghinis, the Maserati, and a Koenigsegg Agera R that goes to 270 miles per hour. She’s a Swedish car. It’s beautiful.
Q: Talk about the training that you went through to prep for this role.
A: We went to Willow Springs, which is this incredible racetrack just outside Los Angeles. We arrived on this incredible circuit and then we got in one of the cars with a race driver and a stunt driver, and I learned a lot of techniques so that I would have the ability to control the car safely and stop in front of the camera at an exact moment.
Q: What techniques did you learn?
A: There were techniques that I learned like hand-braking around the corner, onto a street. You’re locking all four brakes and then turning into the skid, and how far and how much pressure to put on the wheel as you spin it round and how to accelerate out of that safely. How to go through narrow margins, and hitting exact points so the timing is perfect and to get an idea of how to be precise with where to stop a car. We’re traveling at speeds of a hundred and something miles per hour, where there are three cars in a row, and inches from the car in front and inches from the car that’s behind. So it’s important to not get anything wrong and to feel like you know how to deal with a car with so much power. They’re ridiculous they’re so quick
Q: What happens to your senses when you’re traveling so fast?
A: It’s funny because you don’t quite realize how exhausting it is until after you’ve done it. When you come out of one of the races, you’re kind of fatigued ’cause your whole body is into it. Race drivers will tell you the more relaxed you are, the better you perform. But actually, you do find yourself in a very focused state, because you can’t get anything wrong and that concentration is exhausting.
Q: Is there a correlation between what you have to go through driving and acting?
A: For both, you have to be very focused. Although it’s a very different part of your brain that’s being accessed. It’s like when I do go-karting. You can’t think of anything else. This is slightly different from that, but it’s the same kind of mentality. When you’re go-karting, your brain has no room to consider anything else, which is why I think people love sports and because we love getting lost in that space where actually we cannot think about other things that fill our heads. And it’s exhilarating to be that focused for that long.
Q: Talk about your character Dino, who he is and how does he fit into this story?
A: Dino is a character who I’m having quite a little bit of trouble finding any redeeming qualities about. Really, because every step of the way he does something extraordinarily selfish to benefit himself and you find out as the film goes on, sort of more of the complexities behind what he does and why he does it. As an actor, even if you are playing the villain, you still have to sort of try your hardest to create some sort of backstory that allows you to understand or sympathize with him in some way. So Dino is a troubled soul who is extraordinarily competitive.
He’s been in Formula One racing, but didn’t succeed. He has been given every opportunity in life. He comes from a very privileged background as opposed to Tobey, Aaron Paul’s character, who is just very specialized and professional in what he does and is just instinctively a good driver, which is something that Dino probably has always been envious of. And then things slowly sort of unravel and go wrong for Dino. He becomes very desperate because, like so many people he’s obsessed with money and success, and the idea of losing that and not being able to prove himself to his peers and to his parents slowly sends him into this kind of madness that is quite detestable, really. I hope there’s room for maybe a tiny bit of feeling toward him. There’s a sadness about him, but ultimately, he’s really horrible.
Q: Did director Scott Waugh talk about who the character is and what direction he wanted you to go in?
A: A wonderful thing about Scott is he knows exactly who these guys are and who this person is. And he’s known these guys in that world of racing and drivers. So I trust in him. I trust in him that it doesn’t become a caricature and that these guys with wealth and power and this desperation and need really do exist in real life.
Q: We hear that one of the great advantages of working with Scott Waugh is that he gives his cast and crew confidence.
A: He’s incredible with regard to everything. Scott manages to create a very, very special atmosphere on set. There are a lot of guys doing stunts. We’ve got a lot of real, live, huge car stunts and crashes that happen. When we’re talking about stunt guys entering a zone, I’ve never seen anything like it. The atmosphere before you go into a big stunt is incredible, the silence, the concentration, and Scott gives these wonderful speeches at the beginning of the day to all his crew to make sure everyone knows exactly what’s going on.
That’s really good because there’s a healthy atmosphere and people totally trust and believe in him because he knows this world and knows exactly what is needed of every single person and how important every single person is. Also, he’s extraordinarily specific with the characters and with what he wants from them and how specific each moment has to be. And that’s really fun. That’s all you actually really want. You want to be told if something’s not right and it needs this or that to make it right.
Q: The filmmakers are not using a green screen to add special effects in postproduction. As an actor, how does that change your psyche and how you prep for the role?
A: Yeah, if we were doing these shots in front of a green screen and talking about a certain car that isn’t there or looking at a huge crash that didn’t take place, and if we weren’t in the situation of driving a car at a hundred-and-something miles per hour within a race, we’re still fully focused on what we have to do. But it would be pretend and you’ll never get that true sensation. I mean, I’m terrified a lot of the time so I’m experiencing all those emotions, which is wonderful. And any actor will say how much they prefer being on a real set than they do in front of a big green canvas.
Q: When you’re in the pod car and the stunt driver is going extremely fast and you have no control over the situation, what does that feel like?
A: At first, when you experience driving in the pod car, when you’re being driven by someone else, the only way I can describe it really is absolute terror because suddenly, if you are someone who drives and loves driving, you have a certain trust in yourself. Ultimately, everything is down to you. You’re in control of that vehicle at that time. When there’s someone else doing all of that for you, you feel completely useless.
It’s really terrifying. I spent the first time around the track with my foot slammed against the middle pedal hoping that it would work as a brake although obviously it did nothing, and you’re steering and it’s doing nothing. You’re completely at the mercy of someone else. And then of course your actor’s vanity kicks in. And as soon as the camera is actually put there and is rolling, you suddenly just go into a sort of racing driver mode. So you get used to it very quickly, and you also see that those guys are a billion times better than you at driving so that you really trust what they’re doing. And then it becomes very natural and you sense again why it’s so much better than green screen.
Q: When you were a kid, did you know the “Need for Speed” videogames?
A: I was blown away by the games. I grew up, as a kid, not only polishing toy metal Ferraris, but I remember being obsessed when they came up with a game where you could really race cars virtually. I was mesmerized by it. I was never allowed to own one of the consoles ’cause I think otherwise I would have just locked myself in a room for the rest of my life and sat in front of a car game. But when I got to go to friends’ houses I was astonished by how quickly they’re advancing and what they’re like now is just astounding. They’re really good fun.
Q: What has it been like for you making sort of an old-fashioned road picture and traveling across America?
A: There’s one thing that I feel extraordinarily fortunate about, it’s the travel that’s involved in filming. Never have I done anything where we would travel so much in such a short space of time around one country. And there are places that I would never have gone to. I’ve seen some extraordinary landscapes. The diversity of the landscape in this country always blows me away. We’ve been to some beautiful, beautiful places that I didn’t really know existed.
Q: Explain the De Leon Race.
A: The De Leon Race is a big yearly event that no one knows a great deal about. But it’s a huge race, and the winner gets a huge cash prize. So our film culminates in this big race and is very highly sought after in the underground racing circuit. It’s a hard race. It’s long, and it’s very secretive. But that’s the goal. And if you win, you’re seen as a very special driver, and very few people are selected to do it.
Q: Does “Need for Speed” seem like an homage to old car racing movies?
A: I think it is a throwback to old car movies because during my first ever meeting with Scott, that’s all he really wanted to discuss. He’s a man who loves cars, and he’s tired of not seeing cars properly raced on screen. They’re incredible to watch, and it should be real, and it can be real. It’s not that hard. I mean, yes, there is a lot of effort going into this film to make it all seem so authentic, but it’s so enjoyable. And you watch those old ’70s films, the cars have such character to them, and I think that’s really what he wanted to achieve.
And when you see one of those stunts in real time actually unfolding on the screen, it’s so much more affecting than generating that in computers. It’s stunning. I think for car films this is one in particular that should be filmed for real.
Q: You arrived from London a few weeks early to train for racing. Was that important for you?
A: I did, actually. Yeah, it was good because the more time you get in these cars on the track the more confident you feel when it comes to filming. I know that it’s important in this film that we make the races look as real as possible, so the more driving we’re doing and the more skilled we are at doing it, the better, because it can be quite dangerous, when you’re on a film set with 70 people around. You want to feel as confident as possible with what you’re doing. And you also want to be able to do it yourself. Actually, we’re using stunt drivers for these scenes, but it’s good to do as much as possible ourselves.
Q: Tell us about your first time driving a super car in this film.
A: It was a dream! Getting into a Ferrari and driving it around the track. You know, handling it and coming out of corners, accelerating out of corners, skidding into corners, the wheel spins and the smoke, and being able to stop at positions where the cameras will be. It’s good just to get an understanding of racing. And each car is very different, but it’s about understanding how each of those aspects works in different ways.
And we had such great teachers. We picked it up quite quickly. They know exactly how to teach inexperienced drivers. They make it very clear and make you feel very confident. I’ve always loved cars, so it’s nice to get a feel for them on the track and in an environment that is probably safer than a Walmart parking lot.
Q: Are you comfortable driving sports cars?
A: As a kid I loved sports cars, and of course, it’s every kid’s dream to be a racing driver. This is as close as I’ll get to it. But, the reality is that driving everyday even if you think you’re good and, you’re confident with all types of vehicles, it’s very different when you get on to a racetrack or when you have to be very specific and have to think about safety. And actually I’m really pleased they’re being very detailed with it and specific with the car and positioning it. I was quite pleased with what I’d achieved, actually, in a small space of time. And they seemed very happy and I loved doing it. So I hope that I’ve given them confidence in allowing me to get into one of those amazing kit cars that they’re building.
Q: What was it like for you the first day on the set of “Need for Speed”?
A: I can’t tell you how exciting it was. Honestly, you dream of doing stuff like this when you’re a kid, and then you realize you’re not going to be a race driver and you’re not going to drive high performance sports cars. And then you get a job like this and you go, “Well, I am going to be a sports car racer!” I love it. And it’s not only just about going really fast, there’s a high level of concentration to it, and skill. It’s a proper sport, so I’m loving it.
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