BBC America's Copper never slows down. The drama series, which chronicles the turmoil of New York City in 1865, premiered its second season last night — but as the show's fans finally got the chance to return to the Five Points slums, Copper's cast is still hard at work filming the final episodes of the season.
The second season of Copper picks up one year after the end of the first season, when series protagonist Detective Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones) discovered that he'd been betrayed by both his wife and his best friend while away from New York City fighting in the Civil War. The second season begins as Corcoran investigates a series of murders with the help of his allies, including a new one: Tammany Hall-backed General Brendan Donovan (Donal Logue), who aims to bring order to the slums.
During a lunch break on set, I talked on the phone to Tom Weston-Jones about the show's evolution, American history, and the unique challenges of filming a period drama. Here's a (slightly edited) transcript:
You've been splitting your time between promoting the start of the season and filming the end of it. What are you filming today?
It's quite busy at the moment. We're on the penultimate episode. Just a few scenes to do today, but it's been pretty busy all week. It speeds up toward the end, and it's grinding now. Keeping my chin up.
After months of living your normal life, you've had to re-immerse yourself in the world of 1865 New York City. How did you prepare to play Kevin Corcoran again?
It was reading certain books. Five Points, by Tyler Anbinder — flipping through that book, and newspaper clippings from [The New York Times]. In the first season, I tried to throw myself into as much reading as I could, so I could kind of forget about it. I know that might sounds weird — to do a lot of research and just to throw it out. But you do that so you know it, and then you can ignore it, so you can focus on how you'll behave. That's how I like to do it — to make sure you are present every day and able to give a naturalistic response, whatever gets thrown at you. All the specific information might not help you in a scene when you're trying to deal with emotional subject matter.
The second season picks up just months before the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. How closely will the show deal with real-life historical events?
It's when history sort of entwines itself with [Copper's story] that I think people get a lot of enjoyment out of it — because they know something's coming, but they have no idea what the fallout for each individual character will be. We have to pay attention to the historical moments. But we also have to take into consideration that we need the story to keep going, and that we need to affect everybody in a different way. Of course, we make the show as historically accurate as possible — but at the same time, it's not a museum piece.
Are the any unique challenges to starring in a period drama — especially one set so far back in America's past?
If you're not careful, things can feel a little wooden, when people pay too much respect to acting like they're in an older time. It can create a wall between you and the people watching the show. In my opinion, people are motivated by the same things. It's just the way we go about doing things that are somewhat different. But if you concern yourself too much with poise, you won't necessarily get to the heart of somebody. The way people moved, and spoke… We have nothing as far back as this, so we have to do a bit of guesswork, but use the resources we have. It's what I had to do with the accent: To take an Irish accent and an American accent and blend the two together. Places like Boston have a very particular sound, but we can't go too far, or it'll just sound like Boston. So we had to create our own hybrid.
You're filming a dark show set in a dark time and place in American history. What's the atmosphere like on set?
It depends what kind of scene we're doing. I always like a nice, happy, fun set. I'm not happy if other people aren't enjoying themselves, so I try to lighten the mood as much as I can. But if I'm doing a scene that requires a lot of focus, I'll just take myself away and do what I have to do. Something that was just happening today — I won't give you the details, but it was something quiet violent, and there was some trickery done with the makeup department. I looked around, and almost all the crew were at the monitors watching. But if you do a seven-page scene that's all dialogue, it'll just be the director, the writers… Which is totally fine. They hear me talking all day. Why would they want to watch it?
Corcoran has plenty in common with other TV antiheroes: Tony Soprano, Walter White, even Don Draper. Where do you think Corcoran fits into the modern TV landscape?
[Corcoran's] main method of dialogue and self-expression is violence. He's a quintessential boxer, and his guts are his instincts. That's what makes him do, at times, good things, and at other times, awful, stomach-churning things to people. You can't really judge these people. It's the one thing I love about television at the moment. They're taking a lot of risks playing with the audiences's allegiances, and how far the audience will go but still completely follow this person. We all do it. We all have dark sides to ourselves, and I want to portray that in a realistic way.
Copper airs on Sundays at 10 p.m. EST.