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Vulture Crush Dominic Cooper on ‘Mamma Mia!’ and Why He’s No Heartthrob

Courtesy of Universal


We’ve been kind of smitten with Dominic Cooper ever since we saw him in The History Boys on Broadway, but it wasn't until a few months ago that we gave him the prestigious title of Vulture Crush. Though he has a slew movies of coming up — The Duchess with Keira Knightley, Nick Hornby's adaptation of An Education among them — we expect Mamma Mia!, which opens today, to be the one that makes the world take notice. Cooper was in town this week for the film’s New York premiere, and Vulture spoke with him about working with Meryl and maintaining his masculinity in Lycra and heels.

You almost didn't audition for this because you didn’t consider yourself a singer. What made you change your mind?
Well, I just kind of saw how pathetic I was being really. Maybe drama school put me off a bit, because I was told I had no rhythm. Then I realized who [Phyllida Lloyd] was directing it, and I knew her opera work in London, and I realized what the piece was! But my agent kept on saying, "You sure you can't?" And so I just thought, Be brave, be bold, stop being pathetic.

What was it like meeting Meryl Streep for the first time?
Very, very exciting, actually. Because I think one of the first things she said to me was she'd seen History Boys, and she said that she really enjoyed it. And you know, growing up, she was one of the terrific actors of the period. So after that we sat around this table, and you could tell we were all in the same situation. We didn’t know what we were about to be embarking on. And we all struggled with our dancing.

Some of the critics have been kind of tough on Pierce Brosnan and his voice.
I know! I don’t get that. I think it’s a real misjudgment. I don't think he needs to be brilliant. You can relate to him as a bloke. Maybe I don't know the world of musical theater enough, but I really enjoyed his performance. It’s not his normal thing. I think it's great.

What did you think of your costumes?
Well, there aren't any. There were at first, but they got less and less as time went on. I didn’t really realize the extent that I wouldn't be wearing anything. And then I was surrounded by dancers — I used to arrive with these guys to work — and they used to take out these huge weights in the back of the car and start pumping iron, doing lifts and push-ups, training every day, stretching. So I thought I better change things quickly.

So you hit the gym right away?
No, I left it very, very late. I went to a man who told me what to do. He put me on a plate that vibrated like 30,000 miles an hour. You ever tried one of those? You just do exercises on this plate, and it tightens things that you never thought could be tightened.

What was it like the first day you guys came out in those sequined outfits?
It was ultimately so embarrassing, because it was the first time my family had turned up on any set of anything I had ever done. When they arrived I was just being squeezed into a purple Lycra skintight suit with heels. And the look on their face — they just stood there. I mean, they began the day proud of me, and they went away, I think, being … not so proud. Uncle Dom is dressed in Spandex, just another day’s work. And white heels.

A lot of publications, us included, have called you the next British heartthrob. How do you feel about the attention?
I have to pinch myself, because I watch a film I’m in and see a strange potato staring back at me from the screen. So it’s really nice. But where are the people draping themselves over me? Isn’t that what’s meant to happen when you’re a heartthrob? I haven't seen that yet, so I don't believe you.

It seems like the cast really had a lot of fun on set. Do you have any good stories?
There was an incredible night where Benny and Björn sang all their songs at a piano. I remember that was a really special evening. All the locals and everyone got together with all the cast. And I always used to see Colin [Firth] and Pierce go past in the paddle boat singing their songs, having denied the fact they liked singing. It was hilarious. We had such a good time.

Just hanging out in Greece?
Yeah, exactly.

Tough work there.
I know, it's embarrassing. I feel like I have to say it’s very difficult and painful because otherwise it just sounds like I absolutely have the most ludicrous job in the world.
—Lori Fradkin