© Stuart C. Wilson - Getty ImagesAn interview with Bates Motel actor Olivia Cooke on her latest film, Sound of Metal, opposite Riz Ahmed.
You'll almost certainly recognise the face: a cherubic thing who's played teenagers in everything from Bates Motel to Me and Earl and The Dying Girl. For her next role, Cooke is no one's teen. Instead, she takes on the part of a lifetime alongside Riz Ahmed in Oscar nominated Sound of Metal.
The long, long, long-awaited drama (thanks, Covid-19) follows drummer Ruben, who discovers he's going deaf. Cooke plays his girlfriend Lou, who tries to support him while he faces his new reality.
'When the chance came to play an actual grown-up, it was delicious. It felt like a graduation,' Cooke says over Zoom from her northwest London flat. 'I've felt like a grown-up ever since moving to Vancouver in my teens [for Bates Motel], so I was ready to explore the intricacies of womanhood.'
Sound of Metal is raw and all-consuming, tackling the devastating effects of a musician's worst nightmare and starring many deaf actors, including The Eternals' Lauren Ridloff. Ahmed spent seven months learning American Sign Language and how to play the drums. © VertigoOlivia Cooke in Sound of Metal
'His performance was so powerful to witness. He was incredible,' says Cooke. For hers, Cooke learned how to play the guitar, scream-sing and even co-wrote one of her character's heavy-metal songs.
Despite what every role, including Sound of Metal, would have you think, Cooke isn't American. Her own accent is gloriously northern, from a childhood spent in Oldham, Greater Manchester. Aged eight, Cooke started acting at the Oldham Theatre Workshop and by 14 she'd secured an agent, but still didn't seriously consider acting as a career. 'Options felt so limited for someone coming from a place that wasn't London. Family friends would ask me, "Do you want to be in Emmerdale or Coronation Street?"'
Cooke left school before her A-levels to pursue acting with no back-up plan. 'I auditioned for RADA, mainly because it seemed the right thing to do, but I didn't get in.' This 'failure' is one she's forever grateful for.
Instead, Cooke learned the craft on the job, largely on the set of Emmy-nominated Bates Motel, where she spent four years as Emma Decody.
'I left home at 18 to shoot in Vancouver, then went back and forth between jobs in the US and home with Mum for the next four years,' says Cooke. 'It was a lot to deal with as a child. Even though I had amazing experiences, it was incredibly lonely.'
Finding herself as a young woman, alone on all-male sets came with its challenges.
'At 19, I was often the only girl on set. I had to deflect comments constantly, and be funny and goofy. It was exhausting. I just wanted a normal conversation.' © Karwai Tang - Getty ImagesOlivia Cooke
Cooke earned hotly tipped newcomer status for her 2015 role in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and, later, Vanity Fair and Steven Spielberg's £427m grossing sci-fi hit Ready Player One, in 2018.
'His mind is just wired differently,' Cooke says of Spielberg. 'He directed while also prepping for The Post and imagined entire scenes on the spot.'
More recently, she's played a vengeful woman on the run in Irish gangster comedy Pixie and, next, makes her executive producing debut with devastating sci-fi love story Little Fish. Think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind set against an airborne virus that affects memory - shot a year before the real-life pandemic began. Other incoming projects include legal heist drama Naked Singularity with John Boyega and Apple TV+ Gary Oldman spy series Slow Horses. © VertigoOlivia Cooke as Lou in Sound of Metal
After a break from working due to lockdown, Cooke's return has been plagued with self-doubt.
'I had a week of sleepless nights before the first [Slow Horses] read-through over Zoom,' says Cooke. 'I kept thinking, "Everyone's going to find out I don't know what I'm doing."' But Cooke knows what she wants. 'Recently, we've seen the rise of messy women on TV, from I May Destroy You to I Hate Suzie, and I'm obsessed. I want to play unapologetic women who try to do the right thing, occasionally do the wrong thing, but ultimately show they're not bad people.'
Sound of Metal is available on Amazon Prime Video from April 12 and released in cinemas on May 17.
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