Tom Weston Jones, Franka Potente and Anastasia Griffith on ‘Copper’

The stars of BBC America’s new original series talk about old time violence and blood.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

“Copper” began on BBC America earlier this month, and earlier this summer we got to speak with the three series’ stars. After their panel with the Television Critics Association, we met Tom Weston-Jones, Franka Potente and Anastasia Griffith at a booth in the Beverly Hilton’s downstairs restaurant to talk about “Copper.”

CraveOnline: How big is “Copper”-mania going to be?
Franka Potente: He’s all over Times Square, man. Are you kidding me? It doesn’t get any f***ing bigger.
Tom Weston-Jones: Yeah, I have yet to see it. I’ve been told all about it but I don’t really know. There’s things going up in L.A. as well. I hope as big as it possibly can be. I know people say this about stuff, but I don't think there’s a show out there that’s quite like it in the sense that it’s a big mishmash of different genres put together. It’s shot in a very interesting way that really does feel like you’re sitting right in it. You can smell it and taste it and experience it. I think the advertising team has done a great job in keeping its brutality and its real nature in the advertising.
Franka Potente: It’s very contemporary and steam punk. That is so hip right now. People love to dress up. Go to John Varvatos. It’s cleaner but the guys look similar.
Anastasia Griffith: The music is awesome. They’ve just done a really good job of making it seem contemporary and relevant and real to the time that we’re shooting in.
Franka Potente: It’s not a history lesson.
What do you each love about your characters?
Anastasia Griffith: I dig my lady, Elizabeth Haverford. I see her as a pioneer actually. I see her as someone who was brought up in a very stifled environment where no one really expected anything of her as a woman. She’s not meant to be smart or intelligent or have an opinion. Within that, she’s managed to break out of the confines of not only her life in England, but she moved back to America and she kind of breaks out of the confines of that.

I think it’s an important moment in time for us as women now to be aware of. We take so much for granted. That I don’t have to sit here in a corset, I am very grateful. There’s a lot about her that I identify with as someone who wants to change my environment. I’m not doing as good a job in my life as she did in hers.
Franka Potente: Oh, come on. Eva Heissen is a German immigrant, owns her own brothel, is one of I think some important people in Five Points because people go there. She wants to expand her business. She’s a fun business lady. I think she has her fun side because we have a very special friendship. I can’t use the word f*** buddy I guess so you’ll have to think of a different word.
Tom Weston-Jones: I use that word. I think it’s a great word.
Franka Potente: It is a good word though because any adult I think knows what we mean by that.
Anastasia Griffith: Any child knows what you mean.
Franka Potente:
I think she kind of walks in between worlds because all sorts of men come to her so she has a lot of knowledge from all sorts of places and people that she uses sometimes. I like that. I like that she’s hard to put in a drawer.
CraveOnline: As the owner, does she get to pick and choose her own “clients?”
Franka Potente: Oh yeah, and she’s manipulative. She does it for a reason, to get a loan, this and that. I think with this one is a little bit different. I think Corcoran is a little bit of her Achilles heel. I don’t think she’s taking any kind of customer.
Tom Weston-Jones: With Corcoran, because you could say that he’s the hero of the piece, or whatever. It’s ambiguous because he’s heroic but he doesn’t necessarily do the right things, and that’s what really I love about it is he gets away with some terrible things and oversteps the mark.

You really don’t know where your allegiances lie throughout the show, even with the person that you’re following throughout it. It’s interesting to challenge your moral code as you prepare for something because I don’t know necessarily whether or not you have to like the person you’re playing. It’s interesting.
Anastasia Griffith: It’s the thing they say as actors, that you have to love the person or love to hate them.
CraveOnline: Well, the saying is you can’t judge your character.
Tom Weston-Jones: Yeah, that’s different.
Anastasia Griffith: That’s different though. You don’t have to love them or love to hate them. I think you don’t judge them. I think that’s great. This particular show, one of our main mantras is don’t go into a scene thinking it’s black or white.

We’re all experiencing life and changing, are malleable, we’re shifting and that’s the nature of this show. Tom [Fontana] was very clear about that’s more interesting to watch, it’s more realistic. We’re not good, we’re not bad. We’re all sorts of different shades in between and I think that’s kind of what he’s created in Corcoran especially is this interesting moral mosaic.
Tom Weston-Jones: I just love how flawed each of them are. They’re all very flawed and they all have contradictions and that’s so much more fun to play than someone who is one track and knows what’s going to happen to them.
Anastasia Griffith: And knows what they want.
Franka Potente: You have to really lean into those flaws and imperfections because the result is something that’s really raw. Sometimes repulsive or shocking or something, but that’s why we watch movies, that’s why we watch TV because we want emotions to be evolved.
Anastasia Griffith: And the things we’re not allowed to express in our everyday life. We can’t act out in this way. It wouldn’t be appropriate. So here you have it. This is what happens.
CraveOnline: Is it because of the era that Corcoran goes as far over the line as he does, or is that just who he is?
Tom Weston-Jones: It’s an interesting question to do with violence. I sort of came up with an analogy a while ago that a punch in the face then would be like a “You’re a dickhead” now. Violence had a different scale.
Anastasia Griffith: And also I think we’re more answerable to our actions now. Nothing we do is ever going unnoticed. It’s on CCTV cameras, it’s on iphones, it’s everywhere. Whereas at that time there was a lot more anonymity. The fact that there was no DNA studies and people could get away with doing things and wouldn’t expect to get caught.
Franka Potente: For example, remember Charlie Sheen being crazy for a year? People were so fascinated because here was someone completely off the leash coming undone, uncensored. He did all the stuff that we’re talking about. He didn’t give a sh*t and there is a certain fascination with that because there’s a little person inside of us.

Have you never been in a situation, it could be in certain quiet nice situations where you just want to get up and say something inappropriate? It’s this uncensored person inside ourselves. I think that’s why we forgive, why we’re fascinated and we don’t mind it happening. That’s why we respond to it as an audience. We see things, otherwise we just look around our own life.
CraveOnline: How violent do Eva and Elizabeth get?

Anastasia Griffith: You know, violence isn’t her go to. She’s more of a manipulator. She’s still a pretty precious high society lady. She has violence taken out upon her a little bit in the first season but she doesn’t act out there. Psychologically she can be fairly violent. She knows what she’s got.
Franka Potente: I get pretty violent. That’s all I’m saying. Very violent.


CraveOnline: How does “Copper” compare to your previous TV experiences on “Once Upon a Time,” “Trauma,” “The Shield” and “House?”
Tom Weston-Jones: This is the biggest thing I’ve ever done really. I don’t mean big in terms of that’s how I gauge an important project. I think with this, I’ve never really worked on something before where I think everybody’s on the same page and the show is what people are interested in.

It’s not about ego, it’s not about someone coming in and saying I’m a great actor. It’s about all of us working together to tell a story in a really unusual interesting way. For me, I’m not saying things I’ve done in the past haven’t been interesting and exciting but it’s just amazing to be part of something where I really think the story should really be told this genuinely.
Anastasia Griffith:
For me it was all of that very much so. The everyday experience has been in a league of its own. I’m working with people without a single hitch, from day players on this to Tom at the top of the call sheet. Everyone is on their game. Everyone is fully invested in their research. Everyone’s incredibly professional and incredibly talented so that’s amazing.

But different from other TV shows I’ve done, I feel the history aspect. I’ve done very contemporary roles and this is the first time I’ve really been entrusted with something that is so specific to a particular time and it’s been a real challenge to navigate the costumes. The girls in “Downton Abbey” do what they do so well which is make it so natural despite the fact that you’re living within these constraints and taking so much from the research aspect of it.
Franka Potente: When I worked on “The Shield,” I think I was in season six, I was there because I was a complete fan. I literally stalked Shawn Ryan. I was in Australia at the time. When I heard it was the last season and I’d watched it religiously and all my friends in Germany on DVD, I was like, “I don't care what, I beg you to be in it.”

The difference is here that I am potentially as these people at the birthplace of something being that for someone else. It’s easy to be a fan and be excited, be like, “Can I please, please, please be on your show.” Similar with “House” but here we’re creating this. We’re building that and in six seasons, who knows, knock on wood, it can be something like that.
CraveOnline: Franka, do you have to cover up your tattoos for the show?
Franka Potente: All except this one because this is Chinese and they had these actually at the time. I’m always covering up tattoos.
CraveOnline: What is it like shooting a gunfight with 1800s weapons?
Tom Weston-Jones: Amazing. The first one that we shot, I just felt like a big kid again. The best part of it was the fact that with the guns, they obviously use replica guns of the period. They take 15 minutes to load and they’re incredibly complicated because the last thing you do, you basically pack powder down. It’s all really sort of intricate work and then you put a little cap on the top of it, you push that down and then you have a ball bearing on top of it.

So you’ve got to be really careful that all that doesn’t fall out. It all has to be very tight and then you put the caps on the back and that’s the last thing you would do.
Anastasia Griffith: You’d better be a good shot.
Tom Weston-Jones: Well, actually, it wasn’t that bad. The actual accuracy for the normal Remington wasn’t that bad. The worst part of it is, there’s so many boxes to tick, when you actually fire the thing, more often than not it didn’t go off. That was true when we were filming the fight scene, so when we fire one off and it wouldn’t actually go, it wouldn’t ignite, then we’d have to act our way through it and pretend that we know what we’re doing. That made it so exciting. It was just in the moment you had to give it your best.
What part do you leave out to keep it safe on the set?
Tom Weston-Jones: The ball bearing.
The explosive sounds dangerous still.
Tom Weston-Jones: Yeah, it’s fun though. The armors did the whole thing so they’d have these barrels everywhere ready to go.
Anastasia Griffith: Props guys are so excited by the guns. Mario was so excited by the guns.
Tom Weston-Jones: Well, who owns this stuff? I struggled because I’m so f***ing clumsy not breaking anything, because you can’t just go down the road and pick up a prop from that period of time. You have to be so careful.
Franka Potente: And P.S., we broke in the screwing scene an ottoman from the 1800s, in the rehearsal in the first scene.
Tom Weston-Jones: In the first scene, where we just met about 15 minutes before as well.
CraveOnline: Franka, how did “American Horror Story” come to you?
Franka Potente: Ryan Murphy, man. He’s just been super secretive. We watched the first season. He’s like, “Yeah, I can’t really tell you much but maybe we can do this.” So I was like okay, cool.
Is it for the whole season?
Franka Potente: Oh no, no, no, no. I’m just going to be like a little guesty there, like for two episodes so far. I’m married to “Copper.”
CraveOnline: I love where Corcoran had to draw a sketch of the wounds because they didn’t have photos back then. Are there other fun pieces of evidence and detective work from the era?
Tom Weston-Jones:
Yeah, every episode there’s something that comes up and it’s quite funny because Corcoran isn’t the most intelligent person in the world when it comes to all that. He uses Freeman for all that stuff and there’s a lot of things that I found really interesting just reading the script that can be done in a very sort of rudimentary way, very bare way, bare essentials.
Anastasia Griffith: The smell of pig blood and human blood. They could tell that some of the blood was dummy blood because it actually smelled different.
Franka Potente:
Was it real pig blood?
Anastasia Griffith:
Well, that’s in the script. We didn’t use real pig blood, or human blood by the way.