It’s just days before the 93rd Academy Awards and Olivia Cooke should be in a Hollywood whirlwind of glitzy events. Her movie, Sound Of Metal, in which she plays the rock singer girlfriend of Riz Ahmed, is up for six awards, including best picture. Instead, due to Covid-19 restrictions, Cooke is sat in her new north London flat, in front of the obligatory Zoom-backdrop bookcase, slurping down a mug of tea the size of a football — and looking rather happy about it.
‘What’s nice about doing stuff at home is that no one has to faff over you,’ she says, cheerily. ‘So you can be ready in 20 minutes, not there for two hours staring at yourself with hatred in a mirror.’
Not that you could tell. Tumbling red tresses, perfect make-up, a black top with a scalloped plunge neckline — despite her disarming, down-to-earth lack of airs and graces, the girl from Manchester looks red-carpet-ready. Aged 27, she’s already an old pro.
A child star of her Oldham drama club, Cooke was already acting professionally at school — including in a One Direction video in which Harry Styles gives her a piggyback — and left before A levels to appear in TV drama Blackout. Then she springboarded to LA with a part in hit series Bates Motel, spending three nomadic years hopping from job to job across America.
‘Then I’d come home and fester at my mum’s house and revert to being a 14-year-old,’ she grins.
She was just 21 when Steven Spielberg called to cast her in his sci-fi blockbuster, Ready Player One.
‘I was definitely like, “My God, my life is going to change for ever!”’ Cooke recalls. But when Ready Player One came out, she realised: ‘It’s just another job — and it’s quite good your life hasn’t changed. I prefer it that way.’
Now she also has the role of Becky Sharp in ITV’s Vanity Fair under her belt, Cooke isn’t a rising star any more, she’s fully risen. She’s shooting House Of The Dragon, a Game Of Thrones prequel, but goes (even more) wide-eyed at the fear of letting any cats out the bag.
‘I’m so excited but I’m sworn to secrecy,’ she says.
She’s also currently in two movies, the aforementioned Sound Of Metal and Little Fish, both of which cast her as the partner to a man who has a degenerative condition.
‘That’s a complete freakish coincidence,’ Cooke says. ‘As an actress, you sometimes have to weigh up whether you want to take the girlfriend role but to be in a film like Sound Of Metal with Riz that explores deafness in a way I hadn’t seen before was amazing.
‘Watching Riz act, I just had a sneaking suspicion the film would sweep up nominations but then you get sneaking suspicions on others — and then you watch them and they’re s**t!’
She’s equally, if not more, excited about Little Fish, a critically acclaimed romance co-starring Jack O’Connell, which is set against the backdrop of a global pandemic, during which victims start losing their memories. It’s based on an Aja Gabel short story that was optioned by Cooke three years ago, back when a pandemic idea seemed far-fetched.
‘We were pitching against a big, old studio with a massive star attached,’ Cooke recalls proudly. ‘It was my first executive producer role, and it was nice to interview directors for it and have, not even power — just to feel that someone was taking my opinion seriously, which felt like a first, because I had a title that backed it up.’
Her one diktat on Little Fish was her accent.
‘I said to the writer, can you get it into the script that I’m from Oldham?’ she says.
It’s not that she can’t do an American accent. Though the writers of Bates Motel worried about her broad Mancunian tones, Cooke’s accent talents are so good, most people assume she’s American. Making Little Fish has empowered her.
‘I want to get into directing some day as well,’ she says, adding that she arms herself with advice from Dame Helen Mirren, who told her: ‘Always be kind, but don’t be a pushover.’ Cooke likes that because, she says, ‘it’s sometimes quite hard in this industry, when you are not a man, to assert yourself and not be called a bitch’.
She’s anything but: triple threat talent rarely comes nicer.
THE COOKE REPORT: OLIVIA ON…
Her lockdown skills
‘There has been some baking and some gardening. I bought an electric piano last year when I was in lockdown on my own. I learned to play the start of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and I was like, “Oh my God, I am so clever!” — and then I’ve not done any more.’
How biscuits got her through lockdown
‘If I was a biscuit, I’d be just a plain old Digestive. They’re very versatile. You can put them in cheesecakes, you can have them over a parfait and they’re also an incredible biscuit to dunk. I love Digestives so much! I wish I was a McVitie’s biscuit bar.’
Love at first sight
‘I don’t believe in it but I do believe in lust at first sight. When I was 14, I was in Topshop and there was an employee, and he walked past me, and it felt like someone had punched me in the stomach, and I was like, ‘Maybe that was love at first sight?’ I’ve never seen him since.’
Little Fish is available to download and rent on major digital platforms from May 10. Sound Of Metal is available to download and rent on major digital platforms, and on Blu-ray from May 31.
SOUND GIRLS: MORE MOVIE STARS FROM MANCHESTER
Former Noughties ‘It’ girl/model Agy quit the nightclubs of London for La La Land in 2010 and starred in Clash Of The Titans. Not spotted her in much recently.
The flame-haired 2019 winner of Best Actress at Cannes (for Little Joe), Beecham will next star as Emma Stone’s mother in Disney’s Cruella — we presume in flashback.
Recently Bafta-nominated (and Bifa-winning) Best Actress for the asylum-seeker horror His House, Mosaku is currently filming the Marvel series of Loki.
Strike and The Capture are keeping her busy with top-class telly work but let’s hope Cinderella’s least Ugly Sister takes a big-screen ‘holliday’ soon.
You know, The Queen. But the star of The Crown has previously proved her cinematic range by transforming into The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
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