Emrhys Cooper: landing his big role
PUBLISHED: 14:37 22 May 2017 | UPDATED: 14:37 22 May 2017
He's the Devon boy who has hit the Hollywood big time, but as Emrhys Cooper tells Alexis Bowater, it hasn't been an easy ride to the top
Homeless and sleeping in a clapped-out car in the Hollywood hills is nobody’s idea of fun or glamour but for this astonishing young actor that was reality just a few years ago and it is a measure of his dogged determination that he came through that to stardom.
Emrhys Cooper’s story reads like a real-life La La Land script: triumphing over dyslexia and school bullying in rural Devon to make it - firstly to London on a dance scholarship and then, via Mamma Mia and the West End stage, to the bright lights of Los Angeles.
Once there the streets were neither paved with gold nor red-carpeted. Even with a manager and a visa, aged just 24 he was in at the deep end:
“I thought it was going to be an easy ride,” he recalls. “Little did I know. I’m a hopeless optimist and I just thought I’d go to LA and figure it out, but I went to LA and the first year was a real struggle, I was renting a car from ‘Rent-A-Wreck’, so every other week they break down.
“I lived in about ten or 12 different places in the first year; I lived with an alcoholic one time; I came home and my clothes were down the street, he’d thrown them out the window. Then I lived with a girl who was addicted to drugs and she was actually a hooker and at night people would come back. I was so naïve and innocent to it all.
“I had lots of weird experiences in my first year-and-a-half and it was like a roller coaster. One time I lived in my car for three nights; I was kicked out of this lady’s house and I’d run out of money. I was so ashamed at that point that I wasn’t getting it together so I kept it secret.”
You can see as Emrhys talks that he’s done what all good actors do and spun these awful experiences on their head, taken ownership of them and banked them for future use. It’s a delight and privilege to watch as he morphs for our photographer from friendly boy-next-door to James Dean bad boy then - whisper it - a young James Bond.
The turning point was, he says, learning to be himself and not to ‘play the game’ of
Hollywood: the parading at parties, the networking, the obsequious pretending-to-be-someone-you-are-not. “After witnessing it and things not working how I’d hoped I realised ultimately that what is important is authenticity: being your true self and working really hard at the craft of acting.
“Gradually I stripped back all the things that were holding me back. Ultimately it’s about my voice, how can it transcend and inspire, because it’s not just about being a good actor, it’s about telling stories. So the more you can understand yourself, the pain that you’ve gone through the better. Because ultimately it’s about personalising it so other people can relate to whatever story you’re telling.
“In the last couple of years I’ve just really worked on being happy in myself, my mind and surrounding myself with good people, because when I first got to L.A. I was around bad people and bad influences.”
And it was at this point, with Emrhys’ life in America beginning to turn around that serendipity or the hand of fate landed an extraordinary leading role in his lap in one of the most random and extraordinary acts of La La Land luck you can imagine.
“I was hanging out with my friends at our house and his friend was the Tibetan translator for the King of Bhutan,” explains Emrhys.
“He said ‘The King of Bhutan wants to do a movie to showcase Bhutan because the number one in the economy is tourism’. I thought ‘great’. I didn’t think anything of it and then he got me on Skype with Karma Deki who is the director of Kushuthara and asked if I wanted to do this movie in Bhutan.”
Within three weeks they began filming 10,000 feet up in the stunning landscape of one of the most remote and inaccessible countries in the world. The movie is a love story about a western journalist who travels to Bhutan and becomes entangled with a married Bhutanese woman.
In Hollywood, indeed all over the world, Emrhys is clearly a leading man on a still upward trajectory: handsome, recognisable, stopped for autographs, with a massive future ahead of him and red carpet premieres and awards aplenty to come.
Here in his Totnes home town though, in the ballroom of the Seven Stars, it’s a rainy Devon day and he’s relaxed and himself: jumping with joy and dancing with freedom as he was born to.
There’s laughter, and beer, and Scottish reels, his mum confiding in me that he’s ‘an Aquarius with Leo rising’, has always been a performer and that we must rush because they have to get the bus to Plymouth.
Emrhys Cooper is now an international film star. He may well be, and deserves to be, the next James Bond. But whatever happens, the grounding of him is and always will be here: a hard-working Valentine’s Day-born boy from Devon who never, ever, gave up, who chased his dreams - and caught them.”
For more information visit kushuthara.com
Ten things Emrhys loves about Devon:
1. I love the Devon coastline with the fabulous beaches and cliff walks. One of my favourites is Berry Head.
2. Climbing Haytor on Dartmoor.
3. The atmospheric ruins of Berry Pomeroy Castle.
4. The River Dart, particularly at Staverton, where I spent many happy summer days.
5. Spitchwick Common, barbecues, swimming and jumping off high rocks.
6. I was very lucky to be in Miss Pam’s wonderful Dance School in Paignton from the age of six.
7. Dartington Hall, Dartington Gardens and watching films at the Barn Theatre.
8. I have very happy memories of surfing at Bantham Beach.
9. I love the Devon villages with their thatched cottages and charming gardens, especially Widecombe.
10. I attended The Rudolf Steiner in Dartington with its beautiful grounds and innovative creative education.