In a co-production between BBC America and the BBC in England comes Copper, which premieres on August 19th. Set in 1864 in New York City, it tells the story of an Irish-American immigrant cop, Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones), who returns from the Civil War to find his wife missing and his daughter dead.
The story also centers around Corcoran’s two Civil War compatriots, Robert Morehouse (Kyle Schmid), the wayward son of a wealthy industrialist, and Dr Matthew Freeman (Ato Essandoh), an African American physician who secretly helps Corcoran with his cases.
I spoke with Tom and Ato about their unique series at a BBC America party, where the network recreated Eva’s Paradise, a brothel spotlighted in the show.
What kind of research did you do for your roles?
Tom: I tried to do as much historical research as I could so I could just forget about it and throw it away, because I always think you don’t need to know how many grains of rice were shipped into New York to be able to give a believable performance. There are certain things that are important, and some that are not.
Ato: I play Dr Freeman and he’s a doctor in 1864 in New York. My first impression when I heard about that was unfortunately, because of the history of our country, there could not have been a black doctor in 1864. But actually in New York there were six of them.
When I did my research I found a very famous doctor named Dr James McCune Smith. He was the first black doctor in the United States, and he had to be educated in Glasgow, Scotland, because they wouldn’t take him in any university.
Did you base your character on him?
Ato: I grounded it there. When I knew that was a possibility it gave me license to be a normal human being under those circumstances. Then I could imagine how hard it was to be a black doctor in those times, because you don’t get respect. My character seems to be in charge of the evolution of the African American experience in New York.
What is Corcoran’s relationship with Freeman?
Tom: I think it’s a very strange thing seeing an Irishman and an African American at that point, actually getting along. I wouldn’t say it’s an easy relationship, I think they both know that there’s a certain mountain to climb, but I think Corcoran just hates bullies, and he sees the potential in Freeman.
It’s a very interesting relationship, it can be touching at times, and also it can be very aggressive as well. They play up to the stereotypes of the time of racism and bigotry, and eventually their relationship becomes more complicated. I think it’s a great representation of how much of a power-keg it was, and how it could just explode at any point.
Ato: It is an edgy relationship. Because they were in a war together, there’s an unspoken bond that happens between soldiers. That said, when Corcoran, Morehouse and Freeman come back home, he’s still black, Corcoran is still an Irish cop and Robert Morehouse is still a very rich guy. They still have that dynamic understanding between each other, but it’s ripe with tensions.
Tom: Ato and I get on so well I think what’s really good is that everyone has a sense of humor on the set. I think you need that when you are doing something that is so heavy with tension and drama.