'Copper' Moves Into Season 2 on a Bigger Playing Field

Producers of the returning BBC America drama talk about the big changes -- more guest stars, bigger budget, less procedure, new showrunner -- pushing the 1860s New York police tale forward.
BBC America

Copper had an auspicious start on BBC America last year. The network's first scripted original, a precursor to recent darling Orphan Black, it was greeted with strong ratings, critical favor and a speedy renewal. And while the show isn't straying from its lavish (if grimy) Five Points, New York City, setting during its sophomore run, the creative team behind Copper say there is a noticeable evolution in the approach to storytelling.

"I don't know if it's the most significant shift, but last year we had one foot in this gritty story of New York in the 1860s and one foot in a procedural crime show format," says executive producer and co-creator Tom Fontana. "Now we have more crime than we had in the first season, but there isn't a quasi-CSI thing where we're trying to solve a murder a week. We started to abandon it halfway through last season. But I think now we've perfected it."

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The "we" he's referring to places particular emphasis on Thomas Kelly. The author and former Blue Bloods producer joins the series' second season as showrunner, in part to alleviate the stress placed on Fontana -- who was simultaneously running both Copper's Toronto set and Netflix's Borgia in Italy.

It's Kelly's first time as a showrunner. Obligations to Blue Bloods kept him from joining Copper after initially talking with Fontana prior to the first season, but he says the opening in his schedule -- and the producers' willingness to let him focus on the characters -- made it an easy jump.

"Most first-season shows, you don't really get to dig deep with all of the characters, especially with this big of an ensemble and only 10 episodes," notes Kelly.

Aggressively mingling the cop drama's storylines fronted by Doctor Freeman (Ato Essandoh), Robert Morehouse (Kyle Schmid) and star Tom Weston-Jones' titular detective is something show producers at Cineflix Studios realized they wanted very early on -- but the fast-tracking of the first season prevented certain tweaks.

"Any time you go straight to series, you don't have the luxury of a pilot," says Copper executive producer and Cineflix Studios president Christina Wayne. "It gives you time to look at what you have in the show and make an adjustment. What people normally do at the end of a pilot, we got to after the first season. We had a real download on what we thought was working well and what we thought we could improve upon."

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A bigger budget and more shooting days have also accommodated for another thing Fontana wanted from the start: guest casting. The TV veteran, whose resume include Oz, Homicide and St. Elsewhere, is accustomed to a revolving door of familiar talent. Actors Alfre Woodard, Billy Baldwin, Eamonn Walker, Lee Tergesen and Donal Logue all signed on for significant parts in the sophomore season of Copper, something Fontana also credits to the unpredictable red tape often caused by shooting in Canada.

"These Canadian content rules are a little bit like interpreting the oracle at Delphi," says Fontana, laughing. "Last year, we were told we couldn't hire American actors, and this year, we were told we could hire American actors."

Funnily enough, the season's biggest addition (Logue) is a native Canadian. The Terriers and Sons of Anarchy actor joins the series as General Brendan Donovan in the season premiere, and will appear in at least 11 of the 13-episode order. Going after Logue was one of Kelly's first decisions as showrunner. He wants Logue's character to represent a "new type of power" in Copper's often brutal world.

"I'm pretty fascinated with that history; I feel like I knew those guys well," says Logue, who describes his character as a Boss Tweed type. "We further defined him as someone who had come over from the Irish famine as a young men, become a cop and joined the military sometime before the conflict started."

Though no parties were quick to divulge much of what would happen during the second season, Logue's addition should also serve as something of a catalyst for the mingling of stories that Kelly and Fontana want for the series.

"I felt you had these three separate worlds, with the Freemans in Carmanville, the Moorhouses up on 23rd Street and the rest downtown," says Kelly. "We needed to find organic ways to get this great cast into each other's business. In New York then, as it is today, all of these worlds collide all day long. It's one of the few cities where races and classes are mixing constantly."

Copper returns to BBC America on Sunday, June 23, at 10 p.m.