Wondering what your great, great grandparents were up to at the turn of the century? Copper will premiere on BBC America on Sunday August 19th at 9 PM. The show about Irish-American immigrants in New York City from Oz and Borgia showrunner-writer-producer Tom Fontana and Cineflix will be BBC America’s first original scripted series.
“We’re going head on into the competition,” the show’s executive producer, Cineflix’ Christina Wayne told The Hollywood Reporter of the highly competitive Sunday time slot, adding that the timing was calculated. “The thinking was to get ahead of the new fall shows. The window is good for platforming a new show.”
While at AMC, Wayne was behind global hit Mad Men — also a nostalgic romp through New York. “I never think about wanting to follow a trend. It’s a world in which characters can live and with whom people are interested in spending time with week after week,” Wayne said, adding: “Audiences want to watch shows about great shows and great stories. Nobody cares what era a show is set in.”
Producers are hoping the show will resonate with viewers across the globe. “It’s about the immigrant experience at that time in New York. What was it like? How did people interact in this world?” The show’s co-creator, executive producer and writer Will Rokos and co-creator, showrunner, exec producer and writer Tom Fontana were “equally obsessed” with the time period. “It’s a fascinating canvas for telling this story,” Wayne said.
The show stars British actor Tom Weston-Jones as Detective Kevin Corcoran and follows Corcoran through three very distinct regions of New York — from the gritty, crowded Five Points neighborhood to the more refined and chic uptown to the open space of Carmensville.
“I love the part because of the moral conundrums he comes up with day to day. Through his eyes you get a real sense of how uncertain everything was back then. I love that nothing is predetermined, no one following a plot, everyone just coping and living in the moment, just trying to survive,” Weston-Jones said.
Corcoran’s character returns from the war to discover his daughter is dead and his wife has disappeared, a plot line that will be explored again over the course of the series.
The show is named for the nickname for cops during that time “coppers” since their badges were made of the heavy metal.
The leading role is a leap for Weston-Jones’ career. “I’m so glad that it’s on a show with a great amount of truth and integrity. There’s no titillation in this show. It’s entertaining, but its not a tool for entertainment. It’s all about the story and I feel so lucky to be where I am.
For Weston-Jones, the Five Points scene provides a small screen claustrophobia typical of the time period. “I get a sense of claustrophobia in Five Points – from the sprawling streets to the tiny little alleyways.”
The British actor had to perfect a new dialect for the series. “It’s American with a bend of Irish,” he said, adding that the characters also use quite a bit of Irish slang. “Whenever they swear, whenever they’re drunk, that’s when the Irish comes out,” he said.
Does that mean a lot of profanity and debauchery is in store for the series?
“Swearing and drinking and sex and violence, all of the things that make a good cable show,” Wayne said of the series.
Weston-Jones added: “People were totally crazy then.”
The show prides itself on a multicultural realism typical to the time period. “We wanted it to feel like the melting pot it was back then,” Wayne explained.
“It’s all about being authentic. We’ve stressed being gritty and real. We want viewers to feel like they really lived there then,” Wayne said, adding: “There were hundreds of people living on top of each other. Running water was a luxury. The world was a dirty, stinky place.”
Franka Potente, in her first series regular role, plays cutthroat businesswoman Eva who runs a saloon and brothel and has a relationship with Corcoran.
“I think of her as a businesswoman. She’s not your regular hooker,” Potente said of her character.
The German-born actress related to her character, but also did research into her role. “I’m an immigrant in America, so I get that part of it,” she said, but added: “I worked a lot with the costume people. I learned the most in that department. It’s where you get the coolest history lessons,” she said.
Her off-beat 19th century brothel-chic fashions may just start a new trend once the show airs. “I’m like Mick Jagger meets Steam Punk. There are corsets and hoop skirts. It takes me 20 minutes and a lot of man power to get dressed,” she said.
Weston-Jones added: “The costumes have a specific taste to them. The look isn’t just rags.”
Copper also stars Anastasia Griffith as a benevolent British society lady living on Fifth Avenue, Kyle Schmid as a Manhattan aristocrat among other cast members breathing life into the immigrant community of 19th century New York.
“I love New York so I was immediately interested, It’s all about the beginnings of Manhattan,” Potente said, but added that the show is “gritty and very cool” rather than just a boring history lesson.”
“There’s a sense of family, whether Irish or Italian or Jewish populations. They go through some heavy shit, but they get through it with humor,” Wayne said.
Weston-Jones added: “It looks at NY in a very honest way and shows us how these different cultures are jigsawed together.”
Corcoran has own moral compass — he’s not a cop who follows the rule book. “Nowadays, his job would be very much under review,” Weston-Jones said.
The show also boasts international appeal, since every character comes from the different countries to which the show is being sold. “It has pre-sold phenomenally. Everybody saw the opportunity. Though it’s set on American soil, it’s about an international experience and feels more universal than a purely American show,” Wayne said. She added: “I don’t think there’s another show like this on TV or ever has been.”