Finding His Footing: Interview with Copper's Dylan Taylor

By , Contributor

BBC America

Dylan Taylor as Detective Andrew O'Brien in Copper

When it comes to a city of contrasts, look no further than 1860s New York as portrayed in the hit BBC America period drama Copper. You have the wealthy, pristine and thriving streets of Fifth Avenue existing alongside the dirty, poverty-stricken and crime-ridden slums of Five Points. The latter is where Detective Andrew O’Brien works and calls home. Together with Irish immigrant Detective Kevin “Corky” Corcoran and the other officers at the Sixth Precinct, O’Brien risks his life on a daily basis in order to help keep the peace in Five Points.

Murders, corruption, voting fraud and a Confederate plot to burn New York were among the crimes investigated by O’Brien and his fellow coppers during the show’s first season. In the season two opener, "Home, Sweet Home," “Buzzy” Burke, a violent brothel and gaming parlor owner, goes on a brutal rampage and must be caught. Meanwhile, Corky’s ex- partner and friend Francis Maguire sits in jail awaiting his murder trial. For our very human and fallible heroes, it was back to business as usual, and despite his character’s bleak surroundings, actor Dylan Taylor, who plays Andrew O’Brien, could not wait to return to the Copper fold.

“It was awesome to be reunited with the cast and crew as well as get back into those sets, which had been expanded since last year,” says Taylor. “So it was neat to check out all the new stuff. As far as the actual episode, obviously filming the opening scene and the fight with Buzzy Burke was a lot of fun. It was either the first or second day of shooting that Tom Weston-Jones [Kevin Corcoran], Noah Danby, who played Buzzy, and I had a long fight rehearsal, which was a blast.

“I also enjoyed shooting the scene in jail with O’Brien and Maguire [Kevin Ryan]. For me, that was a treat to have this quiet moment where we get to learn a bit more about O’Brien’s background. Kevin Ryan and I spent a lot of time discussing what our characters’ conversation was really about and what these guys were saying between the lines or without saying it in its entirety. For all intents and purposes, this was the last time that either of them planned on seeing each other, and as things stood then, it was the last conversation that Maguire would probably ever have,

“So personally I was very happy to play both ends of the spectrum in the season opener. Something else I’m really thrilled about this year are the conversations we all had early on with [executive producer] Tom Kelly, our new showrunner this year, and [writer/director] Larysa Kondracki, who is now in a producer role, about the vision as well as direction of the show for its second season. It was very interesting as well as exciting and inspiring for everyone to come back and hear all that they had to tell us. That was the big kicker for season two, and the best part is, they’ve lived up to everything they said that they wanted to do with Copper this time around,” enthuses the actor.

With Francis Maguire still incarcerated at the start of season two, O’Brien had to team up with Corky in more of a dynamic duo-type of way. As the first few episodes of the second season unfolded, it looked as if Maguire was continuing down a dark path. There was, however, more to his behavior than met the eye, and while he “redeemed” himself in the episode "A Morning Song," the man still has one or two proverbial skeletons in his closet. Corky and O’Brien are back working with Maguire, but recent events have somewhat shaken up their relationships.

“Things with O’Brien and Corky are similar to how they’ve always been to certain extent, with the exception of my character standing ready for Corky if you will,” explains Taylor. “By that I mean, O’Brien gave Corky time to readjust to his wife Ellen [Alex Paxton-Beesley] returning, as well as to mourn and come to terms with the loss of his daughter. Having said that, though, death, sadness and hardship seems to be a fact of Five Points, and O’Brien feels it’s time that Corky moved on with his life.

“With Maguire, my character doesn’t excuse him for his crimes. Like I just said, though, death and hardship are a part of life in Five Points, and also a part of survival. O’Brien now knows that Maguire was digging himself deeper in the hole he was in for the best of intentions. I’ve had a ball this year riding the wave between those two trains of thought, which you are going to see more of with O’Brien in the latter half of season two. He finds his own footing, and with that, his commitment and loyalty to his job and taking care of his own family.”

Coppers second season marks the arrival of a new boss at the Sixth Precinct - Brendan Donovan (Donal Logue), a tough, non-nonsense Civil War brigadier general who has his own ideas on how to clean up the streets of Five Points. Donovan expects nothing but the highest standards from Captain Sullivan (Ron White) and his men, and his presence leads to some interesting plot twists.

“As a fan, I like watching the way that the addition of Donovan has changed things up on the show,” says Taylor. “I especially enjoy watching Ron White’s character of Captain Sullivan interact with Donovan and how their dynamic has sort of changed Sullivan’s role. I think Donovan has added a real sense of the political environment of the times. Last year we had a good sense of what was happening on the streets and the general attitude of the people. In season two, it’s been cool to see the political side of things. So I’ve enjoyed the addition of the Donovan character and feel that he’s been a wonderful aid not only in helping tell our story, but also in bringing more depth to the world these characters are living in.

“As far as having Donal Logue on-set, it’s great. He’s kind of a guru of life and professional experiences. Donal is someone who seems to think in very poetic, well-written monologues. So he doesn’t give you one-word answers, which makes it a joy to sit down and chat with him. Donal is a very sincere individual, too, so you’re never just talking about the weather or stuff like that. He comes across as having a personal stake in all matters of the world, which is a wonderful quality. We’re a relatively young cast in [working] experience as well as age, so it’s a treat to have these veterans in the business, such as Donal, Alfre Woodward [Hattie Lemaster] and Andrew Howard [Mr. O’Rourke], come in and for us to take some [acting] ‘notes.’”

With his Copper role being a very physical one, what were some of the biggest challenges in that regard for Taylor this season?

“The fight with Noah in the season opener was pretty much our biggest one this year,” he says. “There’s some stuff that didn’t actually make it into the final cut, but that still made the fight a big sort of dance to choreograph.

“Filming episode five [the aforementioned "A Morning Song"] and shooting up the precinct is something that I don’t think I’ll forget for a long time. It took close to a week-and-a-half to film that episode, and about a solid week of that was spent in the artificial rain in the studio. Even though it’s artificial rain, it’s still real water. So you were soaking wet and standing in the cold. Our hats ended up shrinking and so did our shoes,” jokes the actor. “Because of everything going on in the story, you felt a bit like an action hero at times, so we had a really good time with this one.

“Towards the end of this season there’s another big action episode that has some very physical stuff in it. All I’ll say is that in a leg race it goes Kevin, Tom and me every time. We do some serious sprinting in this episode, which was miserable to shoot over and over again having to run on cobblestone streets while wearing wooden soled shoes. That made it tough, at least for me, when trying to keep up with Kevin and Tom, both of whom are fast, athletic dudes. Physically there was a great deal for everyone to do this season. This show as a whole has quite a big physical element to it as far the violence and sexuality. I think it was all amped up this year, which was pretty exciting.”

Tall, burly and an imposing figure in his overcoat and hat, O’Brien is a force to be reckoned with. In this case, looks are definitely not deceiving, but much to Taylor’s delight, his character has not become a mere muscle man whose only purpose is to throw his weight around and intimidate the bad guys.

“I’d rather be asked to do something different in every single episode as opposed to doing the same thing over and over,” notes the actor. “It’s been wonderful to see some of the growth with O’Brien that Tom Kelly, Kyle Bradstreet [supervising producer] and Kevin Deiboldt [writer] and I all talked about, which was that O’Brien wasn’t going to be just the ‘doh-de-doh,’ yes sir-type of guy that followed Corky around. He was going to have his own point of view as well as stakes in the fight and make decisions for himself. We saw an example of that early on when it comes to O’Brien not abandoning his friendship with Maguire because of his and Corky’s falling out.

“So it’s been terrific to see my character become a bit more of his own man this season, and for me as an actor, I’ve relished the chance to do more as far as the emotional beats with him.”

In addition to his crime-busting exploits on Copper, Taylor has been busy working on a couple of other projects. “I have a film slated to be in theatres in early 2014 called Reasonable Doubt starring Samuel L. Jackson and Dominic Cooper,” he says. "We shot that in Winnipeg in December right before I started work on this season of Copper. It’s a very cool kind of courtroom thriller, and I play an assistant district attorney and Dominic Cooper’s character’s right-hand man.

“I’ve also done several new episodes of Covert Affairs this year,” continues the actor. “Jim Parriott was the show runner during the first season of Covert Affairs. I’d worked with him as well as [writers] Meredith Lavender and Marcie Ulin on Defying Gravity, and when that series ended, they all went over to Covert Affairs, which happens to shoot in my hometown of Toronto. One day Meredith phoned me and said, ‘We have a guest-star part coming up on Covert Affairs that we think you’d be great for.’ The Eric Barber character is very similar to Steve Wassenfelder from Defying Gravity, so I went in, auditioned for them, and that night, Jim Parriott called to tell me I had the job.

“They’ve brought Eric back quite a few times since then, including four episodes at the end of last year. This [fourth] season they wanted to make sure he was around a lot more, so they worked around my Copper schedule. The two studios are actually only about 15 minutes apart here in Toronto, so it worked out pretty well. There were days where I was running over to Covert Affairs during my lunch break for a wardrobe fitting or something like that.

“I think I’ve done six of their first ten episodes this year, which has been great, especially with this season being a pretty heavy one story-wise on Copper. I could hop over to Covert Affairs and play this sort of wisecracking genius. I have a ton of fun and they let me improvise a lot, too. There’s a great cast on that series as well. They’re all very cool, laid-back people. So it’s been a nice break going from the filthy streets and grit of Five Points and hanging around an office to do some techie talk. In fact, I’m going back next week [last week of July] to do another episode, so I’m looking forward to that.”

Please note, all Copper photos courtesy/copyright of BBC America, and Covert Affairs photo copyright of USA Network.

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A native of Massachusetts, Steve Eramo has been a Sci-Fi fan since childhood, having been brought up on such TV shows as Star Trek and Space: 1999. He is also an Anglophile and lover of British TV. A writer for 35 years – 17 of those as a fulltime freelancer – Steve has had over 2,500 feature-length…

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