Actor Antonio Cupo
Canada may have been on the other side of the pond while the historic battle known as World War II unfolded, but as a country it was no less invested in the conflict as far as manpower and womanpower. While their husbands, brothers, cousins, and other male family members (as well as friends) were risking their lives on the front lines, the women back home were supporting the troops in any way possible.
The popular Canadian-made TV drama Bomb Girls follows the stories of four women also risking their lives working the Blue Shift in a Canadian munitions factory. Lending some testosterone to the mix is the factory’s materials controller Marco Moretti, a handsome Italian with an eye for the ladies and a bit of a cultural chip on his shoulder. Vancouver-born actor Antonio Cupo was himself far from home when casting began for the Marco character.
“I was in Italy for eight years prior to booking Bomb Girls,” notes Cupo. “I had just finished one project over there and was actually coming back to Canada for a bit of a break. I returned home on a Monday and on the Tuesday I met with Adrienne Mitchell, one of the creators and an executive producer on Bomb Girls. The actual audition was interesting because Adrienne is very much a hands-on type of person. The two of us spent about an hour-and-a-half talking and she had me do the [audition] sides a variety of ways. I didn’t have anything specific necessarily prepared, and we sort of developed the character right there in the room.
“When I finished, I said, ‘Thank you for the [acting] workout,’ because that’s what it was, and then went on my merry way. Whatever I did must have worked because I ended up landing the role and before I knew it I was filming my first episode [the season one opener "Jumping Tracks"]. What sticks out most in my mind about that is the fact I was working with 11 women. There were, I think, 11 actresses on the call sheet and I was nestled right in between them,” he says with a chuckle. “All I could think was, ‘Wow, this is the first job where I’ve worked with so many women.’ To top it off, Adrienne directed the episode. So not only was I incredibly lucky to be on the show, but doubly lucky to be working with all wonderful and talented women.”
As materials controller for Victory Munitions, Marco Moretti is responsible for all the raw materials coming into the factory and the export of every finished bomb. Having previously worked in his family’s fireworks factory, he brought a certain level of experience to the work. Unfortunately, his Italian heritage also proved to be somewhat of a hindrance. As a foreigner, Marco is viewed as a potential “enemy,” and although he was able to get a job with the munitions factory, he is prohibited from enlisting in the army. Along with many other Italian immigrants, Marco’s father has been sent to an internment camp, which has left the young man as the sole supporter of his mother, sister and nieces. Such cultural prejudice has left Marco somewhat jaded, and, conversely, given Cupo more avenues to explore in the development of his character.
“One of the biggest initial acting challenges I found with the character was trying to grasp what it was like to be Italian and living in Canada during the 1940s,” he explains. “Anyone that old in my life has either passed away or is not here in this country. I was, however, able to do some research. Thankfully here in Vancouver there’s an Italian museum at the cultural center that gave me much of the information I was after, so that was a huge help to me.
“The other trick with Marco was trying to figure out how tough as well as sensitive he was, because there was a fine line between being a so-called player who then falls in love with this one woman, namely Meg Tilly’s character of Lorna Corbett. I found that both an interesting and awkward choice for him. Marco was in a position where he could pretty much get any woman he wanted, but he chose to become involved with the most difficult woman at the factory and stick with her, so much so that he wanted Lorna to bring her pregnancy to term and help take care of the baby.
“As the episodes went on, I discovered Marco’s honor and that he was a really powerful character,” continues the actor. “I thought he had a wonderful story arc, which included having to deal with racism. That’s not something I’ve had to personally face in my life, but Marco had to deal with it a lot. I think that helped me grow as a person because I recognized that it was unfair treatment for him. It’s unfair to anyone, and people suffer from it today as well, which is incredibly sad, but slipping into Marco’s shoes and getting a taste of what that felt like really made me think and made me more sensitive to that whole issue.
“I think as a human being, Marco needed someone to turn to, and he didn’t have that a lot of the time because he kept being unjustly accused of being a terrorist. That sometimes caused him to react in certain ways and/or make some not-too-smart choices, which I loved. There’s a terrific scene between him and Gladys [Jodi Balfour) in the second season where he finally blows up. Marco explains that he trusted her and Gladys basically ratted him out because she saw a Fascist pamphlet at his house. This was a real turning point for Marco because he was caught between fighting for what he truly believed in and losing control at the same time.
“I begged the show’s writers to have him make more mistakes, because I wanted bigger challenges for Marco. As human beings, we all make mistakes, which sometimes come from very honest places and at the time feel so right to you, but there’s no real way to justify them in the eyes of the law or those of other people. I asked the writers, ‘Can we lead Marco down these paths of making terrible decisions for the better good, and then show him fighting back from that.’ In season one of Bomb Girls, Marco was a little too faceted in that he had this idea of being, again, kind of a player and a nice guy, but we really didn’t see much of his family or many of the issues that desensitized him. I fought for that in season two and got it. The writers gave me just what I felt I needed in order to really spike the stakes for Marco,” enthuses Cupo.
Despite critical accolades and a loyal and growing audience, Bomb Girls was not renewed for a third season. An online campaign to save the series has been set up and, happily, a two-hour Bomb Girls - The Movie (working title) has just begun production in Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario. Perhaps the combination of the two could lead to the actual series being resurrected. Cupo and the rest of show’s cast and crew would like nothing more, especially given the important issues that the program chose to explore through dramatic storytelling.
“We’re talking about women’s history as well as women’s liberation and one of the reasons why women work today,” says the actor. “Remember the old poster of Rosie the Riveter and women’s empowerment? These are very important issues. Along with that, Bomb Girls showed what it was like on the home front for Canadians during World War II. Canada became involved from the beginning, in 1938. I believe America joined in 1942, if I’m not mistaken. So it was fascinating seeing that part of it, too, with Canada being kind of alone in North America and fighting a war with the British against the Axis powers, and then how it grew into a world war with the addition of America.”
The son of Italian immigrants, Cupo is the youngest of three children (he has an older brother and sister). From an early age he thought it would be a “cool career choice” to become an actor, and began performing onstage when he was just a teenager. “I was one of those theatre actors that lived, ate and breathed the theatre. I was also probably one of those people that annoy you when you meet them because all they want to talk about is the theatre,” he jokes.
“That, however, changed kind of quickly when I started to seriously turn my acting into a career. I was around 16 or 17 and thought it would be a good idea if I could make some money from acting. Realistically, I knew that wouldn’t be the case if I continued to just do theatre. The only other way was if I could do television, which is a far cry from having a peaceful lifestyle and a stable job. It’s more like you’re in midair and suspended by a dream as well as a bunch of hopes that many would consider false, such as my parents. My thing is that if you can live without something, you probably should, but if you can’t, then you should chase that dream as far as you possibly can and let nothing stand in the way. That’s more or less what I did.”
In addition to a variety of made-for-TV movies, the actor has appeared in the miniseries Taken and Mystery Island as well as guest-starred on such series as Beggars and Choosers, So Weird, Dark Angel, Special Unit 2, Andromeda, Just Deal, Supernatural and Murdoch Mysteries. In his native Italy, Cupo’s smoldering good looks, along with acting skills, served him well when he was cast as the male lead in season two of the drama series Elisa di Rivombrosa.
“I got that part when I first moved back to Italy, and it was incredibly challenging because up to that point I had only really spoken English,” he says. “Suddenly I was speaking Italian every day, shooting five or six scenes a day for 10 months, and helping tell a story set in the 1700s. Now, I’ve done Shakespeare, but this took it to a whole other level. This project wasn’t anything that you could immediately fathom and it required plenty of studying, but I was definitely up for the challenge. Not only did I want to play this character, but I wanted to do the best job possible and not let myself or anyone else down. I did it, survived, and the show turned out to be a hit, so it was a really great experience all around.”
On the big screen, Cupo’s credits include Elegy, Sword of War, Carnera: The Walking Mountain, American Mary and the upcoming Anita B. “In Anita B. I play a Jewish character, once again during World War II, funnily enough, who escapes from Poland and into Czechoslovakia,” says Cupo. “That was another tough character where I had to speak Yiddish for some of the scenes. That’s not easy, and it’s not an easy language to learn, either, because the translations are really different from person to person. So it was another big challenge, but one that I thoroughly enjoyed.”
Cupo will be the first to admit there are no guarantees when it comes to working as an actor, but if and when all the pieces of the puzzle do come together, it is reason to celebrate. “It can be a very rewarding career, and not just financially, although that’s part of it, but rewarding to just be working in an industry that many would consider near impossible to succeed in. Here I am ten years later and I’m still chasing that dream to book awesome jobs, be involved in amazing projects and play believable characters, all of which I don’t think I’ll ever tire of pursuing.”
Please note, both photos of Antonio Cupo are by/courtesy of Pablo Hernandez, and all Bomb Girls photos copyright of the REELZ Channel.