Born and bred in South London, Tony Cook is an actor and producer. He’s starred in such indie horrors as Cain Hill and Monster, as well as the popular TV series Drunk History, and has even rubbed shoulders with none other than Vinnie Jones.
Tony took some time out from his latest project to sit down with the Squid for a chat and a look back over his journey so far.
Emily: Mr Cook, how’s it going? Give us some background on how you got into acting and producing.
Tony: If we went all the way back to the beginning, it would be when I played the pivotal role of ‘donkey’ in the primary school nativity… It was powerful. I forgot my lines.
I’ve always loved acting, but it first seemed like a career when I spoke to my cousin, Danny, who was pursuing it professionally and auditioning for the huge West End shows. That showed me it was possible! When I started out, I performed stand-up comedy, and from there it led me to working with brilliant talents like Jason Lewis, Daniel Kaluuya and Eddie Kadi on a comedy sketch show for MTV Base.
I networked constantly, reaching out to people, asking for any advice possible, and luckily for me, people like Aml Ameen (Kidulthood, Yardie) replied and guided me, and even brought me on-board his project at the time. Jason Maza has always been supportive and an all-round good guy too. We recently got to work together for Bulletproof 2 on Sky One and CW in USA. From the start, it’s always been about learning as much as possible from people making waves and carving their own paths.
Emily: Where would our readers have seen you?
Tony: If you live in South London, maybe around there? Or the Picturehouse in Piccadilly? I go there a fair bit, or Soho House. Most recently on screen though, that would be in Bulletproof 2 or A Gift from Bob from Lionsgate.
Emily: Aww, I loved that! How do you prepare for a role?
Tony: I’ll read the script through fully. Then I’ll read it again, marking out intentions, small arcs, looking to find the character’s overall objective. Then I like picking out any details about the character from the descriptions or what other characters say about him. I’ll doodle a drawing of him and list his likes and dislikes.
Once I’ve done my homework based on the script and any notes the director has for the character then I’ll get to work learning lines. It’s great having the homework done, but always leave room for the director to guide you as well because, at the end of the day, you’re there to serve the film.
Emily: When you’re given a role, how much freedom do you have to make it your own? For example, your South London accent and humour shine through in some very serious scenes.
Tony: Thanks! It really depends on the film. For Kingsman 2, I auditioned with a Russian accent, but when I arrived the character had been changed to British.
When John Langridge (the director) was discussing a role in 13 Graves with me, he asked if I could do a Scottish accent. I said “Nope, but I can do Russian”, and he changed the role to a Russian, which we still laugh about now.
I’m lucky that I’ve been able to work with directors who know me personally, so I’ve had a few roles written with me in mind, which leads to them inevitably writing them a certain way. It’s great until the character description usually started with ‘bald’… IT’S SHAVED!
Emily: Sure it is. How does being in a horror film differ to being in a mainstream film?
Tony: Strangely, filming horror movies is usually very funny. I love projects where people take the work seriously but not themselves. During the filming of Cain Hill, we were filming in an actual old asylum, and I hid in a cupboard (like you do) and waited for George, our make-up artist. He nearly had a heart attack, but in my defence, it was worth it.
Emily: Haha! Who have you particularly enjoyed working with and what were they like?
Tony: Insert shameless name drops… Julianne Moore and Colin Firth were both really welcoming. Vinnie Jones on I am Vengeance: Retaliation, because I grew up watching him every Saturday as a Wimbledon fan, and the guy is a gent! Stephen Mangan and Guz Khan on Drunk History were a lot of fun. As for directors… all of them. That avoids losing work, right? As for crew, I love hair and make-up, or, as a shaven-headed guy, I call it… make-up. They start an actor’s day off and they’re always loving life! There is no better feeling than turning up to a film set and the first people you see are crew that you’ve worked with before. It feels like a reunion, and actors will always perform better when they feel comfortable and in safe hands.
Emily: Excellent! So what sort of horror are you into?
Tony: I really like the horrors that play on your mind long after you’ve watched them. The ones that make you hesitate the next time you walk into a dark room.
The first Paranormal Activity was brilliant, and I remember watching Blair Witch before going camping with friends.
Emily: Found footage was a game-changer! Which horror characters inspire you?
Tony: Chucky, because he’s funny at the same time! Also, Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs is one of my favourite horror performances.
Emily: Is there anyone you would like to work with?
Tony: Tom Hanks, Michael Caine, Olivia Coleman and Will Smith are my dream cast to work with. I’d love to be directed by Fincher and Scorsese! (And Roy Rivett. He’s holding my family hostage until I admit I’m looking forward to being directed by him.)
Emily: I hope this article ensures their safe return! Are there any characters, fictional or other, that you would like to play?
Tony: A dream role would be to play cavalry officer Witold Pilecki in his story about his time in Auschwitz.
Emily: Wow! You seem to be very good at the intense monologues. I was gripped when you were in Monster and Next Door. What do you do to prepare for such scenes?
Tony: Thanks! For me, it’s the connection to the script as a whole, knowing where this monologue is coming from for the character at that moment in his life. Or just a director hitting me with a stick and shouting “Do better”.
Emily: Are there any characters or scenes that have really gotten to you?
Tony: A couple of years ago, I shot a project for the charity Mind, about mental health and male suicide. That hit pretty hard, and trying to shake the character was one of the only times it’s stayed that long.
Emily: So what’s next for you? Are you worried about the pandemic’s lasting effect on the arts?
Tony: Working on a couple of films with Roy Rivett. The pandemic has definitely slowed things down, but we will be flying out to shoot later this year (COVID permitting).
The silver lining of the last year is that it’s brought the industry closer together. For example, there are casting directors offering to chat with actors, Zoom workshops, the guys at Just Add Milk are constantly providing workshops, one-to-ones, etc. Emma Crompton runs the casting feed and holds Q&As with courses. Everyone is in the same storm. We might be in different boats but it’s the same storm, and it’s ended up bringing people together to get through it.
We would like to thank Tony Cook for a lovely interview and we look forward to seeing the South London lad on our screens in the future.