Hey, casting agents, listen to this: Oliver Jackson-Cohen are interested in lighter papers. That’s not to say he didn’t like the darker, even frightening characters he’s played in recent years—but his mother says he needs a break.
Mom’s comment came last year when Jackson-Cohen arrived in Vancouver to film the new series. Surfacewhich is now broadcast weekly on Apple TV+. She said, “’You’re not going to make one of those sad boys of yours, are you?’ And I said: ‘How is it?’ And she amended: ‘You’re always sad (expletive). Make something lighter that I might like to see,’” laughed Jackson-Cohen. “So that kind of stuck with me.”
The last few years have been very busy. Among the most recent highlights of Jackson-Cohen’s career are the series The Curse of Hill House gives Netflix and its continuation, The Curse of Bly Manor. He also terrified Elisabeth Moss in The invisible man and played the controlling husband of Dakota Johnson in the lost daughter. But he took a break from this summer’s romantic comedy Mr. Malcom’s Listan experience he describes as “a delightful game”.
In SurfaceJackson-Cohen stars alongside Gugu Mbatha-Raw as James, a husband desperately trying to keep up appearances of a happy marriage after an accident causes his wife, Sophie (Mbatha-Raw), to lose her long-term memory. The more James tries to hide past problems, the more Sophie becomes suspicious and distant.
“It’s very interesting when someone is keeping a lot of secrets,” he said. “It creates a lot of tension, and if you’re not allowed to say certain things and you’re holding back a lot, people can perceive it in a lot of different ways. I hope it worked and felt overprotective or controlling or whatever – even sinister. But I hope that as the show continues and peels away the layers, people will realize what’s underneath it all.”
Veronica West, creator and showrunner of Surfacesays it’s the balance between mystique and closeness that brings “something super special to Olly’s performance” in the series.
“He has an intensity that can feel very dangerous, but also extremely charismatic and magnetic. I remember the first time we met in person. There was a song playing and he started doing a little shrug and I was like, ‘This is the goofiest, most charming thing on Earth.’ And we ended up incorporating that into a scene, he seems a little menacing in the subtext, but he also has this immense charm. I think that’s James’ duality.”
Jackson-Cohen says he thinks it is therapeutic playing people full of flaws. “I don’t know what that says about me, but I’m drawn to people’s pain. I find the expression of that pain an incredibly comforting thing.”
For now, Jackson-Cohen is back in Vancouver alongside Jenna Coleman, filming a series for the Prime Video call wildness, which he describes as “not light at all”. Then he hopes there will be one more season of Surfacewhich he likes, at least in part, because he’s known Mbatha-Raw for years.
“I did one of my first works with Gugu when I was 19 years old. We enjoyed an episode of something very questionable on the BBC, we’ve known each other since then, and she’s a wonderful human being.” / TRANSLATION BY RENATO PRELORENTZOU