From outside, a war-torn looking warehouse located on the outskirts of Toronto hardly looks special at all. But once you step inside, you can see that BBC America has obviously gone to great lengths to recreate 1860s New York City for its period drama, "Copper." The hard cement floors have been transformed into a dirty cobblestone road. A hardware store, a tavern with a freestanding bar and the 6th Precinct Metropolitan Police Station are just a few of the buildings that crowd the street. Make a sharp right and you're into a more affluent district of large houses and mansions.
Created by Tom Fontana ("Oz," "Homicide: Life on the Street") and Will Rokos ("Southland") "Copper" follows Detective Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones), an Irish-immigrant cop doing his best to keep the peace in the rough Five Points neighborhood while seeking answers to a case that's hit too close to home.
The day we're on set, Corcoran and his former war buddy Robert Morehouse (Kyle Schmid), are out in the coach house with a few other men for an intense demonstration. The conversation is plot-sensitive, but the scene ends with an impressive fire special effect and a burning carriage. After a couple of takes, Schmid sat down to talk "Copper," and HuffPost TV spoke with Weston-Jones spoke over the phone a week later. (The show premieres Sunday, August 19 on BBC America in the US and on August 26 on Showcase in Canada.) Here are some key points to know before watching "Copper."
"Kevin is the eyes of the show," states Weston-Jones. "He was born in Dublin, moved to New York City when he was very young, was brought up there by his family and became a boxer when he was around 17. He wasn't incredibly famous, but won a few bouts. He got married, had a child and when the Civil War came around, he felt it was right to go into it. While he was there, he found out his wife disappeared and his daughter was dead. He came home and is trying to find any information he can. During that period, he becomes a policeman and works his way up to becoming a detective. He's incredibly motivated and obsessive about this particular trauma in his life."
"My character is a young bon vivant from the rich class of New York," says Schmid. "His father was in politics, so he dabbles in them as well. With the amount of money and history his family has, I like to consider him as a bit of a puppeteer. He's always looking for the next best way to further himself and his family, but at the same time, he's morally bound as well. He has a fairly solid set of ethics. He does care. He does want to abolish slavery. He dislikes the class separations. Inside, he considers himself a man of the people."
Back To Reality
Although Weston-Jones is best-known for the TV series "Spooks," and Schmid for his performance as the vampire Henry Fitroy in "Blood Ties," the two found it easy to go from something so heightened and supernatural to a grittier, grounded project.
"They are such different beasts," explains Weston-Jones. "'Spooks' was so much fun, and a bit of a whirlwind to me as well, because it was my first big role. I tried to play things as straight down the line as I could, but 'Spooks' is very difficult. It's such high stakes all the time. You never know who to trust. It's all written to cater to that sense of ridiculousness in never knowing who the bad guy is. Your best friend could be the worst person in the world. I didn't really find it too much of a jump going from that to this, though."
"Henry was a vampire, which is very otherworldly, but I tried to humanize him as a character," offers Schmid. "Really, the big difference is trying to separate yourself from what you would do naturally and really live that character and create something that is brand new and original."
New York State Of Mind
With its corruption and rampant crime, the 1860s New York City was not the bustling hub it is today. Instead, potential violence lurked around every corner (OK, so maybe it is a bit similar).
"It was a period of change and a period of uncertainty," offers Weston-Jones. "It's a very frightening period of time for a lot of people because the Civil War was one of the most violent wars. People didn't really know what was going to happen next. So much was unsure. The show really picks up on that. People just trying to survive and get by."
"It's interesting," offers Schmid. "Doing all the research we've done and reading all the books, I find it a dirty era, morally, ethically and physically. People didn't bathe that often. Morally, men would be married, but had multiple mistresses. Women were not expected to be educated or have opinions. The black population was considered less than everyone else, as was the Irish."
Crossing The Line
Corcoran may act as the moral compass of the series, but he is forced to do some questionable things to gather information regarding his wife and daughter. Once again, the violence factors into his deeds.
"It has something to do with that period of time because violence was very different then," notes Weston-Jones. "Violence wasn't considered as bad as today's standards. With him, he pushes the boundary of what he does to people. He will do anything he can to get the information from them. I guess some people would call him an anti-hero, but I think that's too forgiving. Sometimes you can consider him to be quite unheroic and selfish. It makes him more human, and I like playing people who have inherent flaws."
Over its 10-episode run, "Copper" will explore the social structure, politics and mentality of the 1860s, but its main thrust revolves around the lives of the leading characters.
"'Copper' is episodic, but there's also a very big arc to the whole thing," reveals Weston-Jones. "Throughout it, Corcoran is constantly getting closer and closer to the answers he's searching for. He goes through a series of things where he gets the answer he wants, hearing some things he doesn't want to hear and he sees some very ugly sides of himself. He goes through the various parts of society, from the cultural jigsaw that was Five Points, to the surrounding areas, to the very affluent posh uptown. He's sucked into all these different places trying to find any semblance of truth to any of them."
"Morehouse is searching for love, but his ideal love is respect and intellect and someone he can consider close to an equal," explains Schmid. "He finds that in Anastasia Griffith's character, Elizabeth. You see that relationship happen because sometimes what you want isn't necessarily what you get. And you see the group reunite. His relationship with Corcoran continues throughout the entire thing. He sees Dr. Freeman (Ato Essandoh) on a fairly regular basis, so you have your Three Musketeers."
It's not all fistfights and brawls, so the shootouts in such a period piece proved to be an unexpected highlight -- at least for some of the cast. In Weston-Jones' case, Corcoran is involved in plenty of gunplay.
"As soon as you start firing those things off, you suddenly revert back to being a kid playing cowboys," concludes Weston-Jones. "There's a big gun fight in the first couple of episodes that was so much fun to shoot."
"I have people shoot guns for me," says Schmid with a chuckle. "I'd like to. I pull a weapon once or twice. Morehead is more of a puppet master and a very smart man, which is why he's so interesting, as conflicted as he is. He's fully knowledgeable about what he's doing, what he's running away from and all his issues. When he needs to fight, he'll fight. He'll get his hands dirty. Like I said, he thinks he's a man of the people. But I don't have the big shoot outs like the rest of the guys."
"Copper" premieres Sunday, August 19 at 10 p.m. ET on BBC America in the US and on August 26 on Showcase in Canada.
"The Larry Sanders Show," 1992-1998
Hey now! A peerless satire of the egos that populate late-night TV, "Larry Sanders" is one of the gold standards of the behind-the-scenes genre. The show didn't just lampoon the characters' grandiosity and feuds, it took the time to show us their insecurities and the tangled histories of their fractured relationships as well. The parade of famous faces who guested as themselves helped create a realistic vibe, and cast members Garry Shandling, Jeffrey Tambor, Janeane Garofalo, Rip Torn, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Penny Johnson and Jeremy Piven did some of the best work of their careers on this consistently excellent show. It's available on DVD and Netflix Instant.
"30 Rock," 2006-Present
An absurd, amusing trip through the backstage of a late-night comedy program, "30 Rock" still manages to find humor in the confident arrogance of Jack Donaghy, the insecurity and tenacity of Liz Lemon and the straight-up but somehow lovable crazy of Tracy Morgan. The show's not necessarily a model of consistency and the characters don't really deepen over time, but "30 Rock" supplies a steady stream of knowing one-liners, subversive media criticism and pop-culture-infused comedy. If nothing else, we can thank the show for reminding us to never go with a hippie to a second location and to live every week like it's Shark Week.
"The Dick Van Dyke Show," 1961-1966
What is there to say about this classic? Except that if you haven't seen the writers for the fictional "Alan Brady Show" at work, then you're missing out on an essential part of American television history. A snappy pace, erudite humor, surreal excursions, smart dialogue and a gifted ensemble -- this Carl Reiner creation had everything you'd want in a backstage comedy. And as comedy writer/director <a href="http://kenlevine.blogspot.com/2010/08/dick-van-dyke-at-his-very-best.html" target="_hplink">Ken Levine once observed</a>, "People think of 'The Dick Van Dyke Show' as a sophisticated comedy and it certainly was. But the show also featured plenty of inspired slapstick. For all his many gifts, Dick Van Dyke is a truly brilliant physical comedian. And Mary Tyler Moore ain't bad either." And the show's not hard to find: It's on Hulu, Netflix Instant and YouTube.
"WKRP in Cincinnati," 1978-1982
There was a late-'70s coolness to this show, a laid-back yet mildly rebellious vibe that would be impossible to replicate now. This fine comedy followed the staff of a radio station in the title city, and it's a testament to the versatile cast that I remember Venus Flytrap, Andy Travis, Dr. Johnny Fever, Herb Tarleck, Jennifer Marlowe and the inimitable Les Nessman as well as I do today. "WKRP" captured the rock 'n' roll feel of the '70s and still had a little whiff of '60s-style bohemianism, and I'm betting if you're of a certain age, you can still hum the theme tune. Thanks to music licensing issues, only Season 1 is out on DVD (but the good news is, that entire season is available on Hulu as well).
"The Newsroom" (Canada), 1996-1997 & 2003-2005
Before Aaron Sorkin came along, Canadian Ken Finkleman created this dry comedy, which poked knowing fun at a network news program, its perks-obsessed executive producer and its pompous, self-absorbed anchor. As I wrote when it aired on some PBS stations several years ago, "Being in the news industry helps one appreciate 'The Newsroom's' merciless take on the narcissism and ineptitude of some journalists, but it's not necessary. An appreciation for bone-dry satire will suffice." "Newsroom" DVDs are available via Netflix, and you can also find full episodes on YouTube.
"The Mary Tyler Moore Show," 1970-1977
This show would have been groundbreaking simply for its subject matter -- a single woman committed to her career at a time when such characters were rare on television -- but the show's depiction of the goofball ad hoc family at at a Minneapolis news station is what puts it firmly in the "classic" category. "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" is peerless character-driven comedy, it's simple as that. Not only did Mary Richards' fellow tenants (Phyllis Lindstrom and Rhoda Morganstern, who launched her own spinoff) make the home front memorable, her co-workers -- Lou Grant, Sue Ann Nivens, Murray Slaughter and the blowhard anchor Ted Baxter, among others -- are some of the most indelible TV characters of all time. It's out on DVD, but many episodes have also been posted on YouTube.
"The Hour," 2011-Present
Set among television journalists trying to create one of the U.K.'s first serious news broadcasts, "The Hour" is stylish, atmospheric and smart, if occasionally a little too ambitious for its own good (the first season's spy plot got a bit convoluted). But it's well worth watching and not just because Dominic West (who plays the plummy anchor Hector Madden) looks pretty damned swell in a retro suit. The entire ensemble is excellent, and like the great U.K. miniseries "State of Play," this drama actually gives you a good idea of how much fun it can be to work with other bright, ambitious newshounds. Season 1 is worth tracking down on DVD, and Season 2 arrives on BBC America later this year.
"Slings and Arrows" (Canada), 2003-2006
"Slings" follows a theater troupe attempting to stage Shakespearean classics, along with more commercial fare, and if there's a little too much about the relationship between wild-man director Geoffrey Tennant (Paul Gross) and actress Ellen Fanshaw (Martha Burns), that's easy to forgive, given how many other priceless characters and stories "Slings" offers. Cast members Gross, Don McKellar (as an uber-pretentious director) and Mark McKinney from "Kids in the Hall" are among the sensational players in the core cast, and Rachel McAdams, Colm Feore, Sarah Polley and the awe-inspiring Shakespearean actor Richard Hutt rotate in for terrific seasonal runs. This show is not only witty and knowing, it helps you understand why these people give their hearts and everything else to the theater, and Hutt as Lear will make you weep. It's on YouTube and Netflix Instant.
"Extras" (UK), 2005-2007
The first season of this show was more or less Ricky Gervais prevailing upon famous fans of the U.K. "Office" to do an episode of his subsequent show, which followed the cramped life of an extra who dreamed of big-time showbiz success. The second season of "Extras" was something else altogether; a much more substantial show that was filled with pathos, rage and razor-sharp humor as Andy Millman (Gervais) actually achieved his dreams, possibly at the cost of his humanity. Also, this awards-ceremony scene has me laugh until I cried more than once.
One of the most underrated comedies of its era (or any era), this NBC show had a terrific cast and a wonderfully askew vibe; the best seasons of "The Office" and "Parks and Recreation" owe this show a great deal. NBC always treated the show badly, but, if anything, the show's reputation has only grown over time. Speaking of time, there's no better use of yours than heading over to Hulu to watch complete episodes. And if you are able watch Jimmy James read from his autobiography in this clip without laughing, I don't want to know you.