I spoke with Tessa Thompson about her role as Sara Freeman on Copper. It was wonderful to get Tessa’s take on Sara and find out more about her work on the show. Sara and Matthew, played by the fantastic Ato Essandoh, are my favorite couple on the show. Tessa and Ato are positively amazing to watch together. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the season has in store for us. Don’t miss a single episode of Copper airing Sunday nights at 10/9c on BBC America.
Lena: What a fantastic premiere. I love how the Maguire (Kevin Ryan) situation is playing out and the introduction of Donal Logue’s character, Donovan. This is going to be one exciting season.
Tessa Thompson: Yeah, isn’t it great. This new season, there is a whole host of exciting characters played by really exciting actors, so that’s been some fun to have fresh blood on the show and particularly on a Tom Fontana show because blood is shed so often. If you mix some new people in I think the old people feel a bit safer maybe about their odds of sticking around, but we’ll see. [Laughing.]
Lena: I really enjoyed your scenes with Franka.
Tessa Thompson: Thank you. We really enjoyed shooting those. It was fun for us when we first got the initial draft because we got to work together. It was just really cool because we had never worked together and it was also such an unlikely pairing of women, and in some ways, I think that was totally perfect. They are both really strong, resilient, and industrious women that have had to deal with some really hard circumstances, but they are both really very spirited. We had so much fun working on that scene. The episodes are always such a challenge between what can stay and what has to go because they write them for an hour and in the end they are between 44 and 47 minutes. There is always more than what makes the cut. We had a lot of fun playing with the dynamic of us being in that room for hours not knowing what to say to each other, so the scene when you first see us, we kind of chat and we imagine that was the culmination of us sitting a lot of hours in silence together.
Lena: I think that Sara and Eva should spend more time together.
Tessa Thompson: Yeah, I know. I think we should start some sort of campaign that if we get a third season that the two of them should be good friends. In the same episode, I also have a scene with Elizabeth and to have two scenes with women that get to talk and not talk about their male characters and get to talk about what’s happening with them. I think it is pretty unique on any show, particularly for a show in this period. You see a lot more of that this season in general. I think the women are a lot stronger and more fleshed out as characters and individuals and I think there is a lot of fun interaction between the two of them. I think in season three we could go even further in that direction and I it’s exciting for the audience and it’s very exciting for us because we are friends in real life so we get to play together and bring those dynamics to the scenes or play against our dynamics and have fun rivalries.
Lena: I spoke with Anastasia earlier and she was actually talking about the women being more prevalent this season.
Tessa Thompson: I think that was actually a big thing that BBC America saw at the end of the first season. I think the first season of any show is the balance and fleshing out who these characters are and also finding the world and I think we we’re still, not stuck in between two shows, but there is this thing of the procedural aspect of the show, the whodunit aspect of the show which happens and then also just the period drama of the show. I think the women were mostly placed, or at least in our show the period drama, apart from the moments where they may get caught up somewhere with the plot. I think unfortunately last season a lot of the storylines that didn’t have to do with the main plots had to go away in the balance of the show. I think this year we are finding a midway point between those two worlds. I find that really thrilling.
Lena: It’s such a strong cast, so it’s really great to see everyone actually used.
Tessa Thompson: Yeah, I agree.
Lena: What can you say about Sara and how she is healing after the loss of her child? What would you say is her state of mind?
Tessa Thompson: I think Sara and the audience at the end of last season felt that this new life was a really positive thing. I think in the arc last season it was maybe the first time that she really smiled or had a laugh. She and Matthew shared a really tender moment when they were finding out that they were pregnant. I think there was also some hesitation about it, about bringing a child into a world that was and for her still is scary. I think that they believe in sort of a divine order, to put their lives in the hands of God. As hard working as they are I think they realize that there are some things that are completely out of their control. It has allowed Sara to sort of buck up and move on. I think that is also something that we talk a lot about. Clark Johnson, who directed episode six and also directed a couple episodes for us last season, also talked about this while he was directing that it is also just the nature of the period, the characters don’t really have the chance to sit and dwell with things that go wrong or don’t go as they imagined. It’s the world, the scope of it; I think people were concentrating so much on survival that they have to move on quicker than we have to do today. She has to balance her own feelings about her surroundings and the wants and needs of her husband, so I think her mindset is wanting to be as resilient and as strong as possible. I can’t tell you whether or not that will hold because I think there are things that happen later on in the season that may force her to confront her feelings about the loss of her child. I think that as we near future episodes that it’s just the nature of Five Points that if something sets you down that there is something else right around the corner to contend with. I think that happens for Sara in a big way. I think that’s all I can say.
Lena: It definitely seems like we are going to see a transition and a growth in Sara this season.
Tessa Thompson: Yeah, we talked about that in general. I think we have transitioned into that even with the costumes and her nature. I think that she has come into her own. Even with the pregnancy, as short as it was, I think that as a woman you undergo – I don’t know yet because I’ve never had any children or have ever been pregnant, but just watching women that have been pregnant. I’ve had the pleasure of doing that with people in my world recently. I think you have a sort of transition and I think that Sara in a lot of ways we talked about her being not more than twenty-two, so she’s young. I think her just getting pregnant was an introduction into real womanhood for her. I think that you’ll see that reflected in the way that she talks, stands, speaks, and the interactions that she’s going to have with people this season. That’s been really fun for me.
Lena: One of the best scenes in the premiere was when the officer, that was there to protect Sara and Eva, insults Matthew and Sara smacks him. That scene was fantastic.
Tessa Thompson: Yeah, right! [Laughing.] I think we’ll see a lot more of that. It’s not only about Sara’s pride in her husband; it’s about Sara’s pride in herself. That’s been a blast for me to play. It’ one of those moments where you see people just growing up, that’s what it’s been like to play Sara this season. It was a really fun scene to shoot. I felt bad for slapping him, but we have a really great stunt choreographer. We had to find a really safe way to do it that looked real but wasn’t.
Lena: Sara is also going to be helping Elizabeth with her wedding this season. I’m sure that there is going to be a bit of drama there when Elizabeth’s dealings with Kennedy are revealed.
Tessa Thompson: It was fun to actually work together because we didn’t work together at all last year. I think it’s also been a transformation for Sara just to see another world. I was so pleased at the one moment in the first episode when she’s walking into where the dressmaker is and she stops and touches the lamp. She realizes that she doesn’t want to be caught doing that. In that world, she will have an exchange that will really set her on a voyage to be a new woman.
Lena: Can you talk about working in a period drama and about the hardships that people faced? We take so many things for granted.
Tessa Thompson: On our show it’s an asset if you come on looking worn or weathered. Sometimes a makeup artist will just go further with it and make your under eyes a little bit darker. That’s been a real different experience for me. It’s been fun and liberating to come on and not spend a bunch of time getting my makeup done. I’ve always wanted to work on a period piece. I didn’t imagine that it would be in the 1860s but it’s been great. It’s especially great this year because as she has changed as an individual so has her wardrobe. I’ve had the pleasure of working on a dress. Going into fitting every day and working on it from start to finish. I got to see the transition from it being on a piece of paper as a sketch to being on my flesh. It’s been really fascinating to see all the work that goes into making those. During that time they would have done everything by hand. Speaking about the hardships, during hiatus I went to India for two months and I kid you not at the time it felt really shadowed to acknowledge that for the first time I was really understanding the way in which people lived differently than we’re accustomed to living now. I spent three days in a remote village where there is no electricity. You heat up your water on the stove to make a bucket for a bath. The truth is that there are people that live like that all over the world. I think the thing that you discover, regardless of circumstances, is the human condition. I think that there are things that are essential and remain unchanged regardless of time and period.
Lena: Since you play the wife of a doctor, you really get to experience how they dealt with medical situations.
Tessa Thompson: That was fascinating. I worked with Ato so much. It’s been cool to get a sense of medicine practiced at the time. That’s the one thing that I’m sort of happy with. As much as I have my misgiving about Western medicine sometimes I’m so glad I don’t have to deal with leeches. Although, I do think that they are still used.
Lena: How about that episode last year with the person getting their tooth pulled?
Tessa Thompson: Oh, I know. No thanks, 1865 [dentistry]. [Laughing.]
Lena: What is it like working with Ato?
Tessa Thompson: It’s fantastic. We both have a lot of respect for each other as actors and I think we’ve had a lot of heavy stuff to play. Matthew and Sara, as much as there is that incredible love between them there is also a lot of hardships and disagreements and real differences in where they are headed as people. I think that just as there is incredible love between them that he and I really love each other and have such a blast together. We really have a lot of fun. At our wrap party they played a reel of all our bloopers and he and I didn’t have bloopers as much as just us spontaneous bursts of laughter between takes or in the middle of them when something goes wrong.