Q&A: BBC America’s Tom Weston-Jones Talks Gritty New Show Copper, His Famous Name

BBC America launches its first-ever original drama, the dark, raw and quickly intriguing “Copper” this Sunday, about Detective Kevin Corcoran, one of New York City’s finest, circa 1864.

Leading man newcomer Tom Weston-Jones heads the charge as the Irish immigrant lawman and Civil War veteran, who knows how to use his fists and his friends (especially ones with status or developing forensic skills) to seek justice for the residents of the murky Five Points district.

Creators Tom Fontana (HBO’s “Oz”) and Will Rokos (“Southland”), and executive producer Barry Levinson (Best Director Oscar-winner for “Rain Man”), don’t pull punches on the show (at least in the first two episodes), crafting stories involving child prostitution, bribery, Teflon blue-blooded characters, immigrant tensions and racially motivated violence.

“Yeah, it’s full force,” Tom told AccessHollywood.com down the phone from New York City on Thursday, as he promoted the season premiere.

“[It’s all] done in a very entertaining way and it’s never for titillation, but it’s gonna be compelling enough for people to watch,” he continued of the show’s jaw-dropping moments. “It deals with some very heavy, heavy sh**, basically, but goes about it in the right way.”

Although he had a role in PBS’ import series, “Spooks,” “Copper” marks the Brit’s first starring television role. In the midst of a hefty publicity campaign this week, the actor took a moment to hint to AccessHollywood.com about what’s to come in the first season, which superhero alter ego his character is most like and what it feels like to be a star on the rise.

AccessHollywood.com: You and your cast rang the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange this week. How was it?

Tom Weston-Jones: It was something that I never thought I’d do in my life… Just as I was pushing the button for the bell, I thought in my head I should probably tell my parents I’m doing this because it’s quite a big deal, really. Nelson Mandela’s done this… so I probably shouldn’t take it all for granted… It was an amazing place.

Access: Did you get around to telling them?

Tom: Oh yeah, I texted my mum after I’d done it and she sent a message back of confusion going, ‘What?’ ‘Why?’ But, yeah, they were just as amazed as I was that I’d be doing it.

Access: Your character, Corcoran, is the good guy. What’s great about playing the good guy?

Tom: With this program…

Access: And, he’s not totally good, either.

Tom: That’s the thing. He isn’t good in a lot of ways. What I like about Corcoran is that he does have a moral compass and he has rules, and throughout the show what I think you’ll see is him bending and breaking his personal rules. There’s certain things that he becomes obsessed with, and that he needs to achieve, and to do that, he needs to do some really morally unusual things.

Access: Is he somewhere between Bruce Wayne and Robin Hood?

Tom: I suppose so. Bruce Wayne – I’m a big Batman fan, so you’re speaking my language when you say that. Definitely. Robin Hood, I think, is a little bit too much of a hero still. What I like is that [Corcoran] has an Achilles heel and at certain points he becomes very vulnerable within the story. That’s what people love to see, isn’t it? They wanna see the ‘covered in blood,’ ‘battered and bruised’ and really, the underdog at certain points.

Access: In the first couple of episodes, there’s definitely some real action – and stunts.

Tom: I really enjoy all that stuff… I did a lot of stage combat when I was at drama school. There were certain things [our ‘Copper’ stunt coordinator] wouldn’t let me do, like jumping out of a window into a cart. He actually kept me away from set that day because he knew that I’d actually try and do it, and I really wish I could have done it, but probably would have ended up breaking my leg if I’d actually tried it… I did all of the fight scenes and everything like that. I like a bit of rough and tumble. I think it’s a lot of fun.

Access: Corcoran is a former boxer, but you, Tom, can tap dance?

Tom: Yeah, I did tap dancing and stuff like that at drama school. I did ballet as well. My dance teacher and I didn’t necessarily get along all that well sometimes. She’s brilliant… but it’s just because I don’t like wearing tights that I put up a bit of a fight there, I think. But it was great fun. It was a side of myself that I never really thought I’d venture into, but it hasn’t stuck in my casting, which is good.

Access: In addition to ‘Copper,’ you’re starring in the ‘Pillars of the Earth’ sequel, ‘World Without End.’ What does it feel like to be Tom Weston-Jones right now? This must be an unusual point in your life?

Tom: Yeah, it is. It can feel quite scary. I can’t lie about that and I even felt that going into ‘Copper’ because it’s the largest job that I’ve ever done, so there’s a certain amount of pressure, and I think the fear that anyone would have going into this is the sense of losing yourself, of losing what it is to be you because there’s so many things and people trying to find out who you are and what you’re about. I try and maintain, as well as I can, a sense of home and spend as much time as I can with my girlfriend and I think all of that stuff is so important to me that I feel quite confident actually going into this period. I feel quite grounded, which is great.

Access: Is it true, as a youngster, you lived in Dubai?

Tom: I lived there from the age of 2 to the age of 18.

Access: How did that come about?

Tom: My parents are both teachers. Everyone assumes that you’re part of an oil family, but we’re really not… It’s a funny thing being an ex-pat… I felt at home there, but as time went by, and I felt like I wanted to fly the coop a little bit, but I wanted to fly the coop back to England and when I actually ended up going to [University] there, I had a bit of an Australian accent because one of my best friends growing up was Australian, so I was clearly affected by the guy.

Access: So before I let you go to carry on with your ‘Copper’ promo, your name — was Weston always part of it?

Tom: The Weston is actually my middle name. I hyphenated it because I really wasn’t willing to go out in the acting world as ‘Tom Jones,’ ‘cause I’m Welsh as well, so the connotation is just ridiculous… If I book a table at a pub, or I’ve got an appointment at an opticians or something, I’ll walk in and I’ll say, ‘This is Tom Jones here,’ And they’ll go ‘Awww, I thought it was gonna be him’ (laughs). They think it’s gonna be the real guy. I’ve been ridiculed a lot throughout my life for it.

“Copper” premieres August 19 at 10/9c on BBC America.

-- Jolie Lash

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