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Damian Cooper on Playing The Graduate

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Terry Johnson's adaptation of classic film comedy The Graduate is being revived at The Space venue in east London this week (21-26 July 2009). Here, we talk to actor Damian Cooper, who is stepping into Dustin Hoffman's shoes in the role of Benjamin Braddock.

What attracted you to The Graduate?

For me the best things about being an actor is getting to be great characters, be it Richard the Third, Don Juan or Benjamin Braddock. The Graduate is an amazing film that launched the career of Dustin Hoffman, who is one of my favourite actors and a comic genius as far as I’m concerned. It also has so many iconic scenes that I feel very privileged having the opportunity to play Benjamin. The Graduate is also the first project from SpaceWorks, the new theatre company at the Space, and given what it does with the local community it’s great to be able to get involved.

What's been the most interesting thing about tackling the play?
I’ve found balancing the comedy and the severity of the piece the most interesting part of being involved with The Graduate. It’s a brilliant comic script but it also has some beautiful and tragic moments that can catch you completely off guard. Usually immediately right after each other and pitching those correctly has been a challenge I’ve really enjoyed meeting. It also rattles along so quickly that fifteen minute scenes seem to last no time at all!

Given how famous the film is what's your biggest fear for the first night?
Since I was cast as Benjamin everyone I’ve told has had the same reaction, they’ve all smiled, raised their eyebrows and asked me, “What’s your Mrs Robinson like?” And I always give the same answer “I think she’s pretty tasty but come along and make up your own mind!” I’ve been very fortunate as my Mrs Robinson, Daisy Whyte, is a outstanding actress and really great to work with as is Fiona Drummond, who plays Elaine Robinson. The whole cast and crew are fantastic, which may sound cliché but it’s true and with that level of great team work, talent and enthusiasm, we’re definitely going to be giving the film a run for its money. Adam Hemming, the director, has a real hands on approach in the rehearsal room but there’s also always a feeling of complete freedom to experiment and play with the scenes. Given that, I’ve not got too many first night fears, except for maybe not being able to get out of my wetsuit in the opening scene!

How have you found the infamous seduction scene?
I absolutely love it, it’s still great saying, “Mrs Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me aren’t you?” Terry Johnson’s script is so well written that the rhythm and pacing of the scene takes care of itself and leaves us to just play the moments. It’s like that throughout the production, all the scenes have their own identity which means that they’re all great fun to be in and for the audience to watch. The Space is also quite an intimate venue and this has made it such pleasure to work in. The closeness of the audience helps to show how claustrophobic the characters feel, it also adds a certain level of intensity. I defy anyone in the audience to not feel like Mrs Robinson has taken off all her clothes just for them!

Why is Benjamin Braddock such an enduring character and what have you brought to the role?
Benjamin’s story is a very interesting one that I think all graduates can relate to. He finds himself back in his childhood room with all the independence he’s become accustomed to ripped from him. He also realises that he’s come to the end of the conveyer belt of education and all the structure in his life has gone. I went though similar levels of anxiety myself when I graduated from university, except I moved to Paris for a year rather than sleep with my parents' friends! At the beginning of the play he’s struggling to find someone emulate and help answer his questions about life. As the play progresses the audience gets to see how disillusioned Benjamin is. The convertible car and spending all day in the pool would be enough to write him off as a bit of a lazy spoilt brat avoiding becoming an adult but I think The Graduate is really about an isolated confused young man trying desperately to find himself and his own place in the world. I think we’ve all felt like that at some point in our lives, I know I certainly have.

The Graduate is being performed at the Space, 269 Westferry Road, London, E14 3RS. Tues 21 – Sat 25 at 8pm, Sat 25 at 2pm and Sun 26 at 7pm

Tickets are £10/£6 in advance and £12/£8 on the door and can be booked at www.space.org.uk or on 020 7515 7799


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