Cooper van Grootel
You may know him as Nate Macauley on Peacock’s One Of Us Is Lying, but get ready to see Cooper van Grootel as Terry Anderson on ABC TV’s latest drama and mystery series, Savage River.
Australian-born Cooper van Grootel has been a film buff from a young age. At the age of 11, he sought out acting schools in Australia, deciding on Filmbites Screen Academy, which he attended for several years, learning and sharpening his skills. Cooper got his first role not long after as a guest star on The Legend of Gavin Tanner, a comedy series set in Australia. Since then, the burgeoning actor has landed several guest roles on television series before getting his big break on One Of Us Is Lying, which is based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Karen M. McManus.
1883 Magazine hopped on a Zoom call with Cooper to discuss his love of films, his current roles on Savage River and One Of Us Is Lying, as well as his future goals.
How was your summer?
It was good! It’s actually wintertime for me. I spent four months in New Zealand, so from April. Before that, I was in Melbourne from December to February shooting Savage River, so it was summertime then. That was great. Fantastic.
I know it’s very early in Australia right now, so thank you for taking the time to chat!
Oh no. I’m all good. I’ve got this sick view right now of Sydney. This is a little Airbnb that I have at the moment. I just came for some work and I bloody love the place. I’m going to stay a little bit longer. I’ve got a few friends I’m seeing this week and we’re gonna go out by the beach and whatnot. I’m from Perth, so it’s nice to be out here. So don’t worry about the early wake-up call. I’m usually an early riser.
I wanted to start with your childhood and your aspirations of becoming an actor. You mentioned in previous interviews that your dad was very into films and you shared that interest with him. Were there any films in particular that you saw and felt very inspired by? Any movie that really kickstarted your passion for wanting to get into acting?
My dad was a big Hollywood blockbuster buff. So we watched films like Terminator, Rocky, and Rambo. We were watching action movies with stars like Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jason Statham. It wasn’t until I was about 11 years old, and there was this one film that I watched that I was obsessed with it. Do you remember the film, Coraline? Have you ever seen it?
The one by Tim Burton?
Yes! In the film, Coraline’s family moves into this big house and it’s terrible. It’s rainy and it’s dreary and she goes to this door and then on the opposite side, it’s the same world, but a beautiful version of it. I was watching that film and I was completely transfixed and fascinated with it. I was like, I want to do that. Whatever that is. I want to do it. So I searched acting schools in Perth on Google and the first one that came up was one that I stuck with for about six or seven years. I also loved a lot of Heath Ledger’s early work. I was obsessed with 10 Things I Hate About You, A Knight’s Tale, and Candy. I loved a lot of classics as well, so I think it was a combination of a lot of films.
Would you consider Heath Ledger one of your biggest inspirations?
A hundred percent! I didn’t know his family personally, but they grew up in the same sort of town and he moved to Sydney when he was about 17 and then went to LA and I did the same thing when I was 18. I went to Sydney and then LA, so I feel like our journeys were quite similar. You know, granted, he didn’t go down the best path but he was a true artist and a tremendous actor, and I hope to do films just like his and be on that sort of level as well.
Is there a role of Heath’s that you wish you had gotten the chance to do?
That’s a great question because that’s difficult. I will say I love Candy. I’m not sure if you’ve seen it, but it was an Australian film made in 2006 based on a novel. It’s about two young lovers that fall in love with one another but they also fall in love with heroin. So it’s like a tragic love story, as they kind of spiral out of control and they have a need for one another and a need for this drug. And it kind of tears them apart after a certain amount of time and tears their families apart and shows the destruction of what a drug like heroin can do. And also what love can do as well because I think love is also a very strong drug and it can make you do crazy things.
But it was such great performances by Abbie Cornish and Geoffrey Rush and Heath Ledger. It felt very authentic to Australia as well. Watching that film, I was just blown away by all the performances and how natural and real they were, and that’s something that I’ve kind of aspired to do, a film like that. And also Two Hands, which is a film he did back in 1999. It was an action, crime, and thriller film, and he was just so young and to see him in his prime back then was really cool.
Tell us about Savage River and who you play on it.
Savage River is a six-part limited series and it’s basically about a young woman named Miki who comes back from being in prison for about 10 years. She got convicted of murdering her best friend at the age of 15, so she goes away for 10 years, and it kicks off when she comes back into the town of Savage River. People aren’t quick to accept her back into the community because of her past. And as the show goes on, we find that there are all these hidden secrets and mysteries and lies about what actually happened. So she goes on this journey of uncovering the truth, and there are all these things that try and pull her down, people that don’t trust her. There’s also the pressure of the police trying to bring her in and so she really has to try and uncover the truth and push through adversity, which I think is a prevalent theme in a heroic story. She is a hero, really, she’s kind of defied all odds. I play her fraternal twin brother, and I’m an ex-heroin addict. Well, there you go, that’s like Heath Ledger’s Candy. I’m already starting to dip my toes in.
My character, Terry, also has a young daughter and she’s four years old. Her name’s Ocean, and Hannah Bickerton, the actress, was wonderful to work with. Just a gem. So basically, Terry has to sort of battle with the pressure of everybody believing that his sister is this killer, and he battles with wondering if it’s safe or not for his daughter. Does he stand up for his sister or protect his daughter? It’s quite dark as well, but I think it was amazing to get the opportunity to sort of sink my teeth into a character that I hadn’t yet done, like playing an ex-heroin addict and a dad. It was really cool to shoot something that was completely different from anything that I had done. It was shot in a simplistic style as well.
You’ve mentioned that when preparing for the role of Nate in One Of Us Is Lying, you kept a journal with thoughts and ideas for him. In what ways did you prepare to play the role of Terry?
With One Of Us Is Lying, I put a lot of pressure on myself to invest myself into this role and have a journal to do a deep dive into the character and write down his thoughts. At a certain point, method acting can be dangerous and the difference between doing method and not doing it…I don’t think there’s much of a difference. With Terry, I put less pressure on myself and I think I really just went with intuition more. I’m a caring and kind person and I love hanging out with kids. I’ve always been good with kids, so it’s already in my nature to be quite fatherly. When it came to playing an ex-drug addict, I looked at a lot of these old photographs. There was this one photographer back in the ‘60s and he would photograph heroin addicts, musicians, and artists all over America. I think just using photos to reference was enough to hit a place in my heart. It’s dark, and it’s tough, but I see the struggle with these people and the way that they’re lost in this world, and what heavy drugs like heroin can do. It’s very disruptive. I also had track marks on the inside of my arms and getting into that costume was a nice reminder of Terry’s past. I really went off intuition and just found out what it really meant to him to go through a dark path like that. I think when you go through any sort of suffering, you come out wiser and stronger.
In what ways do you relate to Terry and do you ever try to incorporate parts of your own self into the roles you play?
I think I do, yeah. Terry has had a lot of struggles in his life. And we’ve all gone through some sort of struggle whether we know it or not. In high school, I was always trying to prove myself, so that was something I struggled with, and I put that on to what Terry went through. He was trying to prove himself to his mum, Lynne, and she kind of abandoned him, so he fell into days of drinking and doing drugs. When his daughter, Ocean, came along, he had to now prove himself and step up as a father and I think I relate to him in that sense because, at a certain point in my career and life, I had to take responsibility and be like, this is what I want to do for my career and go for it. And in terms of relating to playing a father, I think throughout my childhood, I was always drawn to my cousins or family friends that had younger kids. I would always take on this fatherly role, so I brought that into Terry.
I’m really good with kids as well. They’re easy to get along with!
Yeah, you need a certain level of patience and I’m sure you have a great level of patience. I feel like I get that from you. It’s a great quality that you have, like with my answers, I’m rambling, but you take the time and are patient, and I can see that.
Thank you for saying that! I think you also need to communicate with them like they’re an adult and help them understand. So, you play the fraternal twin brother of Katherine Langford, who plays Miki. Both you and Katherine are from Perth and she’s had a really great career trajectory like yourself. Have you guys bonded over coming from the same place and wanting to make it out into Hollywood together?
I think when you come from a small town like Perth, where there’s not much of a film industry, and you find someone that has done the same sort of leap and jump over into Hollywood, into the US, and struck a very competitive and daunting market, you instantly connect on that level. We bonded very well very quickly and we related on that sort of intimate level. She’s fantastic and such a hard worker. She really carried the show as well and was a great work colleague and a fantastic person.
There has been a surge of Australian actors if you think about it. Jacob Elordi has been doing incredible. The Society, on Netflix, had tons of Australian actors on it too, and everyone seems to know each other. It’s become a community of sorts.
You gotta stick by who you know! When I first came to LA in 2019, I stayed at an actor’s commune, like in this apartment, and there were nine of us and we were all Australian actors from Perth or Sydney. We were all bonding and crashing on couches and on the floor, and just doing the damn thing. It’s a beautiful thing and you’ve got to keep the Aussies close. There are a lot of Australians in LA as well and it’s so cool to see everyone breaking into the market.
What major takeaways did you have while filming a limited series as opposed to a series like One Of Us Is Lying or a film?
One big takeaway was the difference in the film industry in Australia as opposed to the US. For One Of Us Is Lying, the cast is very close. It’s like a tight-knit family. We shoot for four months and it tends to be very family-orientated and fun and goofy. It’s the people that you work with that are the most important thing. With Savage River, it’s a very different culture in Australia. I played a smaller role and I didn’t work as much. I think you have to find the moments where you’re not shooting to continue to build your life and have passions and other things in your downtime. As opposed to that, during One Of Us Is Lying, I was very, very busy. And as I said, it is the people that you work with because, in order to make the show really pop and click, you need to figure out your cast members and what you want from this story because we’re all storytelling.
You don’t have to be number one on the call sheet. I wasn’t number one for Savage River, and by no means is that an important thing. Everyone is equal. Everyone is a part of the machine, a part of the story. I think that goes for a lot of things in today’s society. I think we all just want to be heard and listened to, and I think that’s such an important and beautiful thing. That’s something I took away from Savage River, more so than One Of Us Is Lying, and I think it’s because I worked less, but was still an important part of the production.
That makes sense. And in between filming, you also had to stay immersed in that character and couldn’t lose focus, whereas, with Nate, you played him all the way through. Filming a limited series, I’m sure, also felt like filming a very long movie.
It’s like a six-hour film, really. That’s another takeaway, too, which is to not get too invested in the character. You’re filming for a very long time and by no means can you go method with it. I don’t think method acting works and I think maybe last year for season one of One Of Us Is Lying, I was going a little method without even realizing it. But you can’t hold on to that for so many months. You’re playing a very serious character and you’re telling a very serious and dark, mystery story, but that’s not real life. You have to be able to step away from it and have some fun and enjoy it and that’s the most important thing. Be silly with it amongst all the darkness and the grittiness of both of these stories. Just enjoy it.
Season 2 of One Of Us Is Lying is coming out next month. I really loved the books and Nate is my favorite character in the series, and you play him incredibly well. How excited are you for fans to see the new season?
Thank you, Naureen! I want to start off by saying I appreciate that so much. I’m very grateful to you and to everyone that’s a fan of the book and the show. I’m very excited. Nate has a rough beginning in this story, right? And we see that transition and that progression of him developing and maturing with a sense of wisdom and kindness to him. He does have a good heart and we continue to see that. We continue to break down the walls as we did in season one and we do that even more in season two. We really see his tenderness and his trauma from his past, and I think that’s important to address. He has so much love for Bronwyn, and so many people love the Bronwyn and Nate story. It’s such an integral part of the story and Marianly Tejadais a wonderful, wonderful actress and work colleague. We put in some great work for the Natewyn fans. Everybody has put in such great work for season two and I can’t wait for October 20th. I’m stoked and ready!
Are you a fan of the books?
I read the first one. Just One Of Us Is Lying, and I’ve yet to read the other one. I do want to read it, though, because the book is fantastic. Have you read them?
I did read them!
Which one’s your favourite?
I think the second one definitely got very dark, but it made sense why. The first one is the best for me, I think. I loved the twist at the end! That twist was different on the show. Do you think it was important for the show to differentiate itself from the book in that sense? Maybe to garner a wider and different audience?
That’s a great question! The second book veers off and concentrates on different characters, and I think that’s part of why they expanded on the first book, to keep these characters in the story. And the story is just so good. What we’ve done with season two strays from the book and we have more leeway to do bigger and more intense grandiose things. Season two is more dramatic. It has more raunchiness, suspense, thriller, and action. It’s just a step up. The show writers were able to do that because they had the leeway. They had freedom. They just sunk their teeth into the scripts and whatnot. It definitely brings in a wider and different audience. We’ve made the show in a way where anyone can watch it, it just depends on your taste.
You’ve also got two upcoming films coming out – One True Loves, which is also based on a really beloved book by Taylor Jenkins Reid, and Snow Valley. How was it working on those films?
Snow Valley was a long time ago. It was a great and a different experience for different reasons. We shot it in about 15 days, super quick, and it was in this big house in Deer Valley in Utah. It really felt like a play. And there were nights where we shot through the whole night and the cast was just fantastic. It was a low-budget film, so we had to get really creative with it. For One True Loves, I did that in about two days. I went out to North Carolina and that was a whole different experience in itself because it wasn’t as intense as Snow Valley, but it was still a great story to be a part of and work with some fantastic people in the industry. It was still definitely about the work, but I had a week out in Wilmington where I could just enjoy the town and relax. It didn’t feel like work.
I read One True Loves and loved it, but she didn’t end up with the guy I wanted her to be with!
I think it’s a great story about love and figuring out who works best for you, and happy endings aren’t the end all, be all. You can’t have a happy ending all the time because that’s not real life. I think that idea of a romantic, Disney sort of love story is sometimes hard to believe and you’ve got to be realistic about love sometimes. It’s not always going to be the prince charming or the princess that you end up falling in love with. I think this story really captures that well. I’m grateful to be a part of the film and it was a great experience.
Do you think you’ll want to do more romantic films like this?
A lot of the auditions that I do get, it’s for romantic comedies or dramedies. The characters are very similar to Nate, that sort of archetype, so I think I do want to steer away from that realm of roles and films. I think every different story is a chance to sink my teeth and really develop and work with these people in different and creative ways. I want to challenge myself with a different character, and really be conscious about the decisions that I make moving forward because I think I’m in a space to do so. But you know, work is work, and if you find a character that is great, then I’m all for it.
That’s fair. People essentially start to think, oh, he’s played this type of role. We know he can do it, so let’s keep casting him as the same guy, but in different scenarios.
Exactly. It’s like when Heath Ledger was the Joker in Dark Knight and everyone was like, what the hell is this? He’s been doing romcoms, he’s the romantic lead, but lo and behold, he surprised everybody. I think that’s really cool. You don’t want to be pigeonholed. You want to be challenged. What’s the point if you’re just playing the same character every single time? It’s not challenging. It’s not new. It’s not fun and exciting. I want to be able to challenge myself and grow.
Well, I’m super excited to see what you do next. I’m sure it’ll be amazing! Last question…we have only 4 months left in 2022. What have you got planned?
I’ll be living it day by day and not having too much planned. I’ve been filming a lot and every day was planned, so I think it’s nice to be able to relax a little bit and get back to some of my hobbies and passions. I’ll be getting back up in LA and seeing some people over there, enjoying the sunshine.
Interview Naureen Nashid
Talent Cooper Van Grootel
Photography Stef King
Styling Luke Meakins
MUA Francesca Poggi