Olivia Cooke Central STAFF   October 14, 2020

METRO.CO.UKPixie’s Olivia Cooke on why you don’t have to be posh to act – and how she once got a piggyback from Harry Styles

Right now, the British film industry could do with Olivia Cooke as their poster girl.

The delightfully frank actress has been on a one-woman mission to re-populate ailing movie houses. ‘Since cinemas have been open, I’ve been going and I felt perfectly safe,’ she tells me. ‘There are measures put in place. You are socially distanced. You are masked the whole time.’ Even so, the 26-year-old from Oldham wants more Westminster backing. ‘I just hope that there is some relief that comes from the government.’ At a time when Hollywood is shifting releases to 2021 and Cineworld is temporarily closing, it’s a relief to hear someone like Cooke sticking up for cinema.

She does have a vested interest, after all. While she rose to fame on TV – in Psycho prequel Bates Motel and Vanity Fair – she’s also played the lead in Steven Spielberg’s big-screen thriller Ready Player One, an experience so nerve-wracking ‘you’re having to take yourself to the toilet just to remind yourself to stay cool!’ Now she’s back in Pixie, a charming road movie about to park itself in cinemas.

We last met on set in Belfast – the petite Cooke looking super-cool in a red leather coat – when she’d been hanging out with Alec Baldwin, who plays a gangster priest (‘he was really hospitable’). A year on, Cooke’s back in London after giving up her New York apartment. Pixie is the last thing she did, thanks to Covid-19. ‘The whole year got decimated!’ she sighs, ‘but everyone’s in the same boat.’

A breezy comedy caper that feels like the Irish answer to True Romance, Pixie casts Cooke in the title role: a shrewd schemer who gets involved with two dopey lads (Ben Hardy, Daryl McCormack) who come into possession of a stash of drugs. ‘I think her impulse for fun and adventure is very much in me and her curiosity too,’ Cooke says. ‘But I think she’s quite cutthroat… if I was that cutthroat, I’d be thinking about it for years and years.’ Like her callous student in Thoroughbreds, Pixie is another fine example of Cooke’s ability to play offbeat-but-credible women.

‘These off-kilter, messy, women – who aren’t the archetypal leading ladies – have maybe showcased what I can do a bit more than if I was just playing a run-of-the-mill manic pixie dreamgirl that was imagined from a teenage boys’ bedroom!’ Pixie also recalled women she grew up around. Like? ‘My mum, obviously. Who I think is a very strong lady. She brought up two daughters on her own [after divorcing Cooke’s father] and then my sister [Eleanor], who’s 21. Who just says it like is it. Doesn’t give a s*** about being flowery with her words or who she offends. She will just be honest to a fault, which I quite admire, even though you’ve got to have a tough skin around her.’ Cooke joined a theatre workshop when she was eight, and began auditioning a few years later, even landing in One Direction video Autumn Term, getting a piggyback ride from Harry Styles.

‘Oh God, yeah,’ she groans at the memory. ‘I was 17. They weren’t famous at all, and my Manchester agent just said it was a local pop group! I didn’t have to go into my cafe job and I got £250!’

Fortunately, she went on to bigger things, playing Christopher Eccleston’s daughter in TV drama Blackout. It was an inspirational moment meeting the former Doctor Who. ‘He’s a Salford lad. I just thought, “Oh, God, you’ve had the same beginnings as me. And you are, especially in Britain, a household name, and you stuck to the core of who you are.” I think when I did that, [acting] felt a lot more accessible.’ Prior to lockdown, Cooke worked with Riz Ahmed (the upcoming Sound of Metal), John Boyega (Naked Similarity) and Jack O’Connell (in Little Fish), all lads putting to bed the idea that you need to be posh in Britain to act. ‘Just because we didn’t go to public school, and we didn’t get the proper training at Rada doesn’t make us any less equipped for the job or make us any less intelligent,’ Cooke argues. ‘We just have a lot more life experience, which is great for the job that we do.’ Well said.

Like most of us these past months, Olivia Cooke has been sitting on her sofa doing the whole box-set thing. So what were her lockdown TV treats? First off was Normal People, starring Daisy Edgar-Jones in a painful love story. ‘Normal People came at a time when I was on my own in my flat. And I just thought “This is diabolical! What the show is doing to me shouldn’t be allowed!”’ She also loved Michaela Coel’s sex abuse drama I May Destroy You. ‘I was absolutely just blown away. I thought it was so nuanced and so beautiful. Like nothing I’d seen before.’ Then it was time for Sky Atlantic’s I Hate Suzie, with Billie Piper as an actress who gets her phone hacked. ‘It just really holds a torch to the entertainment industry and how we’re all such reprobates!’ We’re all just flailing madly trying to make sense of our lives. I mean, we all are, aren’t we? Especially this year.’

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