By being her messy, unapologetic, big-hearted self, Daisy May Cooper has found success as a writer and actor. Stylist meets the This Country star.
“I like to think I’m the canary down the mine for people,” Daisy May Cooper tells me. “If you ever feel embarrassed or have hangover anxiety, just know that I will have done way worse. It’s a way for you to feel less embarrassed about yourself.” In a world where we’re staring down the barrel of a self-esteem crisis, and despite our best efforts we filter our realities, Cooper is like that first breath of air you gulp in when you’ve swum underwater slightly further than you should.
The co-creator and star of This Country is truly authentic. And not in a faux-humble way. She is utterly herself in everything she does. Her Instagram is an unfiltered reflection of a reality we don’t usually put into the world: singing in bed while her daughter Pip screams at her to stop, detailing the gruesome after-effects of a stomach bug and less-than-flattering selfies at her home in the Cotswolds.
The comedy she has co-written with her brother Charlie Cooper, which returns next month, is an equally witty and original reflection of life. This Country centres on the mundane daily life of bored cousins Kerry and Kurtan Mucklowe who live in the rural Cotswolds. Like The Office it’s filmed in a mockumentary style as it follows them arguing about oven-baked pizza and being mentored by a well-meaning vicar.
Its genius is in the beautifully observed details (discussions about what happened to Fuse bars, Computers for Schools vouchers and the humility of Laurence Llewelyn Bowen), and how it straddles the fine line between hilarity and reality.
Series three – which has just been confirmed as the show’s final outing – is as brilliant as ever. It begins with Kerry and Kurtan talking about the death of their friend Slugs (sadly Michael Sleggs who played him died of heart failure in 2019, aged 33). Kerry has a new job and Kurtan is consulting The Hairy Bikers’ Cookbook.
The show won two Baftas in 2018 for best scripted comedy and best female comedy performance. When Cooper accepted the award she wore a Swindon Town football shirt dress. It’s not the only time she has challenged the red carpet. At the 2019 Baftas she wore a dress made of bin bags, and at the recent premiere for her first film, The Personal History Of David Copperfield, based on Dickens’ novel, she wore a cape with magician David Copperfield emblazoned on it.
Professionally, Cooper’s is a star on the rise, and rise. An American version of This Country is in the pipeline, overseen by Bridesmaids director Paul Feig, and she got to work with Tilda Swinton on The Personal History Of David Copperfield. “We became friends after that,” she reveals. “We went out for a meal and my mum met her and was so beside herself that she got so drunk and vomited on me in the car on the way home.”
She will star in upcoming BBC Two comedy The Witchfinder, set in 1647, where she plays a suspected witch taken to trial by a witch hunter, and recently appeared in new HBO space drama Avenue 5 with Hugh Laurie. “Charlie and I have written one of the episodes. It’s the most expensive comedy that’s ever been made, it’s like an £8million set that ended up catching on fire, which was pretty shit.”
This is your first cover shoot, how are you feeling?
When I walked in it was like I was in one of those films like 13 Going On 30. I used to work as a fucking cleaner, so to go from cleaning skid marks off toilets to now acting like a skid mark in front of cameras is amazing.
When you were a cleaner did you have any idea this – awaiting the release of the third series of your BBC comedy, walking red carpets, being in magazines – might happen?
It was either this or being a heroin addict, there was no in-between [laughs]. It doesn’t feel like real life, it’s extraordinary, and I don’t think I would have appreciated it had I not been absolutely at rock bottom before all of this kicked off. I am so grateful every day to do a job that I love. That is the key to life and what I would like to teach my daughter: do something you love and even if you’re not good at it, just blag it.
What can fans expect from series three of the show?
If the first series was more Kurtan’s story and the second season was more Kerry’s, then the third is more the vicar’s. Kerry and Kurtan have both come on in leaps and bounds emotionally, maybe not materialistically or mentally, but I think they grow up this series.
I interviewed you just before series two came out and the pressure was high. How are you feeling now?
It was quite difficult this series because we lost Michael Sleggs, who played Slugs, really quickly. It was such a short space of time from when we lost him to when we started filming, and because we were so caught up in that there wasn’t that worry of: “We have to make it good.” The first episode is all about him and we wanted to make it… [she starts to cry]. Sorry…
Don’t be. It’s OK, do you want a hug?
Yes, sorry. Oh my goodness… We were thinking: how can we make this as funny as he was and as special as he was… It was really hard but I think that he would really have laughed at what we did.
Did it feel like his spirit was there?
Totally. On his death bed he said to his sister, “I want to be in the third series.” We were like, “Well he can’t be in the third series because he’s dead,” and she was like, “No, he wants his coffin to be in the series.” I said, “That is absolutely not going to fucking happen.” But that’s exactly like his character, Slugs: coming back from the grave to stitch everyone up… I think some of it is possibly the funniest stuff we’ve done so far, but don’t quote me on that because lots of people will say, “This is shit, they’ve lost their way.”
The beauty of This Country is how it taps into the minutiae of rural life. As your career progresses, how do you stay authentic?
I don’t think it’s difficult to tap back into that. If you’re a normal human being and you don’t fucking have an ego, I think that you can get straight back into that.
Did winning the Baftas shift anything for you?
I had lived that moment in my room when Charlie lived with me in halls in London [Daisy studied at Rada] so many times. It was the only thing that got us through. We thought about it all the time, talked about it all the time. It was like: this has to happen. So when it did actually happen it was amazing, but I’d lived it in my bathroom mirror so many times already.
Are red carpets a chance for you to make a social statement?
It’s more that I just want to make people smile. It sounds so naff. And it’s me massively showing off and hoping that I get into the papers. But I also think why are we so serious about these things? Let’s make this fun and go mad.
When you were growing up who did you see on screen that was a mirror to you?
I liked Lisa Kudrow, Catherine Tate, but my biggest one was Caroline Aherne from The Royle Family. I adored her. I remember she was at an awards ceremony and got really drunk then had to go all the way to Australia and go into hiding and I just thought, I totally get that. She was such a talent. The Royle Family was one of those programmes Charlie and I would bond with our parents over. On paper it shouldn’t have worked: we’re going to film a family watching TV.
But it was so funny and observant but so heartfelt too. It’s similar to The Office and Fleabag. Good comedy has to have heart; it has to make you cry too.
You recently posted on Instagram that you’ve got a massive tax bill due. People probably imagine that because you’re on TV you’re rich, but that’s not necessarily true.
At the beginning it did feel like I was rolling in lots of money because I was spending it all and not putting any money away for my tax. My husband [Will Weston] was like, “Daisy where’s all the fucking money for the tax?” I said, “What tax? Does it not come off my money when it comes into my account?” I basically spent 20 grand on Yankee candles, Nando’s and Ocado.
When you get your Ocado do you get it in the carrier bags or the boxes?
I have to get it in the carrier bags because I hate that pressure of having to unpack in front of the Ocado man and them inspecting your kitchen.
Have you got better with money as your career’s progressed?
I’m so bad with money, I had to hand all my cards over to my husband. It doesn’t comprehend in my brain. We’re catching up on the tax but the student loan’s bloody coming out now. If I didn’t have him I would be absolutely fucked.
Do you think it’s important to talk about? Money is still such a taboo…
Definitely. It’s such a cliche to say, “You should teach tax and banking at school”, but you should. I came out of school and lived with my boyfriend and he was like, “We have to pay the rent, we have to pay water”, and I was like, “What do you mean?” When I got a credit card I was like, “I have to pay this back?” Even now being self-employed you think, what I’ll do is I’ll just become really, really famous and make loads of money, but you still have to hand loads of this money over to the tax man. I don’t get it.
Your husband doesn’t do anything in the world of entertainment does he?
Oh he’s a tit, he’s just not interested. I took him to see The Personal History Of David Copperfield, my first ever film, and after he said, “Yeah very good. We’ve got to go back because Pip’s been sick everywhere.” He brings me straight back down to reality. Arsehole.
I heard you say on a podcast that you have to eat your dinner while watching rubbish food being served on TV shows. Can you explain?
Everyone has their own thing and that is my thing [laughs]. It’s like a foot fetish. I really like an early British Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares where the chef keeps cooking scallops that are off and Gordon Ramsay keeps vomiting, that’s one of my favourite ones. It’s really strange.
That is quite unusual. What else do you do for escapism?
I love reading about ghosts, near-death experiences, astral projection – which is when you leave your body. I love Haunted on Netflix, which is real people’s therapy sessions about ghosts they’ve seen and it’s fucking terrifying. And I love Stephen King’s books. If I could meet anyone it would be Stephen King. I read his book On Writing and fuck me that man is a genius.
Who else would made you starstruck?
Ryan Reynolds: the Deadpool films are so funny. Oprah Winfrey and Cheryl Cole. She’s like a mermaid, she’s mystical, does she exist?
What’s your dream for the next five years?
I’d love to write a film that’s really funny but really sad as well. And I want a swimming pool. We’re not going to use it to swim in, but I want to be able to say, “Do you want to come over and have a drink in the pool?”
How important is it for young people who aren’t growing up in big towns to see people like you and Charlie succeeding?
I would love to think that people felt that way, I think it is difficult being cut off and living in small villages. There’s a lot of fear anyway when you’re young and I don’t think social media helps – you’re comparing yourself to other people. We’d constantly compare ourselves to our peers who would go off to London and be successful and we thought, Oh my god we’re such failures.
I wish that there was more to inspire young people to find out what they’re good at, what talent they have that they can give this world and to work on that. Fuck doing anything that you don’t enjoy, don’t compare yourself to anyone else, success isn’t only in big cities, you can be a success wherever you want.
It’s so hard not to compare yourself though, despite knowing better…
Oh I have it with Phoebe Waller-Bridge. She came into a meeting at the BBC just before me and Charlie – she’s out doing SNL, the cover of Vogue… Not only is she unbelievably talented but I met her at the Baftas and she was such a lovely, generous person I felt ashamed that I’d even felt jealous about it. She deserves every ounce of success that she has. I wish she was a dick but she’s not.
Why do we like watching shows like Fleabag so much?
Because it’s telling us that it’s OK to be a fuck up and that everyone’s a fuck up and it’s OK not to be a Kardashian, and you can masturbate over Barack Obama. It’s like a comfort blanket; we all need to know that we’re OK.
You are so unabashedly yourself, Daisy. Have you ever been told to dial it down?
I’ve been told to hold back a lot, I’ve been told no a lot of times – at Rada, at school, in relationships – and it gets to the point where you think, I just can’t fucking keep that up any more. I’d rather be myself and be at one with who I am and then if people like it that’s amazing and if they don’t then… [laughs].
This Country returns on 17 February, 7pm, BBC Three
Photography: Tom Van Schelven
Fashion: Helen Atkin