With his latest film GO! premiering at Cinfest Oz later this month, there’s little doubt that Cooper Van Grootel’s career is on the rise. Having been acting since before he was a teenager and as an individual heavily influenced by the great work and legacy of the late Heath Ledger, Cooper’s passion for what he does comes across in every role he takes on and every performance he gives. Ahead of GO!’s premiere, he spoke to ThisIsTheLatest about his favourite memories on set, the one TV show he’d have loved to have starred in and the one piece of advice he’d pass on to upcoming actors.
TITL: You’ve been acting for several years now, but was there ever a time, growing up, that you considered taking another career path or has it always been about performance and film/TV work for you?
Cooper Van Grootel: I began acting when I was about 11 years old, but before then I always wanted to be an AFL player, which is the Australian Football League, equivalent to the NFL in the USA. However, once I started acting, I couldn’t think about anything else and it’s been my passion ever since.
TITL: Which one film or TV series, you watched, made you ultimately realize “Yeah, I want to do that”?
CVG: This is a funny one. I was actually extremely fascinated by the movie Coraline; its story-line, the characters, the way the film was created and put together so well. It kind of sparked a fire in me that made me want to do what these characters were doing. Whatever that meant. So I began my search for a film school, where I found Filmbites, a film school in Perth run by Hallie McKeig. I stuck with Filmbites for 7 years up until I was 18 and that’s when I left for America.
TITL: Which actors might you say most inspire and influence you when it comes to your career and your work? What is it about them that encourages and motivates you so much?
CVG: Heath Ledger. I think I can really relate to that guy in a lot of ways. We’re from the same home town, we left Perth for America with the same burning passion, Hollywood. Heath Ledger is a really motivating person, proving that if you set your mind to something, it can be achieved.
TITL: Can you recall the first project you ever auditioned for?
CVG: I’m not 100% sure what my first audition was for, but it might have been a short film back in Perth, when I was 11 years old. I didn’t get the role, but the whole process of auditioning in front of people, with a camera, a blank room and just your imagination, fascinated me.
TITL: Do you find the audition process comfortable or is there always an uncertainty/air of pressure around each one?
CVG: For me, it’s a bit of both. I find it super exciting just being given the opportunity to express my ideas in this craft and give it a shot, but at the same time, it can make me nervous and anxious. I just try and have fun with the whole process.
TITL: Your break-out came in 2014 with The Legend Of Gavin Tanner. Can you recall your favourite time on the show, and are there any lessons/particular experiences you’ve taken from that period and continued to learn/grow from as a result?
CVG: The Gavin Tanner set was just a whole bunch of fun, everybody was having a great time. I think with every role you book, you learn a lot about yourself. I remember having to get up at 6am to shoot and my mum was there with me every day to watch over me, so I learnt that my parents are so loving and supportive of this craft. I am very grateful for that.
TITL: You are perhaps best known for playing Brayden in the series Mystery Road, which was and is a huge hit with an impressive cast. What was and is it about the series, do you think, that has helped it to become so popular?
CVG: Mystery Road is an incredible TV show with some of the best acting I’ve ever watched, it truly blows me away. I think it has done so well because of its suspenseful moments and heart-breaking issues which are highlighted in the show about Australia’s society. It really does keep you on the edge of your seat wondering what will happen next. I’m so grateful to have worked on such a professional shoot.
TITL: Your latest film GO! is having its world premiere on August 28th at Cinefest Oz. Do you ever get nervous ahead of big events like that and feel at all anxious about what those in attendance, including critics, and what they might think?
CVG: 100%! I’m very excited and nervous at the same time. I hope people enjoy the film as much as the cast and crew enjoyed making it. I think Cinfest Oz will probably be one of the biggest film festivals I’ve been to so it’ll be a whole new experience for me; I can’t wait!
TITL: What can you tell me about the film and who you play in it?
CVG: A good way to describe GO! is kind of like the original Karate Kid but go karting instead of karate. A teenage boy, Jack, moves to a small town with his mum. Jack discovers a passion for go karting, where he meets a mentor who shows him the way of the sport. I play Dean, the antagonist of the film. It was an amazing opportunity and I tried my best to find the heart in the character even though he was the antagonist, as my goal was to do this character justice. One of the craziest parts of the experience was having my hair bleached white – it added to the character and was a lot of fun going through that experience with production.
TITL: How did you find working with the likes of director Owen Trevor and your co-stars Francis O’Connor, Dan Wyllie and Richard Roxburgh? Any fond or favourite memories from your time on set?
CVG: Working with such professionals was daunting, but at the end of the day everybody wants to do a good job and I think it’s important that you feel comfortable and relaxed. That’s what Owen and the other actors brought to set. I could really be at ease and was able to explore and play with my character. I remember one of the first days shooting, I had to punch Will Lodder, who plays Jack. After I delivered the punch, I slicked my bleached white hair back into place and from that point on, it kind of became a character trait where in multiple scenes, I slowly slicked my hair back in a menacing way. I think it worked well and Owen loved it.
TITL: Of all the roles and characters you’ve played so far, which one stands out the most and why?
CVG: I recently shot a short film here in LA, called Pink Elephant. I think this role stands out the most because I proved to myself that I can achieve my goals over here in America; it’s just a matter of believing in yourself and setting your mind to it. I made so many great friendships on set, life-long ones I hope. That and I finally got to play the protagonist!
TITL: If you could star in any TV series or film, past or present, which would it be? Which actors/crews would you most like to work with?
CVG: I would love to have been on Breaking Bad. Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston are two of my favourite actors. They made that show so exciting – I am truly envious of their work. Heath Ledger was going into directing before he passed; he had an amazing vision, so I know he would have been an incredible director and it would have been an honor to have the opportunity to work with him.
TITL: Are there any upcoming projects in the pipeline you can tell me about?
CVG: I just had an audition in LA sent to a director so I have my fingers crossed at the moment!
TITL: Away from acting, and particularly after long periods away from home/on set, what activities or hobbies do you like to pursue? How important is it for you to have that “unwind, me” time?
CVG: I love to surf. Surfing is another passion of mine, but I never wanted to pursue it professionally though. It’s a great way to clear your mind and rid bad energy or thoughts. I think it’s vital that you have an outlet away from acting. Acting can be physically and emotionally draining, so for me, surfing helps keep the balance. I also like to play the guitar.
TITL: Finally, as someone who is gradually becoming more established in the industry, what advice would you give to those starting out? What one piece of advice that you were once given or have heard would you pass on as encouragement and for motivation?
CVG: Try not to worry too much about the future, focus on giving your best performance and enjoying your time in the now.
You can keep up to date with Cooper by following him on Instagram.