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Actor Callie Cooke: ‘I had to distance myself or I’d get emotionally drained’

PUBLISHED: 17:45 16 March 2017

Callie Cooke as Bernice in Filthy Business. Picture: Dominic Clemence

Callie Cooke as Bernice in Filthy Business. Picture: Dominic Clemence

Dominic Clemence

As she prepares to play a cocksure teen, BRIDGET GALTON talks to an actor whose career was launched in a tough role at Hampstead Theatre

Callie Cooke seems to be cornering the market in playing mouthy teens.

Her first job out of drama school was a teen victim of the Rochdale sex abuse scandal at Hampstead Theatre.

Now she returns to the venue in Hackney-set Filthy Business playing the third generation of a warring Jewish family struggling to keep the family rubber business afloat.

Set between 1968 and the 80s, it is partly based on playwright Ryan Craig’s own family business in Islington’s Pentonville Road.

The 23-year-old plays Bernice, the “brilliantly sassy” granddaughter of Polish matriarch Yetta.

“She’s not interested in the business, she just turns up at the shop, smokes a few fags, and prances around in a beehive and a very skimpy mini skirt like she owns the place,” says Cooke. “It’s great to play someone so sure of who she is. I’m a bit nervous about the short skirt but I’m going to have to own it.”

Sara Kestelman’s Yetta, was a refugee whose family perished in the Holocaust, something she never tires of mentioning to her wayward brood as she instils the importance of kin.

“She talks about where she’s come from and what she’s had to do to be here all the time,” says Cooke. “She’s proud of where she’s from but she’s holding on by her fingernails trying to prove that family and loyalty are everything. She goes too far and there’s a downfall.”

Cooke emphasises there are comic moments as the men of the family slug it out for control.

“There’s a constant power struggle and fights. Yetta is the root of this tree trying to keep this family together as it moves through to the 80s - it’s really funny - but you won’t find a stronger family. When we scream, we scream but when we love, we love.”

It was Cooke’s acclaimed performance as mouthy, brittle Tia in Firebird that kick-started her career when it transferred to the Trafalgar Studios last year.

But she says playing a vulnerable girl groomed by an older man was difficult at times.

“I spent my graduation day in the rehearsal room and I couldn’t have asked to be in anything better. The feeling I got every night from doing it made me feel so lucky. But it took me to a dark place. I had to distance myself or I’d get emotionally drained. There were times in rehearsal if it went a bit too hard I’d go home and have a little cry.”

Prior to Filthy Business, Cooke spent seven months in Prague filming new Sky/Amazon series Britannia, set just after the Roman invasion of Britain in 43AD.

Penned by Spectre and Jerusalem writer Jez Butterworth, the summer release pits David Morrissey’s Roman general Aulus Plautius against Kelly Reilly’s Celtic princess and her hordes.

“My character’s part of a normal Celtic family but I am a warrior so it was brilliant to learn to horse ride and do archery,” says Cooke, who landed the part when a casting director came to see her in Firebird.

“It’s gritty, there’s a real lack of make up and lots of women who can fight which I am all for. It was an amazing job working on TV which I never thought I would get a chance to do. And it was all down to Hampstead and (director) Ed Hall. It’s so lovely to be back.”

Filthy Business runs until April 21.

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