In recent years, the global TV landscape has been shaken up by some of the most talented, British and Irish female auteurs to have braced this planet.
The likes of Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Michaela Coel have wowed audiences around the world, lending new credence to the term “authenticity” and forging disruptive shows that have little influence from outside forces.
Perhaps a less obvious candidate to fit within this bracket is BAFTA-winning This country creator and star Daisy May Cooper, but with the BBC/HBO’s Rain Dogs, BBC One’s Am I Being Unreasonable? heading to Mipcom and a second season of Fox’s This country remake Welcome to Fatch Hitting screens soon, Cooper’s US star is on the rise and the Coel/Waller-Bridge comparisons are percolating.
The 35-year-old is as down-to-earth as they come. Born in the small British town of Cirencester, Gloucestershire, the Irishwoman speaks to seemingly everybody as she would to a friend in the pub but her talent comes across from the first second.
“From the moment you meet her it’s obvious she has something different,” says lauded His Dark Materials writer Jack Thorne, who is exec producing Am I Being Unreasonable? and whose wife Rachel Mason is Cooper’s agent.
He recalls first being impressed by Cooper when she rocked up to the 2018 BAFTAs wearing a Swindon Town (her local soccer team) dress, before duly scooping gongs for Best Scripted Comedy and Best Female Comedy Performance.
“I looked at her [at the BAFTAs] and just thought to myself ‘Oh yeah that’s Daisy,’ says Thorne. “Breath-of-fresh-air comic talents don’t come along very often.”
But to say Cooper’s career has been plain sailing to date would be understatement of the century, and she speaks candidly about her time on the breadline in the years prior to This country launch.
As a teen, she made it into the prestigious London acting school RADA on the fifth attempt but “hated it,” as she explains to Deadline from her Soho Hotel room earlier this month.
“We did weird Jacobean plays and no comedy,” Cooper says. “When we left, the teacher said 70% of us wouldn’t make it but I always thought my career would go from strength-to-strength.”
The opposite happened.
Bar a one-line part in ITV drama Doc Martin, Cooper found herself living in a box room, working as a cleaner with brother Charlie Cooper and resorting to binding her shoes together with parcel tape.
“It was just so f*cking bleak,” she says matter-of-factly.
With destitution came inspiration and Cooper developed a newfound determination to succeed.
The eventual result was This country, a love letter to Cooper and brother Charlie’s upbringing and a side-splittingly funny played, authentic examination of rural British life, in which Cooper lead Kerry Mucklowe and Charlie, who had never acted before, was her cousin Kurtan. If you were brought up in a poor UK town, you could relate, and the show’s outsized impact arguably places it in the same ballpark as Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag and Coel’s I May Destroy You.
Did Cooper always think it would be a success?
“Well it made us laugh and it made mum laugh and we just thought ‘Well fuck it if mum’s laughing then we must be onto something.’,” she says.
Cooper goes on: “We didn’t even have a laptop – most of it was written on a small Argos pad and then typed up in the library. But we sent it to literally every production company in Britain and when [Starstruck and Catastrophe] Producer Avalon showed interest we thought ‘There must be something in this.’.”
The confidence was there but getting to screen was anything but plain sailing, involving a legal dispute, huge rows with production company Lucky Giant over the show’s direction and a failed ITV pilot that featured established actors (not the Coopers) and was widely panned.
Cooper used her 2021 autobiography Don’t Laugh, It’ll Only Encourage Her to lambast some of those involved with these mega teething problems for obstructing her vision, calling out one exec for “having all the creative genius of a fucking PowerPoint presentation” and saying she would “have had a massive party that would have lasted for days” if another had “dropped dead.”
Cooper doesn’t regret these barbs and says she made them in part to help younger writers, many of whom have reached out since the book’s publication to share similar experiences.
“Scripts can fall into the wrong hands and that’s what destroyed the initial pilot for us,” she adds. “Writing about that [in my autobiography] was therapeutic for me. I wanted to let those people [who worked on the pilot] know how hard it was for us to feel like we were at rock-bottom and be treated like that.”
The debacle is all in the past and This country achieved wild critical and commercial success, undoubtedly one of BBC Three’s flagship shows that was re-made by Fox and recently re-commissioned for a second season.
Welcome to Flick, which stars up-and-comers Holmes and Sam Straley in the lead roles, along with American Pie cult hero Sean William Scott as the Vicar, is an exec produced by Cooper, an experience she has thoroughly enjoyed while taking a hands-off approach.
“If someone had told me when I was a teenager that Stifler would be in a show I’d created, I wouldn’t have believed it,” she adds. “It’s been amazing. Figuring out who was going to play us was so exciting and, given that it’s a lot more cut-throat in the US, we are just so relieved to get a second season.”
Next up for Cooper is a highly personal project in the BBC/HBO’s Rain Dogs, from Skint Estate writer Cash Carraway that is currently filming in Bristol.
Cooper plays Costello Jones in the dark comedy, a writer and single mother trying to get by and bringing up her daughter to try and avoid the mistakes she made when she was younger.
Carraway’s memoir Skint Estate made a splash and Rain Dogs took Cooper’s mind back to that time spent on the poverty line. She agreed to star almost immediately.
“It was moving,” she says of first reading Carway’s script.
“There’s a scene where Costello has no money and buys a scratch card with two quid [pounds] in the hope she can get 40 quid for a B ‘n’ B and that really resonated with me.
“It’s that feeling of not being able to live life like a normal person because money makes you feel fucking normal. Being poor is really fucking hard and Cash cartoons that so beautifully.”
She heaps praise on Carraway, who she says has penned Rain Dogs in a “completely un-mawkish way,” eschewing a “poverty porn” approach that has beset previous shows about working class people in Britain.
Meanwhile, comedy thriller Am I Being Unreasonable? from former BBC comedy bosses Shane Allen and Kate Daughton’s Boffola Pictures was both written by and stars Cooper alongside childhood friend and Deadwater Villa star Selin Hizli, who Cooper met at RADA and describes as her soulmate.
The six-parter, which was forged during those boring lockdown months and also stars Jessica Hynes (Years and Years) and Dustin Demri-Burns (Stath Lets Flats), is inspired by the pair’s friendship and sees Cooper play Nic, grieving a loss that she can’t share with anyone whilst stuck in a depressing marriage.
With the mighty Thorne helping her and Hizli connect the dramatic dots, Cooper wanted to challenge herself by taking a Curb Your Enthusiasm-esque approach to scene improvisation, although she concedes it didn’t quite turn out like that.
“We started off with a Curb-like layout and the BBC were like ‘We don’t trust you, you have to actually write this’,” she explains in typically candid style.
But Allen, Am I Being Unreasonable? exec and the former BBC comedy boss who took a chance on This countrysays the show will “cement [Daisy’s] reputation as one of the most tantalizing and visionary comedic voices of her generation,” while singling out that innovative style for praise.
Moving forwards, Cooper expects even more shows to blur the line between comedy and drama in a similar vein to her new creation.
“You’re not being truthful if you don’t put both elements in,” she says. “I’ve always thought to myself when watching serious cop dramas: ‘What if the policeman needs to fart in the car?'”. That’s why [Emerald Fennell’s Oscar-winning feature] Promising Young Woman was just so good. Shit like that really does happen.”
Both Am I Being Unreasonable? and Rain Dogs could see Cooper hit the big time in the US and Cooper harbors particular hope for Rain Dogs, which, just like I May Destroy You, has already secured the quality-hallmarked HBO as co-producer.
Kelly Miller, BBC Studios’ SVP of Scripted Strategy, is one of the people tasked with selling Cooper’s shows abroad including Am I Being Unreasonable? and thinks her versatility will be key to worldwide success.
“She’s not doing the same thing but is making strategic choices as an actor and as a multi-faceted piece of talent,” Miller says. “There is a specificity in what she’s doing and that has a deep resonance.”
So does Cooper feel she’s nearing the same league as the Coel’s and Waller Bridge’s of this brave new TV world?
She pauses for a while before positing: “I don’t think so, but I aspire to be them so much.”
“They are just really strong, new voices and you can tell they’ve just bloody lived,” she adds, adopting that trademark Cirencester style. “They go from strength to strength. I am just so happy that America is recognizing these brilliant, British women.”
The multi-hyphenate has come a long way since her and brother Charlie were excitedly scribbling This country scenes on an Argos pad.
She may not consider herself part of the big leagues yet but, over the coming months, audiences across the pond will be the judge.