By Curt Wagner
9:58 AM CDT, August 16, 2012
When Tom Weston-Jones saw his face pop up on a giant screen at San Diego Comic Con in July, he stopped dead in his tracks to watch.
BBC America, taking advantage of the popularity of "Doctor Who," showed a trailer for its series "Copper" to the thousands of "Who" fans who had crammed into Hall H for the sci-fi hit's panel. For many it was the first introduction to Weston-Jones, a 25-year-old British actor with just a few TV credits to his name.
For Weston-Jones, seeing the show's trailer in that situation was inspiring and humbling, he said at the time. But he already was impatient for viewers to see more of his series.
"It was the biggest job that I've ever done. I felt honored to be a part of it," he told me earlier at the Con. "Now I'm just ready for it to come out and for people to see what we've done, because there's been a lot of blood, sweat and tears brought into it."
Viewers finally get to see the results of that all that hard work when "Copper," BBC America's first original scripted series, premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday. Weston-Jones plays Kevin Cocoran, a tough detective in 1864 New York City who is obsessed with finding his missing wife and the person who killed his daughter while he was off fighting in the Civil War.
"That's his goal; that's his motive and that's what drives him," Weston-Jones said. But the Irish immigrant patrols Five Points, a seedy area rotting with crime, prostitution and corruption that Kevin can't ignore. "The one thing that he hates is a bully and he's surrounded by them. ... So I don't think he really pays attention to role models or anything like that. If they do something wrong, he's going to make them realize they've done it, which is great."
That lack of respect for role models leads Kevin to take reckless actions at times, especially when dealing with his corrupt captain and the wealthy denizens of the elite Uptown neighborhood.
"He's really flawed in the decisions that he makes," Weston-Jones said. "That's what I like about him. He does certain things that actually overstep a boundary and therefore make him incredibly vulnerable."
Weston-Jones made one of his best decisions at age 17. While he was born in Britain, he grew up in Dubai after his parents moved there to teach when he was just a year old. But after 16 years of growing up in the "bubble" of Dubai (he said he had never seen "Doctor Who" until the last few years), he decided to move back to London.
"I don't want to badmouth the place but I eventually realized it wasn't really for me; I don't have much in common with a lot of the things there, like shopping and money," he said, adding with a laugh. "There's not really much acting work in Dubai."
Weston-Jones found acting work in London. After earning a degree in drama and theater from the University of London, he trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School where he performed in several plays before making his professional stage debut in director Ed Hall's 2010 production of "Enlightenment" at Hampstead Theatre. He was a series regular on the final season of "MI-5" (called "Spooks" in the UK) and stars with Cynthia Nixon and Miranda Richardson in "World Without End," the 6-part miniseries debuting Oct. 17 on Reelz Channel.
But Weston-Jones wasn't born with the acting bug. He had always had an interest in the arts, dabbling in painting and drawing, "tried to write music" and played in bands (he plays saxophone and guitar), but it was only midway through drama school that he realized "100 percent" that acting was his thing.
"Acting was something that I felt very comfortable in," he said, and after moving to London he saw several plays, including the 2004 production of "Hecuba" at the Donmar Warehouse in London. "I remember being blown away by it and thinking that there's more to art than just entertainment and lightness. I think in telling stories you can actually change people and that's what interests me about it. In telling stories you can actually make people stop and listen and think about what they're doing."
"Copper," he believes, does just that. Politics, the economy, racial issues and the gap between the haves and have-nots in New York in the 1860s all made for uneasy and uncertain times, he said, not unlike the situation around the world, and specifically North Africa, today. "There's so much change going on right now, and that's exactly what New York was back then—it was a time of change and going into the unknown."
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