In Stephen Frears' new film 'Tamara Drewe' an It Girl journalist, played by Gemma Arterton, returns to her home village and sets local tongues wagging - especially when she hooks up with rock star Ben Sergeant, played by Dominic Cooper. Harry Guerin talks to the actor about the film and his upcoming projects.

Harry Guerin: 'Tamara Drewe' started life as a comic strip in The Guardian. Did you know anything about it before the film?
Dominic Cooper: [I had] No idea what it was, never seen it before. And seeing as I've been buying that paper for about five years I obviously haven't read a page of it. [Laughs] I just carried it as a prop! When I looked at the graphic novel [collected edition] I could definitely remember seeing the illustrations, but I knew very little about it. It certainly wasn't a reason why I got involved in the project in the first place. And then getting to know it [the story] I could understand why people admired it so much.

HG: You play the rock star Ben in the movie. Is it a different dynamic working on a project where the characters are already so well established?
DC: It can be. I definitely wanted to do something completely different with it [the character] and make it my own, so I went with nothing to do with the graphic novel at all. I just went with who I understood this person to be in the script and what they needed to achieve, what their goals were.

I thought who I would like to see as a kind of indie, arrogant drummer who's completely self-obsessed, immersed in their own world and in complete shock that anyone doesn't realise everything that's going on with his life!

HG: Without naming any names, had you anyone in mind as the petulant rock star?
There were a few people and yeah, it would be far too offensive to say who. I've always loved music and enjoyed various types of music. I was in a band and my brother's always been in a band. I was often in grotty dives and pubs listening to a real varied range of bands and seeing a varied range of people and seeing how fame affects bands who weren't necessarily famous. So there were a lot of influences that I had. It was an amalgamation of various people, but I could never, ever obviously say [who].

HG: When you're watching Ben you half expect that at any moment he's going to throw himself on the ground in a tantrum.
He does! He does that, but it was cut out, unfortunately.

HG: Really?
[Laughs] No, it wasn't, but he is that pathetic.

HG: Throughout his career Stephen Frears has poked fun at people who take themselves very seriously, and it's the same here.
It's great, I love that. There are too many people around that do take themselves far too seriously and they're always very amusing people. That was something to grab hold of in terms of that character. How seriously can you take yourself? I love the juxtaposition of him being in the countryside and how stupid he looks in that rural environment. You just think, 'God, what a tosser'.

HG: There's a great moment where he says he 'needs to get back to the urban' and the next time we see him he's in this huge loft apartment.
I know! But they're around; they exist. I'm always meeting people like that in London. They are there. It was a good chance of mocking them without being nasty.

HG: What was the director, Stephen Frears, like to work with?
His experience made you feel very safe on set and allows you - certainly with this kind of material where you're getting close to playing caricatures - a lot of freedom, which makes it much more interesting. It makes you take much bigger risks with the material because of your confidence in a director who knows exactly how to tell a story.

He wastes no time. I don't think there are many shots that weren't used in the film because he completely sees the whole editing process in his head and knows exactly how to put it together. I think it's a very, very well-told story and kind of beautifully constructed.

He often gets called grumpy on set but I thought he was very, very funny to be around and made the whole experience hugely pleasant and very relaxed.

HG: He has a special place in Irish people's hearts for making a film called 'The Snapper', which many would regard as the best film about Dublin and Dubliners.
Yeah, I know. And again that's just so different and then to get all that success with 'The Queen'. Going back to this kind of film - very low budget, independent - is, I think, much more his style. That's his comfort zone: where you have to adapt and change stuff on a momentary basis. I'm working on something huge, a comic book film, at the moment and it couldn't be further [more different].

HG: You're playing Howard Stark, Iron Man's dad, in 'Captain America: The First Avenger'.
Which is great. It's just a totally different way of making a film than I'm used to in terms of time. You have so much time because they're beautifully polished, well-structured and incredible scenes and that's why they look how they look. That means [there's] much more time waiting, which feels less creative sometimes because you're used to being on a set where you've got two minutes to shoot eight scenes.

HG: Have you started filming yet?
I've started; it's going well.

HG: Have you to do lots of green screen special effects stuff?
Not a great deal. There's been really, really stunning sets built. A lot of my stuff is in laboratories in the Fifties and that's really cool. It's got a really cool and specific look to it that I haven't really seen in much else - and I get to be the fashionable entrepreneur.

HG: You've also finished filming 'The Devil's Double', in which you play Saddam Hussein's son Uday and his double. When will it be released?
I hope at the beginning of next year. It's looking really, really good. That was a really compelling piece of work to be doing -playing the two different roles and working with Lee Tamahori who made 'Once Were Warriors'.

It's a really, really fascinating story that's very much our recent history. It's something I think we all know a tiny bit about but not a great deal. I loved it. I had to play a complete berserk maniac who had no control and access to everything he possibly wanted and had a dictator of a father. So there was a lot of stuff going on.

HG: It must have been very tiring going from one extreme to the other in terms of the two performances.
It was like nothing else. We tried our hardest to shoot the maniac first and then shoot the passive guy, who was forced into this situation. But often I would be switching from the berserk, wild, crazy, gun-hoarding extremes to a very sensitive, level-headed guy. It was an experience, acting wise, that I've never, ever had and probably quite unlikely to ever have again. I knew the moment I read that script it was something I absolutely wanted to work on because I knew how rare it would be to find something like that.

HG: Anything else in the pipeline?
I'm waiting to see, actually. There's a few things I could possibly be doing, depending on whether they fit in [my schedule]. It's all about finding something different again and something that feels right after all these ones are released. Something that will be challenging again so I won't feel like my brain is disintegrating.

HG: Speaking of challenges, any plans to do a bit of singing and drumming like Ben in 'Tamara Drewe'?
Yeah, always. Always setting up a band. Always just talking about being in a band. [Laughs] That's what I've done for the last 10 years, just talked with friends about setting up a band and reproducing some of the extraordinarily bad Eighties music we used to make in our youth at the age of 13, about how we could never fall in love again and how our hearts had been destroyed. Oh, how little we knew. Or how much. I can't work it out.

'Tamara Drewe' is now in cinemas.