Interview with Augustus Prew from "Copperhead"

Photo Credit: Augustus Prew
June 11th, 2013

Movie Room Reviews had the pleasure of sitting down with actor Augustus Prew about his new role in the American Civil war film "Copperhead".  Augustus also tells us some info on his next big role as Todd in "Kick-Ass 2".

Nick Leyland from Movie Room Reviews:  Hey, Augustus. How you doing?

Augustus Prew:  Hi, Nick. How you been? How you doing, man?

MRR:  Good, good. I just got done watching your film.

Augustus:  Did you just finish watching my film?

MRR:  Yeah, it's great.

Augustus:  Oh, great, man. I'm glad you liked it.

MRR:  How you doing today?

Augustus:  I'm doing good, but it's been one of those busy days where I've been interview to interview, and it's been busy. It's great, though. I'm in New York. It's all fun. Weather's great. It's all part of life, isn't it?

MRR:  [laughs] Yeah. That's cool, man. Good for you. Your new film, "Copperhead," it's about the American Civil War. It's a great film. People might know you from films like you did "About a Boy." You played Alistair Wooley in "Charlie St. Cloud" alongside Zac Efron. You'll be in the new "Kick-Ass" movie, "Kick-Ass 2."

We're here to talk about this new film, "Copperhead," where you play the character of Ni, which is a pretty interesting name. It comes out June 28th and I know you've done this a bunch of times today but could you give us a rundown of the film and your character of Ni?

Augustus:  Yeah, of course. "Copperhead" is about the American Civil War. It focuses on the home front. The story's focused in this small town called Four Corners in Upstate New York in 1862. Essentially, there are two patriarchs in this town. One is Jee Hagadorn, who's played by Angus Macfadyen, who's my dad in this movie. The other guy is Abner Beech, who's played by Billy Campbell.

The story is about how the war and the politics behind the war and the idealism and the idea of right and wrong and morality and these sort of abstractions tore apart the fabric of society in these kind of lifelong bonds that these people had together, and how detrimental that is to kind of humanity in general. Kind of the cost, the human cost of war, I guess you could say.

My character, Ni, is the son of Jee Hagadorn, whose best friend is, incidentally, is Jeff Beech, who is the son of Abner Beech. Abner and Jee are sort of enemies, sort of a rivalry that goes back, you get the sense, a very long time.

Ni is a pacifist. Ni is someone who, he sort of, pacifism as an idea, so it didn't really exist then, but he essentially is a humanist. He's someone who believes in the goodness of humanity and the war is wrong on every level.

About kind of diplomacy. It's when many people, fundamentally enough in the village who actually kind of take this stance. It's quite a unique position to be in, and a wonderful character, therefore, to play. I sort of enjoy playing the characters who sort of break the mold a little bit, and Ni is certainly one of those people who does that.

Yeah, that's a rundown.

MRR:  You're from England, but how did you enjoy the American history lesson?

Augustus:  I loved it. Ron Maxwell is a genius. He's an encyclopedia. He gave us numerous, numerous books to read. We sat down as a cast, I mean, we talked through the story they wanted to tell. What's interesting about information traveled very slowly in those times and propaganda was kind of a very new thing. People really didn't know how bad the war was.

It was seen as heroic to go to war. War wasn't understood, the horror that it really is.

What's interesting about that time and about these characters is they really did live in a vacuum. There world as Four Corners, really was their world. No one ever left.

I find American politics fascinating. I think the Civil War is very much the defining moment when America became a nation. It's very much the birth of modern America, the Union being tested and these sort of figures, Robert E. Lee, McClellan, Lincoln, all these amazing, amazing, interesting people. It's a very fascinating time and a time of big change.

But I think, ultimately, the important thing about the movie is that it's about people and people are universal. People's hopes and fears and the way that people fight and conflict, that's something that is true no matter where you're from.

Yes, I guess, to answer your question, I find that portion of American politics fascinating, particularly because I live in America. It's wonderful, actually. It's a wonderful movie to be a part of.

MRR:  You spoke of director Ron Maxwell. He's nothing new to the Civil War game, with movies like the '93 "Gettysburg", and tons of other stuff. Was he really intense about the authenticity and historical accuracy of the film?

Augustus:  Was he intense about it? Yes, and I love that. That's what I love. The devil is in the details. We were fastidious over costumes. We rehearsed together for three weeks before the movie happened. What we wanted to get across is this sense of community, so we worked on the accent together. We worked on the upstate New York accent in 1862, it's an accent that no longer exists. The Americans and the Brits are in the same boat here, because nobody really knew how it sounded, so we had to work together to make sure that the accent was consistent throughout. Everyone was in the same boat there.

It was a rural community, this community that didn't have influences from outside. Their world was sheep-sharing, dealing with the cows. All of us learned how to ride a horse. All of us learned how to saddle up a horse and cow. Everyone learned how to share sheep.

At the time, it was lambing season when we were shooting as well, so we had to learn of lambs being born. What was amazing about it was just getting back to nature, getting back to roots. That's kind of cool. That's very, very cool, and Ron was very big on that.

What's interesting to remember though is that people look at the Civil War very retrospectively from now. The South were bad, the North were good. What's interesting about "Copperhead" is it doesn't do that. It doesn't pander to the audience in that sense. It isn't black and white.

Incidentally, the title "Copperhead", the Copperheads were Northern Democrats who had Southern sympathies. It's not that they were pro-slavery as such. They were just anti-war. They didn't want people going there, to go and die, against their fellow countrymen for an industry that they felt was dying out anyway.

Most of the perceived wisdom at the time was that slavery had been banned by all of the Northern states and was in the process of being banned in the Southern states, though that's a contentious point of view, of course. It's arguable whether that would have happened, but that was their thinking.

It's interesting that Abner Beech, who was a Copperhead, is portrayed in a very, very good light. It's interesting, because you really understand his point of view. He was scared, he didn't want his son to die. It's very interesting, people always forget the personal cost of war. You put it down to just father and son.

All these grand arguments of who was right and who was wrong. Was Lincoln right to do this? Was the constitution under threat, really? All these interesting questions, they don't really mean anything when it comes down to a father just trying to defend his son. It kind of brings it down to a much more basic level. Which is kind of beautiful really, I think.

MRR:  Yeah, I thought that was very compelling, about how you don't see any battle in the film. It's not about the battles.

Augustus:  Not at all. It's the human cost of it. It's kind of the human war, if you will. It's what it does to peoples' heads. People have a tendency to get so tribal about things. It's very interesting. Even in America now, you could argue that, because it's essentially a two-party system. It's interesting that Congress and the House are loggerheads now over pretty much every piece of legislation that is going right now.

[laughs] Politics in America haven't changed. It's the same two parties arguing about the same things, essentially. It's just at different times. I guess in that sense this movie is very universal.

MRR:  I liked how it must have been nice to be able to live in the time of the Civil War, but still have electricity and a bathroom and stuff. [laughter]

Augustus:  It was nice to check out and go back to the hotel at night, yes. I'm not going to lie. That was pretty good. They had a lot of work to do. You take for granted washing machines. You take for granted these things. When I was on set, everyone shut their phones off. Well, I did. The majority of us shut our phones off. It's very liberating actually. It's wonderfully liberating, and it gets you back. It's amazing how you have all these apps and things that connect us better to people and actually you feel less connected, ultimately, because you're not really talking to people, you're talking to a machine. Interesting, very interesting.

MRR:  It's true. You know what, one thing I really enjoyed about the film, well one of many things. I thought that whoever was in charge of the music did a really good job, I think the music in the film was fantastic.

Augustus:  It's beautiful isn't it? It's beautiful. I wish I had, I was going to go to the orchestration on the day, and I couldn't go unfortunately. It was done with a full orchestra down at Warner Brothers. It's just so stunning. It's such a wonderful, wonderful job.

Laurent Eyquem was the composer, a French guy. I feel like music in general is a very, very powerful way in. We're talking with big grand themes as well here, and this is very, you know, a matter of life and death. So I guess it does. It's interesting that it does. Music is a commentary on what's going on on screen and it is. It's very telling.

MRR:  I thought it was great. I loved that 1800s American home music almost, you know what I mean?

Augustus:  My favorite scene is when they went off to war, when all the boys go off to war.

MRR:  Playing the drums and stuff?

Augustus:  They're saying goodbye. That was actually a really hard scene to film because at the time everyone's like, "Yay, it's so great. We're going off to war. It's going to be so exciting. Yay, how heroic." And none of these people came back. These were kids. Some people lied about their age, these guys were 15, 16 some of them. Most of them were under 18. It was insane, and it was a very hard scene in the film. It's kind of like a death march almost, with the drums, boom boom. We know now, retrospectively, what they were going in for but they didn't. They really didn't.

MRR:  Augustus, thanks for talking. What can we look forward to seeing from you in the future now after "Copperhead"?

Augustus:  I've got "Kick-Ass 2" coming out. Which is the second movie in the "Kick-Ass" franchise, in which I play Todd, who is David Lizewski's "Kick-Ass" best mate. That comes out, I think, August 16th in the States. Then I've got "Klondike" which is the Discovery Channel's first scripted drama being produced by Ridley Scott. Tim Roth, Sam Shepard, Abby Cornish, I think that's set for a January release next year. Then if you're ever in the UK, there's a show in the UK called "The Village" which has just got a second season. So we're shooting that later on in the year. That's written by a guy called Peter Moffat, who is this BAFTA winning writer and is wonderful, wonderful. A study of what it means to be British. So there's a lot of stuff bouncing around right now. It's kind of a cool time.

MRR:  Thank you so much. The new film "Copperhead" comes out June 28th. Hopefully, our audience will all go check it out.

Augustus:  Great, love that man. Thanks very much, dude.

MRR:  Thanks, Augustus.

Augustus:  See you later, mate.

Tags: Copperhead