Emory Cohen dishes on playing lovable Tony in Brooklyn

Emory CohenEmory Cohen is a name to remember. The Place Beyond the Pines star will be seen as one of the leading actors in the drama Brooklyn. He plays lovable Tony, the young, colorful man hailing from an Italian family. He falls for pretty Irish girl Eilis (Saoirse Ronan), who is struggling to make America her new home.

Brooklyn played at the Toronto International Film Festival this year and will release in select cities on Friday. We sat down with Emory to talk about playing Tony alongside Saoirse Ronan.

How did you land this role?
I sent a tape but it wasn’t very good so I re-taped it and that wasn’t very good either. Basically I didn’t hear anything so I kind of thought I should just move on. I was in New York about to start a job called Stealing Cars and I got a call that [director] John Crowley wanted to get on the phone with me and we had a talk about the character and the ideas. The conversation ended with me saying I’d love to play a part and he said “Come on and do it.”

Was there anyone in your life who helped contribute to this role?
Yes – I’m Russian but my cousins are both half-Italians and they are very loud guys. So I thought of Tony as colorful because my uncle was very colorful. They were electricians and Tony is a plumber. A lot of boisterous family dinners but I was the boy causing a lot of trouble [laughs].

Do you see him as a tough guy trying to clean up for this girl?
No, he’s not a tough guy. Back in those days, if you were a tough guy, you were a tough guy especially in that community. I don’t think there’s anything about him that’s a tough guy.

He wears his heart on his sleeve. Are you like that in your courting or are you a bit more reserved?
I can be Tony-esque. I think I like that about him. I’m zero to a hundred in almost every facet of my life. He really is like that – he sees her and he’s in.

Can you tell us about working with Saoirse?
We started in rehearsal. She knew where I was coming from with The Place Beyond the Pines and I knew where she was coming from. I think we knew we were both good actors and we were going to challenge each other. There was a lot of trust and I was also really nervous, as Tony would be, about working with her because she is a brilliant actress. I was thinking about this a lot, that it was about admiration and Tony is that like. If there’s one thing you really like about a person, you can create the rest in your head. I did a film called Four where I was lovers with Wendell Pierce and I had to figure that out [laughs].

Do you know guys like Tony?
My uncles are like that – blue-collared guys with a lot of life. I really respect people who are just getting by with their 9 to 5s. My family has artists but they are all working artists. They are not movie stars. They don’t get paid. I really respect that blue-collared ideology where they’re just trying to make a living.

In your research what differences did you find between men of 1952 and contemporary men?
The biggest thing, which was kind of sad, is that they were neighborhood guys. It meant something to them. It isn’t in this day and age, where everything is moving quickly. It was a lot more based on the family. I actually have that – a strong family. But it was definitely much more based on real solid family life.

How would you characterize your collaboration with John Crowley and can you talk a bit about his directing style?
It was a much newer style for me. Him coming from the theater and being so text based and I was coming from Pines where we would improvise. What I really liked about working with John is that the focus was on the language. He taught me a lot about creating moments within the text. It became this thing where I would come to him with ideas and I would be this excited student, like I want to impress him basically.

What do your parents do? How did you get into acting?
They are teachers. I mentioned something about doing a play to this kid on the baseball team. He told the teacher I wanted to do the play [laughs]. I did actually thank him. I hadn’t seen him in years so I texted him and said, “By the way, I’m still acting.”

What was the play and what was it about that experience that pushed you forward?
It was actually a musical, The Threepenny Opera. I played Mr. Peachum. So I started out doing bad boys. I think the first time I really let loose I experienced a freedom that I didn’t really experience before. I was kind of a shy kid actually. Then what happened was I said to my dad that I wanted to quit playing baseball and wanted to act. He immediately signed me up to get DVDs in the mail and every weekend we’d get Mean StreetsFive Easy Pieces and On The Waterfront. He just gave me an education. There’s something in the craft of it that really excited me. When I was 18, I had the opportunity to stay in New York and work. But I left and went to Philadelphia for two years and trained in college and then I dropped out to train in New York again. I always wanted to have an understanding of it.

What’s next for you?
I’m doing this film called War Machine right now. I’ve got a couple of movies coming out and I’m reading scripts.

Is there anything you’re not being offered now that you’d like to do?
I do. I want to do a rom-com. For me, where I come from, it would be such a stretch. I want to do a comedy and at some point I’d want to do an action film.

Thank you for the chat!
Thank you!

~Marriska Fernandes

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Comments & Discussion

  1. Ron D • December 30, 2015 @ 10:41 AM

    Just saw Brooklyn. Emory Cohen was very good. Enjoyed his performance.

  2. Marion Guild • January 25, 2016 @ 3:45 PM

    I saw Brooklyn at the movies with my Son & Daughter-in-law, we all really loved the story, very real.
    Even my Son,now has a major crush on Saorise, while my daughter-in-law & I thought that Emory was very tender, smoldering,so soft spoken. when he told Saorise’s
    character, that he loved her, it gave us “goose bumps”
    we can’t wait to see him in more romantic roles.

  3. Elizabeth Young • February 21, 2016 @ 3:08 PM

    Loved the movie Brooklyn. Emery Cohen and Rowan were terrific and thank God for the director who gave us character development and totally believable actors!!
    Camera work was exceptional. We got to savor the expressions on actors’ faces and roam along with the scenery.

  4. ray • March 17, 2016 @ 9:38 AM

    I thought Emery bears a strong resemblance to a young Andrew Mccarthy in this movie. He had all the mannerisms of Andrew and I can only imagine he must have been an admirer of his style of acting growing up.

  5. Leah • March 19, 2016 @ 6:37 PM

    This guy is going places ! The sky is the limit
    Emory! Can’t wait to watch your career unfold.

  6. kim • March 29, 2016 @ 6:31 AM

    This is one of my favorite movies of all time. The acting is phenominal. Can’t wait to see where he goes in the future. I hope he works with saoirse again….they have great chemistry.

  7. Jan • April 2, 2016 @ 10:59 PM

    Loved everything about Brooklyn, especially the outstanding cast. Emory Cohen has so much appeal—I really see him being the next big romantic leading man.

  8. Madeline • May 6, 2016 @ 4:27 AM

    Emory Cohen warmed the cockles of my heart in this role. You might think it strange, but he reminded me of a young, sweet Marlon Brando. He seems to have some of the facial expressions and mannerisms of Brando, but without the toughness and cockiness. Since my highschool years were during the 1950s, I can relate to what he had to say about how the guys were very strong neighborhood guys back then. They had a strong sense of where they came from and a love for their friends and family that made them grounded. Emory conveyed some of that lovable feeling in an understated way. Yes, watch him closely, and you will find bits of Brando who was a very exciting actor in the 1950s to put it mildly. Emory said that On the Waterfront starring Brando was one of the films
    he studied with his father. Perhaps this is the film where Emory picked up those mannerisms I recognized immediately. Good luck to him in his career!

  9. Dianet • August 15, 2016 @ 5:07 PM

    Omgosh Madeline. I completely agree with you about Emory resembling a very young Marlon Brando from his sweetness to his mannerisms and facial expressions. He will go far. Just look how great Marlon’s career went.

  10. Liz • August 22, 2016 @ 9:47 PM

    I thought Emory did an excellent job as Tony. He reminded me of a young Robert Redford. He shows great sensitivity and perception beyond his years. It will be a treat to follow his career as it emerges.

  11. Consuelo Bjorklund-mcneal • August 25, 2016 @ 10:16 AM

    The movie transported me completely. I have viewed it numerous times. I love Emory Cohen and everything he created for Tony.I look forward to seeing more of his films.Wonderful feeling to just look at him. Great face too.

  12. Lauretta Bradberry • August 29, 2016 @ 12:03 PM

    I started watching the movie because of Saorise. I kept watching the movie because of Emory and Saorise. It is such a beautiful, gentle love story. I try to watch it every time it is on. I am going to start watching for Emory in movies now.

  13. Pauline • September 1, 2016 @ 3:09 AM

    I absolutely love this film I’ve seen it three times already. The part Emory plays is so sweet and romantic, the whole story line is fab. I can’t wait to see his next film, he’ll go far without a doubt. Cute too!

  14. Janet • September 2, 2016 @ 12:31 PM

    I loved this movie both actress and actor were great in the part the played’emory was so passionate I hope he has a great career and would love to see home again in similar movies I am just a romantic at heart.

  15. Sadie • October 24, 2016 @ 10:22 PM

    I agree Emory remind me of Marlon Brando. Brooklyn is one of my favorite movies.

  16. Julie • September 2, 2018 @ 5:58 PM

    Cohen’s looks remind me of a young Marlon Brando in this film, but Tony’s character is more vulnerable and childlike than any role I’ve seen Brando in. That’s a good thing! He’s making his own style!

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