Emory 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 Streets, Five 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!