Christian Cooke is surprisingly coy about the fact that he was in the running for the role of buff businessman Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey.
“I met Sam [Taylor-Johnson, director] a couple of times,” he admits after a little prodding, clearly embarrassed. “But it was never something that I really wanted to do, to be honest. It just wasn’t my cup of tea. I didn’t read the book and I haven’t seen it.”
It’s not hard to see why Cooke was considered. With his chiselled features and ice-blue eyes, he’s the heartthrob you’ve never heard of. That’s partly because he hasn’t graced British TV screens since appearing alongside Claire Foy in Channel 4’s acclaimed 2011 drama The Promise. After that, like so many, he was lured across the Atlantic, where he’s been busy in TV shows that never made it across the pond, and playing supporting roles in films including Love, Rosie and Agyness Dean’s acting debut Electricity.
Plus, having built up a lengthy CV at the tender age of 27, he can afford to be a bit choosier these days. “I did a lot of shit television in the first 10 years of my career, so in terms of films, I’ve always picked them with that in mind. Would I go and see it? Obviously, there are other decisions that come into play when you’re taking a job but first and foremost you want to make a decision based on the character.”
Stonemouth is about London art student Stewart Gilmour who returns to his home town for the funeral of his best friend, who he’s convinced was murdered. “He grows up in this small town in Aberdeenshire but he’s very ambitious and wants to see the world,” explains Cooke. “He’s able to see beyond the confines of the town he grew up in.”
“In the novel, Stewart’s very cynical and I identified with him in a lot of ways. I’m from Leeds and I moved to London when I was 18 and I’ve been in London for the best part of the last nine years. And whenever I go back to Leeds, I kind of have the same thing. I love Leeds but you go back to the place where you grew up and so much has changed. You’ve changed. The town has changed. So I identified with Stewart in that way: he feels claustrophobic there.”
He’d never read any of the late Iain Banks’ novels, but devoured Stonemouth when he won the role. Is there more pressure playing the creation of a much-loved author? “I guess there is but you can’t think of that when you go into it. You just have this tunnel vision: you read it and then you give it your best shot.”
In fact, the biggest challenge was filming in northern Aberdeenshire in November. “We spent a week filming up in MacDuff, which most Scots haven’t heard of – let alone English people. In terms of latitude it’s higher than Inverness, which most people name as the coldest place in Scotland. It’s absolutely freezing. Everybody got ill.”
And the highlight? Working alongside one of his heroes, Peter Mullan. “That was incredible. Everybody says such nice things about him that I knew he’d be the gentlemen he was.”
Cooke has come a long way since he caught the acting bug big time, aged nine, after appearing in an advert for Birds Eye burgers. Even without the blockbuster credentials of Christian Grey on his CV, I suspect he’ll go a lot further.
Stonemouth begins on Thursday 11th June at 9pm on BBC2
Val McDermid on her friend Iain Banks: “He was one of the finest novelists of his generation”
Peter Mullan on Stonemouth, running with Glasgow gangs and being a Death Eater