She made a name for herself in young-adult roles in such films as Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One. Now, Olivia Cooke, 26, has seamlessly transitioned into the next phase of her career. In the past three years she has earned rave reviews for her mischievous and unvarnished approach to period drama as Becky Sharp in Thackery’s Vanity Fair and excelled as a murderous sociopath in the indie thriller Thoroughbreds.
For her latest project, Cooke stars alongside Riz Ahmed in Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal, a poignant film that is receiving award-season noise. In it, Cooke plays Lou, Ahmed’s on-screen girlfriend and punk-metal bandmate. Cooke even wrote some of the lyrics for songs in the film and learned “how to scream!,” she tells me. But the tone of the film quickly veers off into more somber territory as Ahmed’s character realizes he’s losing his hearing. It’s a raw and unsettling drama shot entirely on film; the actors “only got two or maybe three takes each.”
Born and brought up in Manchester, England, Cooke, who now lives in London, has worked consistently since she was 18. Her work over the years has included Bates Motel, a pseudo-sequel to Psycho, and the glossy Amazon series Modern Love, also starring Anne Hathaway, Tina Fey, Andrew Scott, and Dev Patel. Seeing the pandemic flatten the film industry was jarring, she says.
Cooke is relieved to be back on set, where she is getting used to filming with a face mask on—“What’s nice is that there’s a lot more eye contact,” she says—but the challenges of the past year have given her a moment of pause. “I think back in the day there was this element of trying to get a really flashy project,” Cooke says. “I’ve done those jobs and I’ve had those experiences, and sometimes they’ve lived up to my expectations and sometimes I’ve just had a really tough time personally.”
The actress has never shied away from discussing her struggles with mental health and anxiety, or her brushes with sexism and chauvinism on male-dominated sets. Until recently, she avoided Instagram. “I’ve kind of carved a career for myself without social media, so I never felt like I really needed it.”
Perhaps Cooke’s biggest revelation is one she plans to carry forward. “What this year has taught me is that there’s no point lamenting over things that you’ve not gotten, or all the things that you want to get, because what you’ve got right now is all that really matters,” she says. “And I’m so lucky to have had the career that I’ve had.”
Sound of Metal is available to stream on Amazon Prime
Bridget Arsenault is the London Editor for AIR MAIL