In his career so far, Cooper Friedman has appeared in accalaimed television shows including Shameless, Colony and Girl Meets World. More recently, the 12-year-old star has a major role in Niels Mueller’s new film Small Town Wisconsin, as “Tyler”.
Read on for Cooper’ Friedman’s Exclusive Interview with Courageous Nerd where he chats about the movie, how his acting career got started and what advice he would offer during the ongoing pandemic.
Welcome, and thank you for taking the time to do this.
Cooper Friedman (CF): Thank you so much, too. I’m going to have a lot of fun.
How have you been finding the last few months, living in the pandemic?
CF: It’s definitely been a lot harder, during quarantine. I haven’t been able to do much acting, see friends or go out to eat dinner. I’ve been at home for eight months now. Kind of stinks, but we’ve all got to stay at home until this pandemic is over.
Going back to the beginning of your career, how did you start out in acting?
CF: I kind of got grandfathered in. He got into acting by a manager, who is actually my uncle’s friend’s mom. He saw how my brother was energetic and he would talk a lot. [My brother] got into acting and then when I was born, I got into acting. When my sister was born, she got into acting. It’s kind of like a family thing.
You play ‘Tyler’ in Small Town Wisconsin. How would you describe this new film and your character, for anyone who is unfamiliar?
CF: It takes place in Wisconsin and it’s a drama. It shows the relationship between my Dad and me. How my Dad, Wayne (David Sullivan), he has alcohol addiction, divorced, can’t do anything right, always not on time. He does stupid stuff a lot and is very alcoholic.
It shows the relationship between him and myself, his son, Tyler. It shows his life is kind of hard and isn’t always that great all the time, there can be some sucky things in life. How a relationship between a father and son is, how he cares for me. It’s hard for him to show it sometimes. Sometimes, he’s very mean to other people. It shows how he’s trying to live a better life, with me and how he wants to always have fun.
In your opinion, how similar/different are you compared to Tyler?
CF: I would say I’m pretty different. Since it takes place in small-town Wisconsin, very suburban, Tyler doesn’t know anything else except where he lives. When he goes to Milwaukee, he’s completely shocked and is very, very confused on what these tall buildings are or going to see a huge lake that looks like an ocean.
It’s very different than who I am because I live near Los Angeles. Everything is acting, I have a phone and computer, play games. Completely different than Tyler, who likes to run around, go on a bike, play basketball. I’m pretty different than who he is.
David Sullivan plays Wayne, your onscreen father in the film. Do any moments or memories of your time working with David stand out in your mind?
CF: The whole cast, it was like a family working. We actually went to a couple Escape Rooms with David, his son and Bill Heck as well. Did a lot of stuff together – had dinner, went to pubs there. We did pretty much everything in Wisconsin and that was my first time being in Wisconsin, my whole family came.
It was just like a fun, little family trip that involved me doing Small Town Wisconsin and hanging out with so many cool people.
The film deals with heavy themes such as alcoholism and mental health. As you are only 12 years of age, were you able to read the whole script or just your part?
CF: I definitely didn’t understand at the time, this was like three years ago. Most of the stuff, I was a little confused about divorce or having custody of someone. That was a little confusing to me. It didn’t really take a toll on me until I first watched it, a year ago.
Filming it, I was younger back then and didn’t really know as much stuff as I know now. I was really just taking it as a fun little trip, more getting on a cool movie together with friends. It was really cool. When I first got to see it all filmed and edited together, showing the story of Wayne and Tyler, it really got to me because now I understand a lot more. I understand how life… can really change who you are. Kind of depressing to watch.
Niels Mueller – who is from Wisconsin – directed the film. In terms of his directing style, what did you most enjoy about your experience with him?
CF: He’s just an amazing director, he definitely felt like a father to me. I definitely think I felt like a son to him. It was just an amazing job to work on and Niels definitely made the whole experience worthwhile. He taught me so much about how to act in the mood. Most of the time, since I was and still am an energetic kid, I would make jokes in-between the heavy scenes.
He taught me not to do that so the characters and actors can get into the mood of crying, getting upset or doing something mean, because some of the scenes were like that. He definitely taught me to take your surroundings and put it into your acting. That’s really what helped because filming in a suburban area where there’s grass, broken up houses.
Most of the time, we didn’t even film in Milwaukee, we filmed pretty far. Train tracks, next to a creek. We would film near so many authentic and real places that it made me and the actors around me so much better.
You’ve had long guest arcs on shows including Colony, Shameless and Girl Meets World. Do you prefer acting in comedies or dramas?
CF: It’s just a lot of fun business. It’s cool to work on so many dramas and comedies, Disney shows as well. I guess you could say it’s really fun to work on such a wide spectrum, from doing drama like Shameless or Colony where it’s scary maybe, sad or it’s hard to watch. Then working on Girl Meets World where everything’s just laughing, fun and funny, very comedic acting.
It’s cool to work on a spectrum where you could play a character who’s shy or alone sometimes to maybe a kid who has all these friends, goes to school, and does regular kid stuff. It’s really cool to play a character or a person that is not you, to pretend to be other people, I guess you could say.
Looking back on what you’ve worked on so far, do you have a favourite project?
CF: Favourite project was probably… aTypical Wednesday, that’s a movie I did two years ago, it actually came out a few months ago. It’s a movie about me and this man, how we become friends through these challenges and hardships, meet through therapy. He has to try to find a way to bring me back home. It’s the story of me and Gabe (J Lee).
It’s really cool and shows how life is a little cruel. It’s definitely very fun and very, very fun to watch.
When you start playing a new character, what kind of aspects do you think about first – their personality, backstory?
CF: I definitely have to read the script and learn those characters. I first look at how they respond to other people. That’s the biggest part of it because you don’t know if you’ve got to read the script for it. You’ve got to look and see if someone’s going to give a challenging question, if he’s going to yell at you or he’s going to cry in front of you.
You’ve got to really see how the character or the role is going to act. He’s going to maybe console them, make them harder or more tough. Just to see how the scenes and story progress, definitely changes the character inside and maybe could change you. I definitely have to look at their personality and how they respond to questions.
Aside from Small Town Wisconsin, are there any other upcoming projects you’d like to mention?
CF: I’ve got an upcoming movie called Secret Agent Dingledorf, it’s probably going to be coming out next year. It’s about a group of kids who become superheroes in their eyes and how they have to save the world from clowns. It’s a very cutesy, heroic movie. The people I worked with, the kids, Zack Arthur and Shiloh Nelson, they’re my really close friends. It was really fun to work with my best friends. It’s really fun, it’s really cool. A great, great family movie.
What advice would you give to other kids living through the pandemic right now?
CF: Advice – maybe to stay at home. Always be who you are, always be having fun, keep a smile on your face and to not think about it to much. If you are trying to get into acting, you’re going to get a lot of rejection – a lot of No’s. I just want you guys to know that you don’t have to take it as hard.
Maybe you’re not going to get this role that you got rejected on, but maybe you’ll get the next one. Or the next one after that. That’s one of the greatest things about acting. You could be whoever you want to be. Maybe you don’t want this role where you’re being mean, you can be the next role where you’re a fun superhero kid.
Or, you could be a bully maybe, if you want that. Don’t take the rejections too hard because even though it’s very fun to act and work, keep a smile on your face and be happy inside. You only have one life and that’s what I’m going to say.
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