With 'Copper,' BBC America lands Stateside
Posted August 15, 2012
BBC America's first original scripted series tackles a decidedly un-British subject: Civil War-era Manhattan.
Copper, from producers Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson (Homicide: Life on the Streets), is due Aug. 19 (10 ET/PT). The 10-episode first season, set in 1864, stars Tom Weston-Jones as Kevin Corcoran, an Irish immigrant detective (and war veteran) in New York's sketchy Five Points neighborhood, whose daughter has been killed and wife has gone missing.
As he battles crime and solves the mystery of what became of his family, he relies on connections to two fellow veterans from the Union Army: Matthew Freeman (Ato Essandoh), an African-American doctor in an emerging northern Manhattan, and Robert Morehouse (Kyle Schmid), the son of a wealthy industrialist on the already fashionable East side. All share a secret from their war days.
Also anchoring early episodes are Eva Heissen (Franka Potente), the madam of a bordello, and Annie Reilly (Kiara Glasco), a young girl forced into prostitution.
"The scale of it is what kind of daunted me at first," says Weston-Jones, a Welsh-British actor raised in Dubai and playing an Irish immigrant in 19th-century America. "It can be a little bit scary to go into something when you're a little bit of an outsider. I found it nothing but a challenge, but I like challenges."
The subject appealed to Fontana, a longtime New Yorker, because of its "parallels to where we are now: racism, the whole question of immigration — in this case it's the Irish and Germans instead of Latinos and Asians — the poverty, the misuse of children, when you look at what happened at Penn State."
The season ends with President Lincoln's re-election, but in the last stretch of the war, "you get a sense of how the city was struggling after the draft riots to re-emerge," he says. "And I think we went through that after September 11."
But if there are parallels to modern-day themes, the police work harkens instead to lawless Westerns. "It is the anti-CSI in the sense of there is no DNA, there's no machines," Fontana says. "It's all about the detectives having to use their minds and really assess the situation. There wasn't even a morgue in Manhattan at that point."
The doctor's untested methods seemed, to the cops, "scientific nonsense. So it's fun to have to be able to do the detective stuff without relying on any of the current information we have."
Corcoran, a prototypical John Wayne, isn't averse to shooting suspects point-blank, striking a familiar theme for producers of such material as Oz and Homicide. "With my shows, it's always about that moral conflict and that moral confusion," Fontana says.
Copper was first developed at AMC several years ago, but "a show that's about the quintessential immigrant experience of the melting pot of New York … felt like such appropriate material" for BBC America's first original drama, says general manager Perry Simon. "It still embodies everything BBC stands for but still has an American voice."
Even if it's filmed in Toronto.
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