Jack Cutmore-Scott and his Guide to Surviving Life
Jack Cutmore-Scott is a British boy done good.
Winning a place at one of America’s top universities, turning his hand to acting in his spare time and now making his mark in the notoriously tough US entertainment industry. Even the Beatles had to work double time to crack that. One director even described him as the ‘next Matt Damon’, praise indeed for a young English actor searching for success in the land of opportunity.
As Jack takes on the lead role in brand new Fox comedy, ’Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life’ – part college gross-out part Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – I was keen to find out the secret of his success.
Jack – what are you doing so right over there in the US?
I went over for uni and stuck around. I’m going to keep going until someone tells me to go home – and they haven’t yet!
What drew you to America?
I just wasn’t sure what I wanted to read at university or do with the rest of my life in general. The upside of studying in the States is that you don’t have to declare it ahead of time, you can figure it out during the course. I ended up doing English Literature and some languages, plus lots of theatre in my spare time. And somehow that turned into this.
How did your Britishness go down over there? Was it a help or a hindrance?
I took the good from it – it certainly didn’t hurt getting started. The first two shows I did in Boston were English roles in English plays and there are only so many Brits in their early 20s bouncing around in Boston.
But you can obviously pull off a convincing American accent too – hence taking the lead in Fox’s new show Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life.
Yeah, over the last few years I found myself having to get it nailed down. The job opportunities are pretty limited if you can’t do an American accent.
That must have been tough though, winning the lead role when you are up against born and bred Americans?
Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, and the accent is just one tiny part of the jigsaw puzzle. But I’m sure that a big part of the luck I’ve had, has been due to my upbringing and British sensibility. British TV and film are in vogue in the States right now, with lots of English TV shows being made into American versions. British accent aside, I’m sure that played a part in it.
There was a time where if you thought of an English actor in an American film they were always a baddie!
Yes! English characters were clever but evil!
So tell me about your new show – is it really a guide to life?
Yes. Well, no! It’s more accurate to say it’s a guide of what not to do, rather than what to do. Cooper and his mates are mid-twenties, a few years out of uni and trying to figure out their lives. They get into all kind of scrapes and shenanigans which all stem from a root cause we can all sympathise with. Things like ‘How to Survive Insufficient Funds’ or ‘How to Survive Losing Your Phone’. We just take them a little further than most people would experience in their lives.
Did you have lots of your own mistakes from being a student to draw on to enhance your performance?
No, I was impeccably behaved at all times! The grain of truth in acting means everything has to draw on something from personal experience. So yes, I definitely had those nights at uni (and since!) where you wake up and think how the hell did I get there / say that / do those things?!? But nothing quite like Cooper Barrett. It really is an action TV show – we get into places that I have not been and that most people won’t either. The pilot episode starts with me tied to a chair and having buckets of water thrown in my face.
Like an initiation ceremony?
No, I’m being held hostage and getting slapped around! That’s definitely never happened to me. But the things that start off the story lead to earlier points that I can relate too.
Well that sounds like an attention grabbing start!
It’s a similar structure to The Hangover movies, you start in this place and think, ‘How the hell did they end up there!!’ and then you go back and work your way up to that point.
It’s reminding me of the classic film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Yes, that’s exactly how I’ve been describing it to people. I watched Ferris the night before I auditioned for Cooper because it has the element of direct address to the camera, and that youthful approach of not having everything figured out, but taking you along for the ride all the same. That was definitely the energy I was going for with Cooper.
With that sense of innocence that somehow causes all the problems in the first place.
He definitely causes all of his own problems!
So has being in the show helped you figure out how to survive life for real?
It was an experience unlike any other. The hours were definitely longer than I was expecting – a standard day was 14 hours, Monday to Friday. Normally the earlier days of the week would start earlier in the morning because there has to be a turn-around time. Later in the week we tend to work later into the night. The second to last episode we filmed was shot 4pm to 6am and we had to stop eventually because the sun was coming up.
I bet you were relieved to see the light and go to bed! Did you have your own trailer with your name on the door?
Yes. Well it had Cooper’s name on the door, but that counts.
Now I’m a massive fan of self-improvement – I love reading anything to do with increasing happiness, getting fit and winning friends and influencing people. Did you delve into any self-help books in preparation for the role?
No I didn’t. That probably would have been a good idea. Part of the fun thing about Cooper is that he really doesn’t know what he’s doing and he doesn’t have a plan. Each episode was a lesson in itself in how to deal with the consequences of really not knowing what you’re doing with your life or doing in general. A self-help book might have helped.
It might have made you too well informed!
The cast is pretty much made up of young hot actors – it must have been an incredibly fun shoot.
Yes – I’m best friends with all of them now. We hang out far too much. I just feel incredibly lucky, because there are certain things, in my limited experience, which are very hard to control, and one of those is chemistry. If it’s there it’s there, and if it’s not it’s not. The biggest selling point of this show is the chemistry between the cast because most of what you see is real – our real-life relationships are not that far removed from the characters we play, and I think that really comes across.
And in the show, your neighbour and love interest Kelly is played by Meaghan Rath. You must pinch yourself that you’re actually getting paid to do this?
I know – and she’s an old hand at this – she knows just what she’s doing. I’m just kind of guessing. It fits our characters quite well actually.
You were in the film Kingsman: The Secret Service – that had a pretty strong cast too – what was it like to work on?
I got to work with Mark Strong a lot as his role was the instructor of new recruits – he’s just one of the nicest guys. I met Colin Firth and Sir Michael Caine, but didn’t get to work too closely with them on the film sadly. For a first ‘on camera’ experience, the whole thing was pretty incredible. There was a lot of physical action and stunts, so it was perfect training for Cooper.
And how did you get on with your canine co-star in the film?
Anastasia my puppy – she was wonderful! There was one scene which didn’t make it into the film, where we’re all standing in a line to do an obstacle course with our dog. So Taron [Egerton] runs through with his little pug in his jacket and wins. Shooting that day was absolute chaos, we had a dozen puppies which you can’t train because they’re just a few weeks old, and they were shooting from behind us with all the puppies lined up. Someone yelled ‘Action!’ and the idea was that the puppies would just scatter and we’d just chase off after them. That was Anastasia’s first day on set – she’d been great all morning, I felt like we were bonding – but the second she heard the word ‘Action’ she put her tail down, ran through my legs, right past the camera straight to her owner. I just thought, oh well, that’s me out of this scene now…
I bet your Agent was on the phone shouting at someone!
Yeah, it’s very nerve-wracking for everyone the first day of shooting, puppies too. By the end we had bonded. I wanted to take her home.
Did you want to be a spy as a kid?
Definitely, that was one of the most fun parts of the shoot, we got to do sky-diving and all the stuff in the dorm-room with it filling with water.
Like being a Blue Peter presenter times 100! I’m very jealous. Plus great training for when the James Bond role is next up for grabs.
Yes, I’d be up for that! Being a suave and sophisticated spy would be great.
Am I right in thinking both of your parents are accountants? Where did you get the acting bug?
Yes, they both trained as accountants as did my brother and my younger sister – so I’m the black sheep in that respect.
How did they react when you said you were off to America to study English Literature and acting?
Well, it was all my mum’s fault that I went to Harvard in the first place. I did the normal UCAS forms, and she suggested trying Harvard out because I’d have more time to figure out what I wanted to do. So I had interviews over here with alumni who have coffee with you and talk about your essays and application. They were keen on the acting I wanted to do as an extra-curricular activity – that was a big plus for them. More than it would have been over here I think.
So you knew you wanted to act already?
Yes, I really enjoyed it. I started in sixth form really, and then went to LAMDA to study the basics of acting during my gap year. I loved it and knew I wanted to do it for fun, which I did until someone started paying me to do it!
And you wrote some plays at Harvard?
Yes, that was how I got into it over there really. The great thing about Harvard is that it’s all student-run so you could write something, put it up, get your mates to do it with you and stage it. People would come and see it and you could figure out what was terrible about it, fix it, and try again. It was a real learning process, plus you could take the college writing classes too. It really helped.
Are you tempted to create more of your own work in the future?
Hugely. My room-mate in LA is a writer – she wrote for Parks and Recreation, and she’s writing for Silicon Valley for HBO. She’s doing really well right now. The important thing is to keep generating content. She wrote a book on the side as well and got that published. I hope if I keep writing, eventually I’ll have the time and opportunity to get someone to read it and see if I can make something.
That sounds inspirational – like an episode of Girls where everyone is writing a book or signing with a record label. Is everyone in LA as talented, beautiful and thin as we’re led to believe?
LA’s a lot of fun. I haven’t really been there that long, but so far it’s been great because I’ve been working. I imagine LA would be a hard place to be not working, which I’m yet to discover. I think that’s when the writing will come in handy as an extra discipline. It’s incredibly business-centric in terms of the entertainment industry – really everyone and everything is connected to it in some way – if not directly then one step removed. It’s important to get out of LA now and again.
It must be super-competitive.
It is. You see all the same people at jobs, everyone in every Starbucks is writing a screen-play and every waiter is an actor. A lot of those clichés are accurate. But as with everywhere, you find your niche and your friends. I have a lot of friends from uni who have moved out there. I think it’s really important to have friends who are outside of the entertainment industry otherwise it’s very easy to lose perspective on how lucky we are to do this for a living, and that it’s a fairly silly and trivial industry. I’ve found both good and bad things about LA so far.
Do you work out hard – LA style - to keep in shape?
The working out thing is something that I’m terrified by. Last year I had an audition for a show on the CW channel – which is a channel full of beautiful people. I think it was day two of being in LA, and I walked into the waiting room for the casting, and each side was lined with chiselled, perfectly coiffed and handsome guys. It was for the lead guy in the show, but the character breakdown had said ‘not conventionally good looking… I went in and did my audition and left. The next week I got a call from my agent saying the same show wanted to see me for the role of nerdy best friend. I thought, ‘Yeah, I can see that working’. So I showed up, walked into the same waiting room with benches either side, and there were all these same buff handsome guys, just this time wearing glasses.
A nerd in LA is clearly Brad Pitt wearing specs… I guess in Hollywood the women get told to lose weight, and the guys get told to work out.
Yeah, it’s like, ‘Why haven’t you got a six pack?’ ‘Um, because I have a life!’ But yes, I walked out of that audition thinking I at least needed to work on my tan.
So, quick-fire round, what was your best Christmas present this year?
It wasn’t a big present, but I got this little glass fox from my parents. For some reason I’m really fond of it. I got a nice scarf too.
What do you miss most about London when you’re in the US?
Would your ideal holiday be sunbathing with a cocktail or skiing followed by hot chocolate?
Right now skiing because I haven’t done that in ages.
What’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever done for someone?
Flown across the country to surprise them just for the weekend.
Who’s your celebrity crush?
I think Emma Stone is awesome.
What did you dream about last night?
I had a bunch of weird dreams last night, I definitely dreamed about this photo-shoot and there was also lots of furniture planning. I’m moving when I get back to LA, so in my dream I was thinking about the sofa and how I’m going to get that out of the flat.
Have you got any tattoos?
No, but I’m not averse to them if it’s something that means enough.
Would you have to be pretty careful, being an actor and not wanting to be stereotyped?
Yeah, definitely no face tattoos!
Good call, then you would only get cast as an ex-convict or the bad brother… What’s your favourite meal?
My mum’s spaghetti bolognaise.
Last book you read?
Amy Poehler’s autobiography, Yes Please, it’s worth a read.
Last TV series boxset you binged on?
I watched the entirety of Friends earlier this year when they put them on Netflix. It took a while but it was worth it.
Last time you did something outrageous?
During the Cooper shoot I got dangled upside down off a balcony and then dropped. At the time I thought, ‘Well I can do a handstand and I know what being upside down feels like’, but it’s very different when you are strapped up in a harness and dropped around 10 feet. I came in the following morning and I had all this red stuff across my face. I showed the make-up guy and he said they were burst blood vessels. He even took a picture so he could reference it when he had to make up strangulation victims in crime shows!
What role would you like to play next?
Cooper again, hopefully for a second season.
Whose career would you like to steal?
Sir Ian McKellen – I love the idea of working solidly for the next 50 years in TV, film and theatre. He’s wonderful.
What are you off to do now?
Have lunch with a couple of friends, and then hang out with my grandma.
Jack can be seen playing the lead ’Cooper Barrett’ in ’Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life’ each Sunday 8:30/7:30c on Fox.