Story by Andy Lyons, Editor-in-Chief
Warrensburg fans of the popular “Orange is the New Black” will see a familiar face when the upcoming season of the Netflix original series premieres next week.
Warrensburg native and recording artist Steven Cooper added “actor” to his list of jobs in the entertainment industry after he was accepted for a role in the hit series “Orange is the New Black” last fall. Cooper said he’s looking for more consistent work as an actor despite turning down a role in an independent film last summer.
“I feel like people only really know one side of me right now,” he said. “I have many other talents that I haven’t been public with. The entertainment industry as a whole is what I’m passionate about and I plan on diving into multiple facets.”
Cooper said his role will be as a police officer in one episode, but he sees appearing in the popular series as an opportunity and resume-builder for future roles. He did mention that he does “have some great lines in it though.”
“Just being associated with this show can open so many doors that I haven’t been allowed into yet,” Cooper said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what comes from it and how I can stretch myself further.”
Cooper said he auditioned for “Orange is the New Black” and CBS drama series “Blue Bloods” after the roles were sent to him from his agents. He didn’t hold back when the opportunity to act came his way.
“I’m the type who’s always willing to dive in and give something a shot so I figured why not,” Cooper said. “We auditioned without any expectations and ended up landing it. Sometimes you just have to take risks and see what fits.”
He said his audition was self-taped because of his schedule. Once it was sent to producers, his role was confirmed within a week. Cooper said those were just normal days for him.
“I don’t think we had specific expectations,” he said. “We were just having fun auditioning for roles and trying something new. It’s such an honor that we’ve landed this and that they’re giving me a shot.”
Cooper said he was shopping when he got confirmation for the role.
“It was surreal,” he said. “I was in Target at the checkout line. People started giving me high-fives and taking pictures as soon as the word started spreading. It’s funny how that happens.”
Filming took place last fall, and Cooper gave CMN a detailed account of his time on set.
“I had to be up at 3 a.m. and drive to Yonkers, New York, from Jersey, which is where the staging area is, with makeup and hair and actor trailers,” Cooper said. “Walking into that I thought it was an incredible thing already. I had my own trailer and everything. So, I got to Yonkers around 4 a.m. and went straight to wardrobe. Then to makeup, each section was new (crew) people and seeing the actors and actresses.
“That day they shot at three locations and we got on a bus headed to New York City; we shut down a city block in northern Manhattan for our scene. There was like 300 people gathered everywhere just watching us shoot the scene. It was my first gig and going in with that level of production with a real city block shut down, it was really awesome.”
Cooper’s role is a police officer who is arresting Lori Petty’s character, Lolly Whitehill, in a flashback sequence. Cooper went on to describe working with the actress, who he knew and admired from the 1992 film about women’s baseball, “A League of Their Own.”
“I didn’t know I was shooting with (Petty) until we got to the makeup trailer,” Cooper said. “We were sitting next to each other in makeup and they kind of dropped the bomb on us in there that we were shooting together. We did two run-throughs of the script and then started filming for eight hours. She was in character from the get-go and I was just kind of star-struck. I just kind of locked eyes with her and I think she noticed I was so star-struck so she gave me a look that kind of said ‘you better get it together.’”
Cooper went on to mention how fast-paced and impersonal the shoot was.
“Our introduction was a quick kind of a ‘hey I’m Lori,’ ‘I’m Steven’ kind of thing and then we had to do a scene where we’re yelling at each other and I had to tackle her without really even knowing her,” Cooper said. “They just expect you to know your job, know what you’re doing and go. There’s no time to get a pat on the back.
“It being my first time, I was hoping for some feedback but they don’t give that to you. It’s just the nature of the business I think, it’s so fast-paced. When you calm down you notice no one is getting a pat on the back but no one is telling you you’re doing bad either, so you take it as a good thing you’re not messing it up.”
Acting is a big shift for Cooper, who’s known in the Kansas City area for his music. Although he wants to pursue more opportunities as an actor, he is maintaining his role at his record label, Unlabeled. He plans to maintain both jobs by working with a team, noting that “delegation is key.”
Between running his label, working on acting, and maintaining his career as a recording artist, Cooper said his motivation comes in the form of a cliché piece of advice – “Just keep working for your dreams.” He held to that stance when offering advice to anyone trying to make a name for themselves.
“There isn’t a trick to it,” he said.” You just do it. You dive into your passion and work hard. Eventually you build relationships with people who connect you to real opportunities. If you wait for it, it will never happen.”
Cooper’s advice was echoed in a chance meeting with another Kansas City celebrity, Paul Rudd. Cooper attended the 2015 Big Slick Charity Event hosted by Rudd, Robb Riggle and Jason Sudeikis and had the opportunity to ask Rudd for some advice about his first role.
“His advice was that this whole industry is super, super serious,” Cooper said. “And that the ones who do the best job are the ones who relax, let go of it and just do it and have fun with it.”
Cooper is working on a new album that includes members of his label. He described the new album as a bit of a throwback.
“The new album kind of resembles late-90s, early 2000s hip-hop,” he said. “The Eminem, Nate Dogg era of rap music from when Nelly was coming out and Eminem was getting big. I’m trying to go back to that type of hip-hop. It’s definitely a hip-hop record but it’s kind of pop-y too. I’m also working with new producers, two guys from the Netherlands, who are producing the entire record.”
In the meantime, Cooper has still been working on acting, traveling to New York City once a month to audition and meet with industry professionals, including potential new agents.
“Now that ‘Orange is the New Black’ is coming out it will really help,” he said. “There’s been a couple of opportunities I’ve turned down because I’m focusing on taking roles that are more in my comfort zone. I don’t want to just do anything that comes across my desk. I want it to be a character I feel like I can be comfortable with and not have to force. I want to do it and I want to do it right from the beginning. I want to do roles that stretch me but not too thin. The main thing right now is pitching for new representation. A (second) agent could bring bigger opportunities.”
Cooper’s new album is due out later this year. Season four of “Orange is the New Black” premieres June 17 on Netflix, Cooper’s acting debut will occur in the seventh episode.