Olivia Cooke (born 27 December 1993) is an English actress. She currently co-stars as Emma Decody in the American television series Bates Motel, airing on A&E. Prior to this, she appeared in the British miniseries Blackout and The Secret of Crickley Hall. In 2014, Cooke starred in three supernatural thriller films: The Quiet Ones, The Signal, andOuija. Her next role is in the upcoming comedy, Me & Earl & the Dying Girl, where she will play the titular female lead.
Olivia Cooke was born and raised in Oldham, a former textile manufacturing town in Greater Manchester, North West England. She comes from a family of non-actors; her father, John, is a retired police officer, and her mother is a sales representative. Cooke attended Royton and Crompton Secondary School and studied drama atOldham Sixth Form College, leaving before the end of her A-levels to star in Blackout.
At a young age, Cooke practised ballet and gymnastics. She started acting when she was 8 years old at an after-school drama programme in her hometown, called theOldham Theatre Workshop. For years, Cooke performed only as part of the ensemble, until she was 17, when she starred as Maria in Oldham Sixth Form College's production of West Side Story. Soon after, Cooke landed her first and last leading role for the Oldham Theatre, in Prom: The Musical, a remake of Cinderella. When she was 14, Cooke secured her first local talent agent in Manchester, who placed her in a number of commercials. In 2012, she appeared in One Direction's Autumn Term Tour video, as a student getting a piggyback ride from Harry Styles. During her audition for this bit part, Cooke entertained the producers by performing a split.
2012 debut: BBC and The Quiet Ones
After Cooke performed at the Oldham Theatre, Beverley Keogh, a casting director next door to her agency, fought to get her roles in television. Cooke then starred in two BBC miniseries productions in 2012: Blackout (formerly The Fuse), as the daughter of Christopher Eccleston's character, and The Secret of Crickley Hall, as a young teacher at a tyrannical orphanage in the 1940s. Cooke stated that she felt better suited for television than theatre, as she was embarrassed by the exaggerated gestures sometimes required for stage acting.
Although Cooke's agent discouraged her from enrolling in drama school because she was already getting acting work, Cooke was keen on applying to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). She made it to the final round of auditions, but was not accepted. On the day she received her rejection letter, though, Cooke won the lead in her cinematic debut, Hammer Film Productions' The Quiet Ones, at the age of 18. She came to regard the challenging role of Jane Harper, a mentally-disturbed possessed girl, as an alternative to formal acting training, stating: "The character is a feast for an actress to have. She's a billion characters in one... It was the best drama school to push that learning curve that I could've ever had. And I was being paid for it."
Despite being a novice, Cooke distinguished herself among all the European actresses in the grueling casting process for The Quiet Ones. Director and co-writer John Pogue called her "a force of nature", who "legitimately scared" co-star Sam Claflin. Claflin affirmed Cooke's aptitude by admiring how she "wasn't afraid of playing ugly", and describing her performance as "absolutely perfect" and "dangerously beautiful", with an "unpredictability and vulnerable nature". Co-star Jared Harris also praised her by saying: "There was something very special about what she was doing." The Quiet Ones would later open in April 2014, two years after filming.
2013–present: Bates Motel
In 2012, following The Quiet Ones, Cooke acquired an agent in Los Angeles. After reading the character descriptions for A&E's contemporary Psycho prequel, Bates Motel, she sent an audition tape for Norman Bates' friend (Emma Decody) rather than his love interest because she didn't feel "sexy" enough. Three weeks later, in spite of her doubts about being cast, Cooke earned the part of Emma, her first American role. She was originally disappointed when the producers made Emma Mancunian, believing it was a fail-safe measure regarding her accent. However, aided by fellow English actor Freddie Highmore, who has previous experience with an American accent, Cooke has since been mistaken to be American. As further inspiration for her acting, Cooke has also credited her Bates Motel co-star Vera Farmiga as a "role model".
Before playing Emma, who wheels around an oxygen tank due to cystic fibrosis, Cooke had to research the illness, which she calls "the disease of the beautiful people", since outwardly, symptoms might not be so readily apparent. Bates Motel first aired in March 2013, before the October 2013 Los Angeles premiere of the short film Ruby's Skin, in which Cooke also starred, as the titular character. Bates Motel is currently filming its third season, which will air in March 2015. According to executive producer Kerry Ehrin, Cooke will have more screen time in season 3, and Emma will be "more of an intimate player with the [Bates] family." As a complement to the show, Cooke has additionally contributed short videos for Emma's fictitious blog.
2014–present: Films and future projects
On 1 April 2014, Cooke's first feature-length film, Lionsgate and Hammer Film Productions' The Quiet Ones, premiered worldwide at the Odeon West End in London. Following its North American release on 25 April 2014, The Quiet Ones ranked #8 at the box office its initial two weeks.
Cooke's second feature film, The Signal, with Brenton Thwaites and Laurence Fishburne, opened at the Sundance Festival in January 2014, seven months after shooting on location in the American Southwestern desert of New Mexico. The Signal hit US theaters on 13 June 2014, with Focus Features expanding the release on 20 June and again on 27 June 2014. Cooke starred as Haley Peterson, an American MIT student transferring to Caltech, who encounters strange occurrences as she, her boyfriend, and her best friend are lured into the desert by a hacker.
On 24 October 2014, Cooke led the cast of Universal's Ouija, a horror-action film based on Hasbro's board game. The role of the protagonist, Laine Morris, was a major undertaking for Cooke, who appeared in almost every scene. Originally a special-effects-laden family adventure, Ouija was retooled as a high-concept, lower-budget horror film, with the addition of producer Jason Blum, who produced Paranormal Activity. The story centred around a group of friends who use the Ouija board to contact a deceased friend, but end up awakening a dark presence.
Though Cooke's breakthrough came in the horror genre, and Hammer CEO Simon Oakes had affectionately called her "our new Hammer heroine", Cooke does not want to be labeled a "scream queen" for the rest of her career. On 16 June 2014, she started shooting the Indian Paintbrush comedy film Me & Earl & the Dying Girl, primarily in the East End neighbourhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. For this coming-of-age tale by Jesse Andrews, who adapted the original novel for the film, Cooke shaved off her hair to play the female lead who battles leukemia.
Cooke is overwhelmed by her success in Hollywood: "I never thought this would ever happen. People always said to have a plan B, but acting is what I'm good at." She also finds it strange when former schoolmates have become awkward around her and calls it "ridiculous" when she sees herself on a billboard. While doing a photo shoot for Elle magazine, Cooke was starstruck upon meeting Jessica Chastain. When asked if she was similarly starstruck with Laurence Fishburne, she replied that she had kept it professional while working and was only in awe afterwards.
Cooke is good friends with Nicola Peltz and Freddie Highmore and considers the Bates Motel cast and crew a family away from home. However, she is not considering permanent residence in America: "It's nice to work there, but I don't want the novelty to wear off." When not living in a Los Angeles hotel, she sometimes stays with her mother in Manchester, but intends to move into a London flat. Cooke explained that she does not have a Twitter account: "I think it's best for me not to have it because my first thought is never my best; my first reaction is never my best reaction."
Cooke works out by inline skating, a hobby she took up when she was four or five. She enjoys music by Gabrielle Aplin, Enya, and the Arctic Monkeys. Titanic is among her favorite films. Cooke supported the Save The Children campaign by appearing in Bulgari advertisements in 2014.