rules to live by

Daisy May Cooper Loves a Good Ghost Story

Photo-Illustration: The Cut; Photo: Hulu

“​​There’s nothing like writing your own material,” says Daisy May Cooper, the star and co-creator of Am I Being Unreasonable? The six-episode comedy-thriller aired in the U.K. in the fall, and she has already accepted awards from the Royal Television Society for her brazen performance as Nic, a mother who feels trapped in her marriage as she navigates through deeply repressed trauma she can’t share with anyone — that is, until a nosy new friend comes into her life (played by Selin Hizli, who also co-writes the show) and threatens to dredge up old secrets from the past.

The BAFTA-nominated series has finally made its way Stateside (now available to binge in its entirety on Hulu), and it’s a relief to know, in this age of brutal television cancellations, that the show has already been renewed for a second season. Meanwhile, on Monday nights, Cooper also stars in Cash Carraway’s quietly acclaimed dramedy Rain Dogs on HBO, making the English writer and actress well on her way to ubiquity in the United States.

Cooper’s rise began in earnest in 2017 with the eccentric This Country, a mockumentary sitcom co-created with her brother that chronicles youthful misadventures in rural England. She is now breaking through to an American audience with two new shows that highlight her ability to tap into both raucous British humor and dramatic nuance with ease, as an actress and a writer. “I know no one can tell me off if I want to improvise or I haven’t learned my lines,” she says, laughing. “The only person that can get cross is me.”

How much of yourself did you decide to insert into the character of Nic on Am I Being Unreasonable?, and how much did you decide to withhold?
Nic is based on a lot of my experience … her marriage breaking down is everything I was living at the time; it was quite easy for that to come out in my performance. It’s sort of half-and-half. Nic is possibly more narcissistic than I am … but I can be pretty narcissistic. I can be a pain in the ass. She doesn’t know who she is or how to parent, and she’s completely going through a midlife crisis and doesn’t want to be just the mom. She always thought she’d be destined for better things than that. She has poured all her attention into the wrong outlets.

You play a mother dealing with the chaos of life on both Am I Being Unreasonable? and Rain Dogs. What are the two key differences between your performance of Costello and how you portray Nic? Costello from Rain Dogs is a lot more stoic — she’s an introvert. Nic from Am I Being Unreasonable? is more attention-seeking and more of a drama queen. Nic looks outwardly for help and is extremely insecure, whereas Costello is actually a very secure, grounded person who makes bad mistakes but believes they’re the right ones at that time. Costello is less selfish than Nic is.

As the title of your Hulu series suggests, not everyone easily understands what the “rules” of life are supposed to be, so let’s get into some modern-etiquette questions. What is your No. 1 rule on set?
Always try and stay in the take — because I encourage improvisation and always say, if you can, try and stay in it and see where it goes. You’ll find that most of that stuff ends up in the edit rather than the scripted parts.

Which of the two shows has more improvisation?
Definitely Am I Being Unreasonable?

What rules do you have in your home?
Alcohol can be drunk from 11 o’clock onward … or ten o’clock onward. We’re all alcoholics. And there’s always got to be music playing in the home. I never want to be left alone with my own thoughts.

What’s your best rule for raising a child?
I think I’m trying to figure it out. To feel less guilty and set boundaries. Kids really need boundaries. But to also be completely forgiving if they do something bad and build them up when they do something good. And to not be bothered about mess — just let it go. It doesn’t bloody matter; no one has died. It’s like the three rules in the film Gremlins: “Don’t get them wet, don’t expose them to bright light, and, most importantly, don’t feed them after midnight.”

What’s your No. 1 rule for a successful dinner party?
Alcohol. But above everything, to open the conversation out and to not invite people who only want to talk to you. That’s awful. But always alcohol and music.

What’s your go-to drink?
Vodka. Or Cosmopolitans. Or vodka-and-lime-tonics.

Would you send an edible arrangement?
No, I don’t think I would. I think that can be quite stressful. But flowers can stress people out, too. If I received one, I would have full intentions of eating it, but I would just let it spoil. I always used to get hampers for Christmas, but they’d always have jars of stuff that sit in the back of the cupboard. Just give them a voucher for something. Or booze! Alcohol’s always the winner. I find receiving presents quite stressful, but I love giving presents. I just throw cash at people like, “Please love me!”

What’s your No. 1 rule for meeting other famous people?
Starting off with a compliment and then not talking about work at all. Talking about something completely different instead — finding a common interest. Usually, conversations I have with other famous people are about the paranormal. They always seem to be fascinated by it. It’s like they’ve achieved the fame, they’ve got the money, and now they want to talk to ghosts and spirits.

Have you heard any juicy ghost stories?
Loads of stories. I thought I had an out-of-body experience once, and it’s actually how I got in touch with the guy who I based Alex on, the train-door guy on Am I Being Unreasonable? — he had a near-death experience with the train. Anyway, I have a friend — I won’t say their name, but she had an out-of-body experience and woke up in her father’s bedroom. It was the most real thing she’s ever felt. Her father woke up, saw her, and then she was back in her body. Her father phoned her immediately and said he had just seen her in his bedroom. He lives all the way in Norway, and she lives in the U.K. Just extraordinary. She might’ve just been really, really drunk, though.

What’s your No. 1 fashion rule?
Black vintage T-shirts with a nice blazer. You can use that anywhere.

What’s your No. 1 rule for tipping?
Always the very maximum amount so that they don’t slag you off to the papers. But I also think I’m putting love back into the world, then. I’ve been on dates where the man wanted to take the service charge off, and I think, You’re going to be the worst husband. You’re going to be the tightest asshole. And what is that chip on their shoulder that they’re so adamant about it being taken off? I wonder what that backstory is and why they’re so passionate about it. That’s just so mean! Tipping says so much about a person, doesn’t it?

What’s your best rule for engaging with people at parties?
Be self-deprecating. That always works. Be like a dog that goes on its back and exposes its belly. If you make it clear you won’t be a threat, you can win anyone over.

Daisy May Cooper Loves a Good Ghost Story