During a call between London and Marseille, Poppy Corby-Tuech sat down with actor Oliver Jackson-Cohen, a “fellow half-Frenchie” with whom she has a lot in common, to dive into her diverse careers before acting, compare French childhood references, and unveil some facts behind the making of Fantastic Beasts.
PHOTOS: Pip Bourdillon
TALENT: Poppy Corby-Tuech
INTERVIEW: Oliver Jackson-Cohen
STYLING: Amisha Kapadia
MAKEUP: Neil Young at Premier Hair and Makeup
HAIR: David Wadlow at Frank agency
PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANT: Kevin Brown
STYLIST ASSISTANT: Frankie Reffell
PRODUCTION: Jasmine Perrier at Studio J•T•P
SPECIAL THANKS: DDA PR & MANAGEMENT 360
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This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
OLIVER JACKSON-COHEN: Hello! How are you?
POPPY CORBY-TUECH: Hey! On peut le faire en Franglais peut-être? I thought it would be nice to chat to you because we are both fellow half-Frenchies, and we both ended up doing this quite bonkers career. I know you incredibly well, but I’ve never worked with you or sat down with you to dissect why we are doing this.
OJC: You’ve had the most interesting journey to [acting] because of your multiple careers and lives leading up to it. But it was all creative. What got you to that point?
PCT: It’s hard to define exactly when the starting point was. There was never a moment where I was like, “Now is the time to start acting.” It probably has a lot to do with having a creative upbringing and having a dad who was a commercial photographer. We had a studio in our house, our bathroom would get turned into a darkroom, and there were always — how do you say pellicules?
OJC: Camera rolls.
PCT: So, I’ve always felt really comfortable in the studio. Everything that I’ve done prior to acting has been visual in some kind of way. Over time, I’ve been acting more and more, but I’m constantly drawn to the visual aspect of acting [which] I’m open to doing in the future too. I think I was just repressing it. I didn’t do drama in school because I didn’t want to do plays [laughs]. But a few years ago, I got to the point where I felt this void, that’s the only way I can describe it. So, I just had a moment of thinking, “If I don’t try this now in my mid-twenties, I will never have the balls to do it.” I quit my job at a magazine in London the next day [laughs]. Did you feel like that all your life? Because you’ve been acting since you were young.
OJC: I was. I remember I just became obsessed with it from a very young age. I went to see Home Alone with my dad, and for some reason, there was something about Macaulay Culkin that made me feel like, “Oh, that’s a kid in a film,” and I quizzed my dad so much on the way home about how that works. And then, he said to me that they were doing a sequel…
PCT: Home Alone in New York?
OJC: Greatest sequel ever. I must have been about six or seven years old when I was convinced that I could be the kid in Home Alone 2. My parents used to have this window in front of their house, and I sat on this table, thinking that someone would walk past and go, “There is the kid, come with us, and you could be in the film.” [Laughs]
PCT: You just sat there?
OJC: Yeah, after school. Because I was at French school, we didn’t have drama or anything like that, so I found a French theater club that I started to go to when I was eight or nine, but I was then kicked out of that because I had an attitude problem. So, I found this tiny theater group called Youngblood and that was the beginning of it. There were five of us, like Carey Mulligan, Imogen Poots, and it was an insane small group of people who went, “This is what we’re gonna do.” I wasn’t very good at all, but I was so determined.
PCT: It’s a good thing to have when you are that young, because a lot of the time, you don’t really know who you are at that age. I know the French school system is very different, but it’s so nuts, being eight or nine and having to pick certain lessons at school that will end up impacting the rest of your life. What did your parents think about it? Because they are not in that world at all.
OJC: They are not. I think they understood it, but they were really pushing for me to have a backup plan. It’s interesting what you say as well about the differences between the English system and the French system. In France, for your Bac, you have to choose between scientifique, littéraire, all of this stuff. The pressure is mad.
PCT: I think it’s amazing when you find something when you are so young [like you did], and you are still so passionate about it.
OJC: Listen, it’s one of the hardest careers to make work. So, I think we are both in very fortunate positions — we managed to go, “I want to do this,” and the world went, “Ok.” But when you went to university and did journalism, was it a need to be creative?
PCT: It was different things. When I was doing my A-Levels, we had a really great art department, and at that time, I loved magazines like The Face, i-D, Dazed & Confused. I was really into arranging sketchbooks, art directing pages, fashion photography, and illustration. Then, after my first year at London College of Fashion, I specialized in journalism and ended up spending another two years writing articles and making magazine stuff. My final year project was to make a magazine. Although I didn’t think that I was the best at writing, I liked doing it. But what I really loved doing was getting other people to write and sourcing great photography, which is why I ended up working in that world a bit more.
OJC: I know that you worked for some incredible magazines and dedicated your late teens and early twenties to this. Once you got there, did you feel disappointed, or did you feel like you achieved what you wanted to achieve, and it was now time to move on to something else?
PCT: It was a bit of both. I was a PA to someone there, so what I ended up doing was booking taxis, hotel rooms, flights… I was watching people around me being really creative and found that I was not super interested in the job that I was doing. I wasn’t creatively fulfilled in any way. I get asked this question often, and I don’t totally know how to put it into words — I watched a lot of films and was surrounded by a lot of journalism about movies and actors, so I just became a bit obsessed with it.
OJC: What was your first acting job?
PCT: After I quit that job, I ended up finding an agent who took a total chance on me, because I had no experience. The first audition I booked a job for was this vampire movie [Dracula: The Dark Prince] with Jon Voight and a bunch of other people. Who would have thought? You don’t know what it’s like being on set, because the reality of working as an actor is the day-to-day grind of the job, which is really long hours, working with lots of people…
OJC: I had this conversation with a friend a couple of weeks ago, about how the film industry, and the fashion industry to a certain extent, are both industries we need to keep glamorizing for some reason. Even if in reality, it’s hard work, long hours, and navigating different personalities.
PCT: The number of people working really hard behind the scenes is insane. It feels like you are part of a company — you just go off and create this thing with potentially hundreds of people that become like family. That’s the bit that I love the most.
OJC: Well, it’s interesting because leading into Fantastic Beasts, it feels like you’ve been doing movies for years [laughs].
PCT: It’s wild, isn’t it? It’s funny because I was looking back at my first email the other day, trying to figure out when it all started. And I was remembering how I helped you do a self-tape for it as well.
OJC: You did. I completely forgot about that until you reminded me about it last week.
PCT: It was for Dumbledore, right?
OJC: Yes, and then, they went with someone else. That’s nuts.
PCT: I remember that so clearly because we were in your house. You were so good.
PCT: What? You were.
OJC: Jude Law was way better.
PCT: They didn’t totally know what they were looking for at that point, because there were other actors involved in the casting process.
OJC: It was a fun process. I don’t know whether or not it’s because I was at French school, maybe because I’m a little too old, but I missed the Harry Potter phenomenon. And then, I was at the cinema with a friend, we were going to see something which was sold out. But there was Fantastic Beasts, and I was like, ‘‘I don’t like Harry Potter, this is not for me.’’ But I went and watched it, and I was so blown away by it.
PCT: With Fantastic Beasts, I had a similar experience. I remember going to the cinema to see the first Fantastic Beasts, and I was filming Harlots with Samantha Morton at the time. I didn’t realize she was in it. It’s an amazing world that they have created, and it is like that on set too.
OJC: What was it like to suddenly find out that you were going to join this world?
PCT: I think you were definitely there along the whole process. I didn’t even know what role I was auditioning for, I think the character name was a code name. It was a really small part and it said in the breakdown: “Only has one line, but appears throughout besides the main villain.” From the tone of it, I had a feeling that it might be Fantastic Beasts 2. But it wasn’t until I went to the actual audition that I knew it. And I had a callback, probably three weeks later, with David Yates and Fiona Weir, our casting director. We tried out lots of different things and I really thought I’d flunked it.
OJC: I think I spoke to you after.
PCT: With that audition, in particular, I was so nervous because I was a fan, so I was like, “What an amazing opportunity this would be.” This expectation is sometimes really overwhelming. They called me back two weeks later to offer me the role, which I couldn’t believe.
OJC: If you look at your cast, it is unbelievable. I still haven’t seen this last film, but…
PCT: Maybe next week we will go and watch it together.
OJC: Definitely. [Or] I might go and see it in France.
PCT: Oh, I dubbed myself in French.
OJC: J’adore. I remember you saying there is a sequence that took six weeks to shoot. Was that daunting?
PCT: We filmed during lockdown from the end of 2020 to the beginning of 2021, when things were pretty bad. As you know, it’s quite a strange, surreal environment. So, there was something about that final scene that was wonderful because it included pretty much every character in the film. We all got to hang out together every day for six weeks, including Saturdays. It was really tough and incredible at the same time. I got to meet people like Jude [Law], who I haven’t spent any time filming with because he would always be doing the Dumbledore’s stuff, and I would be doing the Grindelwald’s stuff. Because it was during the last couple of months of filming as well, it was a nice way to say hey and bye at the same time.
OJC: But it is incredible because all the projects all of us have shot during the past year and a half will forever hold these special places. How lucky we are that things have been facilitated so we can continue making things. I’ve spoken to you about going off to Greece, right when the first lockdown lifted.
PCT: Last summer for The Lost Daughter.
OJC: To this day, it remains one of the most incredible experiences. You guys were in Bhutan [on the set of Fantastic Beasts].
PCT: Aka Watford [laughs]. Has that changed how you view your work? Because I was going off to Bhutan [filmed at Warner Bros Studios], but then coming back home. You were in Greece, but you also went off to Vancouver. Has it made your work different?
OJC: I don’t know because everyone has done such incredible work in order not to be affected. As I was pretty much away the whole year and not able to come home last year, that was the first time I was like, “Listen, everyone has sacrifices in any job — that just comes with it.” But it’s been very interesting, when we have all been locked in at home, to see how much people have relied on entertainment. Not to say we are changing the world at all, but I felt the importance of entertainment when I was in lockdown. I watched Fantastic Beasts, and there is something so magical about being transported away.
PCT: When you are going through an experience like a global pandemic, it’s totally valuable having the ability to go somewhere else.
OJC: When I shot The Lost Daughter in Greece, Paul Mescal was there. He experienced this insane rise in lockdown and it was mad. He talked about how he moved from Dublin to London. A month later, the pandemic happened, and then, he was the most famous person in the world [laughs]. I just don’t know how you deal with that, but he’s handled it incredibly well. I wanted to go back to something you said about being mesmerized by sets and studios from a very young age. What was your experience on the set of Fantastic Beasts? Those sets are no joke.
PCT: What is incredible about those films is the CGI and special effects. The sets are very real and very big [laughs] — they have built everything, whether it’s the German Ministry of Magic or Grindelwald’s evil castle in the mountains.
OJC: In Watford.
PCT: Because of the delay due to the pandemic, they changed the script a bit and made all the locations in Watford. Apart from that, I remember I was filming a scene on Crimes of Grindelwald, in the French Ministry of Magic, and they had all these beautiful desks with old-fashioned typewriters laid out. Inside, there were all these details of things that you would never see in the film. I was lucky to go to work with those people who are at the top of their game, in terms of special effects, costumes, and sets. And at the end of filming, they take large bits of the set to the Harry Potter world, so people can walk around and visit.
OJC: Have you been here? I haven’t.
PCT: No! Maybe we should go and find out what house [we belong to]. Although it’s obviously Slytherin.
OJC: Can you also tell me the story about when you were trying to figure out how to appear and disappear, please? [Laughs] I love it so much.
PCT: You’re talking about apparating. On Crimes of Grindelwald, I had a scene which was just written as, “Rosier apparates onto a Parisian street.” So, I was wondering, “Do I land in a noble style? Do I land elegantly? What happens when there is motion?”
OJC: I have to say, it is so impressive.
PCT: I had a very funny moment filming the most recent movie, where I was in the back of a car with Grindelwald, going to an event and having a very serious conversation. Technically, the car is in motion, but we filmed it sitting still and the crowd around us was supposed to be banging on the windows while being dragged away to give the impression that the car is moving.
OJC: I do think that’s why these films are so brilliant as well.
PCT: A lot of the time, the world is built around you, and you don’t have to use too much of your imagination. You should come and be in the next one.
OJC: [Laughs] I would love to show up, but I just want to apparate. Is there something that you feel drawn towards next? I can’t believe I’m asking this question because I hate it when they ask me.
PCT: [Working on Fantastic Beasts] is big-scale cinema, which I love and would do again without a doubt. But with a lot of the roles that I’ve played, I spend a lot of time in hair and makeup. I know you must get this too, but it takes a lot of time.
OJC: It takes hours — which is weird because we are only like 18 [laughs].
PCT: [Laughs] French cinema, for example, tells really human stories about real-life characters, without any of the special effects. Don’t you think, fellow Frenchie?
OJC: I really dipped my foot in French cinema last year, and then, I was stuck in Vancouver, so had to drop out of the film. But we should do that, let’s call Paris.
PCT: I have a real gravitation towards France at the moment, and there are a lot of European actors who I really admire and have these international careers, like Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, Diane Kruger, Olga Kurylenko, and Omar Sy. I love the idea of that kind of career. Europe is so diverse, there is so much interesting stuff coming out of France, Italy, and Scandinavia.
OJC: Growing up in France, were there films that you watched?
PCT: Yeah, I was there until 1996. Can I say Les Visiteurs is a kids film? [Laughs]
OJC: That was such a huge thing.
PCT: Did your parents watch a lot of films?
OJC: My dad didn’t really speak English, so when we were kids, he could only watch French TV or French movies. So, he would make me [watch] all of those films like La Femme du Boulanger, and all of the Marcel Pagnol films — La Gloire de mon père, Le Chateau de ma mère — as he was from Marseille. There is something about French cinema of a certain time that really meant something to my dad, and that was transferred to my sister and I.
PCT: The eighties [and the nineties] produced amazing French cinema and French film stars as well. It must have been a brilliant place to be at that time. Have you seen L’Appartement with Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci? I think it was in 1996. It’s so weird, so airy, romantic, but sinister and really stylized at the same time. I remember thinking, “I really like this but it’s making me feel really strange.” [Laughs] I watched it again when the first lockdown happened, and it’s funny watching films that you watched when you were younger and made a big impression on you. The feeling is still there, it’s so nostalgic.
OJC: We are not old, but I’m starting to look back at stuff that meant something to me when I was like 14.
PCT: Do you feel a need to discover your Frenchness a bit more?
OJC: 100%. You left France at an interesting age, immediately switched to the UK, and had to learn English.
PCT: That duality is an interesting thing, because having left France at a young age, under the circumstances that it was, it feels like there is unfinished business and something to revisit there as an adult.
OJC: There used to be a soap called Sous Le Soleil when we were kids. Do you remember that? I don’t know if it’s still going, maybe they could reboot that.
PCT: Oui. Last time I was in Paris, I actually watched a bit of Hélène et les Garçons.
OJC: I remember this being like, “We have to go home — Hélène et les Garçons is on.”
PCT: It’s true. It’s so good to watch French TV in France.
OJC: I feel like I was brought up on M6 Boutique. It was basically QVC, but I could watch that as a nine-year-old for hours.
PCT: How long are you in France now?
OJC: Just until Tuesday. Then, I’m off to San Francisco for two days and I will be back.
PCT: We will go watch Fantastic Beasts 3, we will have a debrief, and then launch the next plan…
OJC: We could start our French careers and adventures — we will figure it out on the Eurostar to Paris.
PCT: The last time I was on the Eurostar, Kristin Scott Thomas was on there, which I thought was a good sign. She is the perfect example of someone who has this impeccable career in both countries. It’s discreet and classy.
OJC: If Poppy Corby-Tuech and Oliver Jackson-Cohen had to work together, what would the dream project be like? Ok — can I answer this? Number one: no lines, so we will have to learn to do any work.
PCT: Perfect, and also, no hair and makeup.
OJC: Ok. Number three: probably set in France.
PCT: Ouais. And it might be quite fun being in Versailles.
OJC: But that is a lot of costume fittings, Pops. You know what? We’ll do wigs, but no clothes. What else could we do with that? We are not very good singers, are we? Actually, you are.
PCT: You say that and you know it’s a lie [laughs]. Actually, a really cool music video would be great. You might be spending one or two days working on this often quite bonkers concept. If there is a budget, you get to do cool stuff as well, and then, it’s just three and a half minutes long. So, maybe we could do a really great music video.
OJC: In France. It needs to be in Paris. We could maybe do a tribute to Johnny Hallyday, [French] Greatest Hits, Ophélie Winter. Is she still going?
PCT: It’s showing our range of knowledge [laughs]. There would be the dream job. It’s been really fun and nice to talk to you about this stuff.
OJC: We’ve been friends for years, but we’ve never spoken about the creative aspect of it all.
PCT: We didn’t meet through a job, isn’t it fun? Maybe one day [we will work together] on that super cool Johnny Hallyday video. Thank you so much, Oli. I’ll see you when you get back.
OJC: No, thank you. It was an absolute joy. Bisous!
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