The dark prince: Oliver Jackson-Cohen comes of age

Britain's brightest acting talent on why he's relishing leaning into the darker side of humanity

Oliver Jackson-Cohen is utterly charming, with the looks and carriage of a Scandinavian royal consort. “But I can’t think of anything worse than playing a Prince Charming character,” the actor laughs. “It’s my utter nightmare. I would be terrible at it.” This, I think, is a healthy admission. Because Prince Charming — as the last 24 months of brutal Royal mishaps has proved — simply does not exist. And if he does, he’s probably rather boring.

Much more interesting, in fact, are the flawed, difficult, complex, darker areas of the male psyche. And it’s here, truly, where Oliver excels. You might remember seeing him (or not seeing him, in fact) as the eponymous Invisible Man, opposite Elizabeth Moss, in the psychological thriller earlier this year. Here, the gruesome fable was updated for a disquieting modern age — the villain is a tech guru, a messianic charmer, with a deep-seated psychopath complex.

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“We’re currently obsessed with the darker parts of human nature,” Oliver says. “It’s like going to the zoo. We like to look at the danger and feel safe while watching it. I feel quite complicated, personally, and I like to use that in my roles. It becomes a sort of therapeutic thing with acting. I like to use all my sort of stuff, as it were.”

The effect is compelling, and it’s hard, sometimes, to square the warm and lovely actor with the darker, stranger roles he now finds himself in. “We just did a show called the Haunting of Bly Manor,” Oliver says. “And the character I play is a bit of a sociopath. They’re not fun to play, sociopaths. You’re kind of questioning, constantly, your moral compass. I think it raises so many questions about your own behaviour and your place in the world.”

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Still, Oliver is happy to ask the questions. “I love the research. I love figuring it out. It feels like a puzzle you can never quite finish. And sometimes it gets to the point where we start filming, and I think: “I don’t want to do it now. I’ve done the interesting bit!’ But we all have
this fascination with how people operate and behave.” he says. “And I’m constantly fascinated by how human beings work.”

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Prince Charming, meanwhile, simply doesn’t offer those intriguing depths. “When I started, I was so compliant to what I was being told, or what I thought I should do. I was doing the jobs I thought I should be doing, not the ones I wanted to do,” he explains. “So about four years ago, I had a tough conversation with myself, and I thought: Just do stuff that you want to do. Do what feels right to you. And what’s been really interesting is this: that the things I’ve really felt I wanted to be a part of, they have almost all seemed to work. Which is one of those life lessons. Follow your intuition — it rarely leads you down the wrong path.”

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