The Australian actor is redefining the industry's most infamous archetype through his rendition of Nate Macauley on Peacock's hit show, One of Us Is Lying.
Cooper van Grootel carried a journal every day on the set of One of Us Is Lying.
These pages became an anthology of inner conversations and thoughts that allowed him to tap into the mind of a fictional stranger. While the Australian actor has had his fair share of playing the “bad boy” stereotype in the past, Nate Macauley is anything but predictable.
“Like everyone in this world, people have so much more going on in their life than what they show you. Nate’s similar to an iceberg, he only reveals the top, but there’s so much more going on below the water,” Cooper said during his first interview with MUD right after being cast for the show.
One of Us Is Lying holds the strength to stand on its own shoulders, but one could say it serves hints of The Breakfast Club with murder as the main dish. The allure could be attributed to its familiar highschool premise, but within the first few minutes of watching, it becomes clear that stereotypes won’t be following the rules.
Cooper is part of the Bayview Four, a group of highschool students who witness the death of one of their classmates. When it becomes clear that someone’s framing them, they must trust each other in order to solve the case before all their secrets come out. As the episodes progress, each character sheds layers that fill in the gaps of their true selves. To capture this organic transformation, Cooper recurred to writing.
“I would journal anything that Nate might be feeling on that particular day in regards to the scenes we were filming. Being present and grounding myself into my body helped me to be in-tune with my scene partner, and to not get lost in my own thought patterns of how I thought the scene was going,” Cooper said.
We first featured Cooper on MUD at the dawn of Peacock’s process to adapt One of Us Is Lying. The pilot had just been finished, and Karen M. McManus’ riveting novel stood strong atop various best-seller lists. A hungry fanbase assumed the TV adaptation of their favorite book would hit NBC’s streaming platform in the second half of 2020.
Of course, we all know what happened (or what didn’t happen).
Mentioning the effects of the pandemic on Hollywood feels redundant by now. We saw the movies and shows on our lists suffer the consequences of a global pause, one that refused to spare the entertainment industry. As an actor who was preparing to ride a thrilling wave, Cooper was also forced to take a pause. A two-year pause to be exact.
“I think one of my major changes as a person would be to not sweat the small things. In a world today where there's a lot of controversy and misguidance, I've learnt to not take things too literally and enjoy every moment. As an actor, I've learnt that you always bring a piece of yourself into the character, and that's what adds truth since it comes from a place of authenticity,” Cooper said.
It’s nearly impossible to read your favorite book or watch your favorite show and separate the actor from the character. Their face becomes the character’s face, their words become the character’s words, and so forth. So, when Nate Macauley revs the engine of his motorcycle, in my mind, Cooper takes center stage. Even when he is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, his range as an actor has led to the reinvention of one of the most infamous archetypes in film and TV.
The bad boy trope has reigned in Hollywood for decades. From Stanley Kowalski in a Streetcar Named Desire to Milo Ventimiglia in the Gilmore Girls, this archetype has smoldered his way through blockbuster films, required-reading lists, and sitcom television. We’ve all grown to love a version of him, or even wanted to be him at some point.
He’s James Dean with a cigarette in his mouth. He’s cool. He’s magic.
But the bad boy figure has tarnished over time, or perhaps, its true colors are too hard to ignore today. This trope was once easy to recognize: a walking red flag with a leather jacket and a plethora of unhealthy vices. A guilty pleasure that moral characters attempted to fix with kindness. In today’s culture, the bad boy waves a white flag in front of a devilishly handsome face. In other words, he hides in plain sight.
So, why is Cooper’s rendition of Nate Macauley such a breath of fresh air for Hollywood?
Easy–Cooper managed to craft a bad boy you feel good about loving.
In One of Us Is Lying, he brings to life a complex character whose mistakes, vices, and bad habits are an afterthought next to his resilience. Nate earns unrestrained second chances through his promising evolution episode after episode. In the end, you may not even consider Nate Macauley the bad boy of the show. If anything, he’s just a survivor of his environment, doing his best with the cards he was dealt.
Another attribute to Cooper’s bad boy rendition lies in his chemistry with co-star Marianly Tejada. Just like Hollywood loves a bad boy, they adore his foil. But in One of Us Is Lying, Bronwyn Rojas is presented as an equal to Nate Macauley.
Fans of the book series remember the heartfelt moments of this relationship, page after page of late-night conversations over a burner phone. Compliments given. Secrets shared. Flaws bared. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about how this detailed dynamic would translate to television.
I wish we knew during those two long years of waiting that, with Cooper and Marianly in charge of recreating these moments, we had nothing to fear.
Their on-screen chemistry is the right amount of sentimental without sacrificing authenticity. Two highschool students who couldn’t be more different, yet develop a slow-burning romance when their lives are upended. It was done to literary perfection.
“I think one of the reasons our chemistry is so strong is because we filmed the pilot in November of 2019, so we've been in each other's life for the past 2 years. We went through so much. We went through a global pandemic awaiting to hear if the show was still going ahead. We all became super close. Marianly and I had so much fun exploring and fleshing out these characters, we both committed fully to the story and our characters and that's what made the work so fulfilling and rewarding,” Cooper said about his on-screen chemistry with Marianly Tejada.
The beauty of Cooper’s bad boy rendition doesn’t rely on his character’s label, but on the depth he’s given him.
“Ultimately, I think as both an actor and human being I have gained so much life experience. Life experience is so intertwined in my acting and so it truly compliments growth in both areas,” Cooper said.
As someone who binge-read the novel in one sitting (and consumed the TV show in the same way), I praise Cooper for his ability to encapsulate over two hundred pages of character development into eight episodes that left me with the same effect: bad boy or not, I’m rooting for Nate Macauley. He carries the flare and great hair of Old Hollywood legends, all while affirming that people are allowed to change. That bad boys are allowed to grow and thrive and even shed their label. That we do not get to dictate who someone will become based on their mistakes, past or present. Bayview High marks an important stepping stone in a history that’s yet to be written, but carries an auspicious premise. There’s no doubt that long after this day, we’ll be rooting for Cooper van Grootel.
“I want to explore stories and characters that are real and grounded and go through epic transformations. In life we are ever evolving and learning things about ourselves and to have the opportunity to convey that on screen is all that I want to do,” Cooper said.