AWARD-WINNING actor Nicole Cooper tells Mark Brown about 10 things that changed her life...

1 My culturally diverse upbringing

I HAVE a really large family. I was born and raised in Zambia, where my mother is from, but we spent a good part of every year in my father’s homeland of Greece.

When I was in Zambia, I felt very Zambian, surrounded by a very Zambian family. When I was in Greece, I felt very Greek: even now, I still think a lot in Greek, and I dream in Greek.

We spoke English and Greek in the house, and a number of Zambian languages, depending on which auntie or granny you were speaking to.

The diversity of my upbringing is, I think, one of the reasons that I’m able to adapt very quickly to situations. Big moves and big changes in life don’t faze me.

2 Moving to boarding school in Oxford

WHEN I was 11, I was sent to school in England. At first, I went to a school in Worcester with my sister Greca. That was great, we had a wonderful time. But then I moved to Headington, a boarding school in Oxford. I hated it, I was totally isolated.

Where I grew up in Zambia was a big mining community, so my primary school had children of every nationality you could think of. To suddenly find myself in an English school where I was definitely the odd one out was very strange.

When I arrived, I got asked questions like: “do you have electricity in Zambia?”

3 Winning a drama scholarship

ACCESS to drama and a few key teachers got me through my time at Headington. While I was there, I won a scholarship from the theatre newspaper The Stage to do a one-year course at The Academy drama school in Whitechapel. The school doesn’t exist anymore. It was run by a man called Tim Reynolds, who was just wonderful.

Winning that scholarship was definitely a turning point in my life. Suddenly I had access to a world that I had previously only dreamed of.

4 Life in London

MY time at The Academy was amazing. I felt like I was a kid on [American 1980s TV show] Fame.

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I went to drama school every day, and I worked a lot of jobs just to be able to afford to be there. It was lovely to be surrounded by my tribe, people who ate, drank and slept theatre. It was just brilliant. I hadn’t had access to that before.

I was in heaven in London. I learned so much.

5 Moving to Scotland

WHEN I was living in London, I met Scott Cooper, who is now my husband. He was in Scotland and I was coming up every week to visit him.

Scott’s brother, Gordon Cooper, who is also an actor, had been at the RSAMD [the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama], which is now the RCS [the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland].

Scott suggested I audition for the academy, and I got in. It was one of the easiest decisions I ever made, to come to Scotland and to make my life here.

6 Acting training in Glasgow

I HAD a brilliant time at the RSAMD. The course wasn’t easy, but the choices that were made for me – in terms of the plays that we performed and the roles I was given – were relatively safe. I felt that I could have been pushed out of my comfort zone a bit more.

That said, my subsequent career has been very much in classical work. So, in fact, that classical training at the Academy has become the foundation for all of my work since.

7 Working with Glasgow Shakespeare company Bard in the Botanics

The National: Rehearsal of Bard In The Botanics production of Twelfth Night. Pictured is director Gordon Barr..  Photograph by Colin Mearns.30 June 2021..

THE summer of 2009 was my first season with Bard, and it changed everything for me massively. I started out as the assistant to artistic director Gordon Barr on a production of King Lear. He was very generous with me and we got on really well.

I started acting with the company the next year. Playing Coriolanus [in 2016] was a game-changer because it was the first time Gordon had thrown me a challenge that I had never imagined myself doing.

8 Winning a CATS award

RECEIVING the CATS [Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland] award for Best Female Performance for Coriolanus [in 2017] was a brilliant affirmation. That happened at a time when I was questioning whether I had a place in the Scottish theatre industry.

My work with Bard was being really beautifully received by the audiences and the critics, but it kind of stopped outside the gates of the Botanic Gardens.

9 Being a wife and mother

WHEN I got married to Scott, I thought: “I’m going to witness everything that happens to this person, and he’s going to witness everything that happens to me.” I was really conscious of that, and I still am.

Now I’m a mother to three girls. I love everything about it. It’s hard work being a parent working in the arts, but the girls are great. They were here [in the Royal Lyceum rehearsal room] the other day. They know what I’m doing and what I’m about, which is important to me. It’s an incredible privilege to be their Mum.

10 Being cast as Lady Macbeth in Macbeth (An Undoing)

I’VE wanted to work with Zinnie Harris [writer and director of Macbeth (An Undoing)] for years. This Restless House [Harris’s three-part adaptation of The Oresteia by Aeschylus] was some of the most phenomenal theatre I have ever seen. It feels perfect that she and I are working together on a project in which I can play to my strengths, in particular my knowledge of Shakespeare’s language. Meanwhile, Zinnie is able to open the door to this whole new perspective on the amazing character of Lady Macbeth. The scale of the show is incredibly ambitious. Zinnie’s new take on the end of the play has blown my mind.

Macbeth (An Undoing) plays the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, February 4-25: