Changing faces: A friendly policeman on Monday, a cowardly villian on Tuesday.

From the NZ Listener, 27 October 1984

SCENE ONE: A restaurant kitchen. The air is steamy, the room . is filled with the noise of frying fat, waiters yelling out orders, and the clatter of plates. It is organised bedlam. Presiding over the chaos is a dirty, dishevelled, unsavoury young man with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. His expression is both sullen and malevolent as he flips over the steaks with little skill. His name is Brian. And he is dreaming of a Jag, beautiful blondes and the high life.

Whether Brian can reconcile the contradictory roles of short-order cook and millionaire is the subject of the last episode of Inside Straight on Tuesday.

Brian is a real jerk," actor David Copeland says with relish. "There are a lot of them out there - jerks, that is, not cooks who get into mammoth marijuana deals. If he was successful and could get a Jag, I think he would be like a younger version of Arthur Daley of Minder, except that Arthur has probably got a little bit more class. Brian has all the other characteristics, he's a devout coward, full of himself and over-confident. Because life is so mundane and ugly he has created a sort of fantasy in his own mind.

Scene two: A little South Island township, set in the folds of muddy brown hills, familiar to viewers as Mason's Yalley. One of the community's stalwarts is Constable George Brooks. A pleasant,stolid, mddle-aged man who does his job well within his limits. These are well prescribed - he keeps failing his sergeant exams and will probably Spend all his life in the Valley. Brooks is married and a very straight sort of bloke.

When he is most interesting he is like Len Falrclollgh; when he is at his most boring he is like that large fat gentleman that runs the corner shop in Coronation Street, Says Copeland.

Opportunities, despite grumblings, are so good that it has been estimated that over 80 per cent of Equity card holders are working. This trend has meant the emergence of a new wave of young actors many with university degrees. Copeland is an example of this development. He is a very able and competent young actor, says producer Peter Muxlow. He did a very, very good performance for Inside Straight.

Copeland seems much older than his years. He is an intense, thoughtful person who delights in frequent flashes of dry, often mocking humour. He is also strongly committed to his work; when asked about recreations, he thinks hard before replying that he watches a lot of television, analysing the technique quite often, and prepares for plays, either directing or acting.

His interest in drama goes back to high school plays. Then at Canterbury University he balanced a law degree with drama society acting. Copeland found the idea of a future life in law unappealing and got a lucky break as an apprentice at the Court Theatre. His career has been very busy since then with many stage roles and television and film productions like Bad Blood, Against the Law and McPhail & Gadsby.

Copeland has a pragmatic approach to the future, however. It is perhaps a pragmatism of the times. He wanted the degree to fall back on if times got hard - Country GP for instance, finishes next July.

He has assessed the market shrewdly, spreading his net as wide as possible into areas like direction. I hope people in the business regard me as versatile . . . I'm very happy that a television audience can watch me as being George Brooks on Monday and on Tuesday night watch me doing something that is full about. _

How does he interpret his dramatic roles?

Every actor has 3 different way of doing it. The most wonderful thing for me is when you know way in advance that you've get a role. I may only read the script twice in say Six months before learning the words, but I Will always be thinking about it, just quietly five minutes here, five minutes there. it is like osmosis, it just goes in quietly, it filters through your brain Sorting Out Priorities. Letting the mental process jell like waiting for a pot of tea to draw.

Any character you create has to be a composite of whole numbers of people; often for the working actor it's a whole lot of different actors. You pinch a bit. You build up a lot of things. You take lots of bits of mannerisms and gradually discard them all until you get a 'through line' to hang onto.

Copeland likes to work through people's body language and gestures, such as the way Brian would fry a steak or flick back his hair. The country policeman's mannerisms are partly made up from memories of a childhood in Greymouth. I never feel when I first get a character I know enough about the character to work from the inside out. Personally I like to take things from the outside and make them my own and become familiar with them

Playing someone like Einstein, I read the theory of relativity until I think I understood it for approximately 30 seconds. But there is no way in the world I can from the inside pretent be Albert Einstein at the age of 76, I cannot understand the way the man thinks. - But what I can do is take on a twinkle in the eye and all the things Of Old age...

The exciting thing about working as an actor is that your brief keeps changing, especially in the theatre. you've got to pretend to be roughly 10 different people in the span of a year.