Nesta Cooper just wants to be funky. Chalk it up to the resurgence of wild early aughts trends or the post-apocalyptic nature of her show See, but sartorially speaking, the actress is in the mood for some fun. Aren’t we all? Cooper’s energy is infectious, even through a Zoom call, and it doesn’t take long for us to bond over our shared love of floppy bucket hats (she has a great collection), bold patterns, and statement jewelry. Take a quick scroll through her Instagram, and you’ll be treated to some of the 27-year-old’s cool off-duty ensembles. But an affection for Y2K style isn’t the only reason Cooper is topping my “ones to watch” list right now. She is also spectacular in the aforementioned AppleTV+ series, my current TV obsession.
See is an epic tale set far in the future after a global pandemic left many dead and rendered the rest of humanity blind. While civilization has adjusted to life without sight, a set of twins born with the ability to see pose a potential threat, forcing their family to protect them and their secret at all costs. As Haniwa, one half of the sighted duo, Cooper is a scene-stealer. Haniwa is your typical angsty teen—albeit in a more savage, dire-straits world—who is both fiercely independent like her father, Baba Voss (Jason Momoa), and infuriatingly stubborn. The latter was a tough pill for Cooper to swallow at first, eventually driving her to tap into her own youthful experience as a rambunctious middle child to fully understand the nuances of Haniwa. The result is a dynamic and star-making performance that is truly fun to watch.
In celebration of See’s season two premiere, I spoke with Cooper about what’s next for Haniwa, the projects she’d like to tackle next in her career, and the photo shoot for this story, where, of course, funky fashion was on the menu.
Photo:Nicholas Chalmers; STYLING: Valentino dress; Dries Van Noten blouse; Saint Laurent sunglasses
See takes place thousands of years in the future following a deadly pandemic. You were in the middle of filming season two last year when production was shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Was that a surreal moment for you?
For sure, but I don’t think it was any more different than how March 2020 was for everyone. I didn’t really realize the parallels until probably last summer when I was at home in L.A. I was thinking about when I was going to go back to work and about the other show that I did before See called Travelers. We had a pandemic episode as well. I do a lot of sci-fi stuff, and the reason sci-fi is so cool, I think, is because it can be real life technically (maybe in the future or now), and it freaked me out a little bit. But then when we got back to work, that feeling went away because the show, in general, is just so odd. It’s like a nice escape in a way.
I finished season one in two days and watched the first three episodes of season two in one sitting. Safe to say, I love the show. What are you most excited for audiences to see going into this next chapter?
In general, I’m excited for people to see how much the world expands in this season. We really explore different areas. There is one town called Pensa, and we shot it in the ruins of old Penn State. Those kinds of things I find super interesting and cool, and that’s the dystopian part that I’m really drawn to with the show, so I think other people will really like that. The show is a lot more fast-paced this season, which I think people will appreciate, and so many more characters are introduced. It’s just very intense, high energy, and a very different vibe from the first season. But I feel we do a good job of carrying on the sentiment and the beauty of the world hundreds of years in the future after it’s been able to heal itself, the culture and the oddities of the way that people interact with each other. And seeing the way people live when they can’t see, I think that’s really interesting, too, so I’m excited for people to dive into this very new, very different season.
And then with Haniwa, I’m just excited for people to watch her grow up. She goes through so much in this season and does a lot of maturing. In this place in the first half of the season where she is, there is so much happening that she is able to ignore what has happened to her. She hasn’t exactly let it really sink in what’s happened to her in the last season. I find it so interesting because a lot of people do that in real life. They just ignore their trauma, and she has a lot of trauma in terms of the guilt that she carries for what she put her family through and her father betraying her and being kidnapped. You see after episodes four and five that she really has no choice but to face it and decide how she wants it to shape her moving forward.
Can we talk about the introduction of Wren this season and what she means for Haniwa?
Okay, how do I word this? I guess I’ll say Haniwa gets introduced to a new character in her life that teaches her so much about herself and gives her permission to mature and grow into the woman that she is meant to become. And I’ll also say Eden [Epstein] created this character that is equal parts stoic and serious and strong while also being incredibly fragile and emotional. She has this way of playing Wren that’s not like herself at all. [Eden] is super outgoing. She’s like your Jewish mother. She’s hilarious. But when she plays Wren, she goes to this place where she can kill you at any moment, but at the same time, if you said one wrong thing to her, she could shatter. I appreciate [Eden] so much for that because I think she has brought in this dynamic, fully realized new female character that I think people are going to love.
Haniwa is such a great character. She is very independent and strong-willed, but at times, she is also very stubborn. She is a stark contrast from her twin brother Kofun, who is more submissive. Where do you think that independence and stubbornness come from?
I think it comes from her dad. I think she gets it all from Baba, to be honest. It’s a very interesting mix of … that savagery that Baba carries melded with the fact that she is the only person, other than her brother really, that she knows can see. And I guess Boots, of course. For the first 17 years of her life, she was the only person she knew existed that was like her, and then she got these books, and she learned about all of the crazy history of the ancients and has all of this knowledge at her fingertips that other people couldn’t possibly even grasp, so it’s a bit of a deadly combination. She really figures that out throughout the season, not completely, but she has to tap more into her gentler, softer side in this season, which I think is really nice. But yeah, I would say she gets 90% of it from Baba. You can really see that too, because the relationship between the two of us really grows and strengthens in this season, and you can see the similarities, which is really fun.
Photo:Nicholas Chalmers; STYLING: Stella McCartney dress; Chanel jewelry and boots
What do you love about playing Haniwa, and how would you say she challenges you as an actor?
At first, she challenged me very much physically, but now, I’ve sorted that out, I think, halfway through season three as I’m talking to you. What I really love about playing her is that she annoys me sometimes, and I really had to look inward with the parts of her that annoyed me because she has this bravado and this arrogance, especially so young, that I think (me being older and playing [someone] younger) I want to smack out of her a bit, and I’m sure some people watching want to as well. So doing the work on her and really trying to understand her and play her in the most authentic and genuine way possible, I really had to look inward and be like, “What is it about her that I really understand?” And there’s so much about her that I understand that I didn’t realize. When I was 17 or 18 years old, I had this feeling of like, “Well, I am special,” and I think maybe that was what gave me the courage and the confidence to go into the film industry and to try to become an actress.
I know I certainly was way more confident then than I am now, and I think that’s just because life happens and experience happens. The confidence is replaced with a self-assuredness that I have now. It’s fun to play that because I really did experience it, and now, it’s like I adore Haniwa. I really feel like everything she does comes from a place of really wanting to make the world a better place, and sometimes, it can be misguided in the way that she does things, but I do believe she is an incredibly good person, and I think she gets the short end of the stick. She gets blamed for a lot of things that I don’t think is really fair.
Haniwa knows her way around a bow and arrow. Can you tell me a little about your archery training for the role?
I did a ton of training in season one with a teacher in Vancouver, and then because of COVID, I wasn’t able to do training, so I did target practice at the park. For the most part, I learned all of my bow stuff in the stunt gym with the stunt guys shooting fake arrows. I was doing a lot of target practice and was getting pretty good at it, but then I realized in this season that so much of the arrows are going to be CG arrows, so it was really more about how quickly I could draw and if I could shoot two at once and all of that kind of stuff. Jon Valera, who is our stunt coordinator, would have me do this exercise where I would be walking around silently, and then he would have people behind me go “Ahh!” And I would have to turn around quickly, get to a knee, and see how quickly I could shoot them and also look good at the same time. That’s such a big part about my stunt stuff that is hard. When stunt guys are coming at you, I can't look scared, and it’s really hard to naturally not look afraid. So finding that balance and tapping into my inner Baba Voss was difficult, but I got there eventually.
Speaking of Baba Voss, I can’t think of a cooler on-screen father to have than Jason Momoa. What do you love about working with him?
I love everything about him. I just feel so lucky to be working with him. He is insane. He has so much energy all the time. He is exactly what you would imagine him to be like. When he walks into a room, all of the energy just goes to him. What I loved about our scenes together is we are either doing scenes where we are killing people, or we are doing scenes where we are emotionally talking to each other about things. There was a very good understanding between us because he taught me so much about being a physical actor and the way I should carry myself and what looks cool and what doesn’t. He also has a very directorial eye, so he was very good at being like, “Make sure you are looking at the camera this way” or “Move this way with the camera.” He taught me a lot, which I appreciate. When we did the scenes between Baba and Haniwa where we were bonding or just simply being family, he really let me in and allowed me to soften him in the scenes, which was just so cool because I love seeing that side of him. He loves his daughter Lola in real life so much, so I think it’s easy for him to go to that place, but I just appreciated that he trusted me enough to really melt. He really gets super gooey when it comes to Haniwa and Kofun. It’s beautiful to watch because he’s such a great actor, and we had a lot of fun.
You’ve had a steady stream of projects since 2013 and have worked across many different genres. Is there something you haven’t done yet that you would like to tackle next?
I would love to work on something that was adapted from either a graphic novel or a comic book. I know that I’ve done a couple of episodes of Supergirl and stuff like that, but I would love to work on a DC- or Marvel-type movie or something totally independent and different. I love reading graphic novels and comic books, especially even The New York Times illustrators and stuff like that. I just read this book that is so cute. It’s called The Times I Knew I Was Gay. The author is Eleanor Crewes, and I think she is in the UK, but I just love stories told in this medium because anything is possible. It really just opens up the world to have—when it’s translated to screen—some things be shot in live action and some things in 2D cartoon or 3D. I find that very interesting and fun, and I would like to do something more fun and less intense now. That’s where my heads been at. I’ve been reading a ton of graphic novels.
Photo:Nicholas Chalmers; STYLING: Prada dress, bag, and shoes; Chanel vest; Wolford socks
When did you know that acting was going to be your career path? Was there one moment, or was it a culmination of moments?
It’s hard to say because it happened really young for me. When I was maybe 12 or 13, I think I really just knew. I was a middle child and was so loud and annoying. Again, back to the Haniwa thing, I was just constantly searching for an outlet. I watched a ton of TV and a ton of movies, and as soon as I was 13, I started watching CW shows and stuff. I would watch Veronica Mars and Tessa Thompson, Kat Graham in Vampire Diaries, those types of things. I was like, “Oh, I can do that!” I was fiercely inspired by it. I was so intense about it. I guess I just tried to do it. I wasn’t very good at first, but I liked pretending and feeling the connection of other people—like being able to play out being divorced when I had never even had a boyfriend before and connecting to a feeling of betrayal that was inside me right then so that someone who had been divorced could watch it and get it. I thought that was so cool that we were all connected at the core emotionally in that way, and then I just became obsessed with it. I was such a fangirl. I mean I don’t need to get into the details, but Myspace, Facebook, everything, I was messaging actors and stuff. I was crazy.
While perusing your Instagram, I noticed two things: You have great off-duty style, and you have a very cool hat collection. Can we talk about both?
I love that! Thank you for noticing my hats. I wear a lot of hats. Well, with my off-duty style, I have gotten a lot better, especially during the pandemic. The only chance I’ve really had to dress up is when I show up to work and go from my car to the makeup trailer. I got an extremely, I think, impressive collection of mix-and-match sweatshirts and sweatpants. I have to thank Aritzia for that because they have an amazing selection of colors. And for my hats, I’ve been very into the whole Y2K trend right now, so I have this one Von Dutch trucker hat that I’ve been wearing nonstop. And then I have a huge collection of floppy bucket hats. I just got a new one from Free People that is a crochet one with these Easter pastel colors. It is just so cute. Love a hat. It makes any outfit seem put-together when you have it on.
Do you have a fashion/style philosophy?
I would say now my philosophy is just to be funky. I think any outfit can be funked up in any kind of way, whether it’s putting on chunky jewelry or a crazy pattern or adding a texture that is very different. I always go for that, and that makes me feel like myself and stylish and on-trend. Lately, I have been trying to not follow too many micro-trends, which is really hard for me. I just see things on Pinterest or Instagram or TikTok especially, and I’m like, “Oh my god, I need that. I want it.” But I’m really trying to make good use of my closet now and find fun ways to layer and make things look cool and feel chic.
I love the Venice shoot you did for this story. I heard you were involved with some of the creative.
I had so much fun with this shoot. The photographer, Nicholas Chalmers, is a dear friend of mine, and his wife Julia, she owns a branding company called Lucky Chalm. Nick shot Samara Weaving for Wonderland, and I thought the shoot was amazing. We go on RV camping trips together and hang out, and he always takes photos, and we’ve just been trying to get together to do a shoot for so long. So when this came up, it felt perfect. Working with Nick, he’s so effortlessly cool and is able to create images that have that laid-back Australian effortlessness. So I decided I wanted the clothes to be very extra. Not like “haute couture” extra, but just super funky and fun. We went back and forth sending each other voice notes for a whole day. I was like, “How about we do things inside?” And he was like, “No, let’s do it outside.” And I was like, “We can do it walking the dogs,” and he thought of going to Bob’s Market on Ocean Park. It was a very collaborative experience. And then the braids were done by Fesa [Nu], who Emily Cheng, my makeup artist, suggested, and she just absolutely nailed it. I hope to do more shoots like that, where it’s just friends all getting together. I was drinking rosé all day. It was just a blast!
Season two of See premieres Friday, August 27 on AppleTV+.
Photographer: Nicholas Chalmers
Stylist: Katie Bofshever
Hairstylist: Fesa Nu
Makeup Artist: Emily Cheng