Sunday, 21 March 2010

In a taxi with… Oliver Jackson-Cohen

By Maureen Paton

Meet the actor with blond ambition - he'd love to work with Johansson, Pfeiffer, Béart...

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Trust that glamorous British dress designer Betty Jackson to produce such a handsome son as Oliver Jackson-Cohen.

As a child, he became Kate Moss’s mascot after following her around backstage at his mother’s shows (‘I just fell in love with her; she’s so beautiful and funny’). At 16, he was a sandwich-fetcher for Madonna when he worked as a runner on the Royal Variety Show (‘She was lovely, but so protected by security that unfortunately I didn’t get much interaction’).
And after being inspired to take up acting by watching his mum’s best friend Jennifer Saunders on the Absolutely Fabulous set, 21-year-old Oliver became a star himself as the ardent young gamekeeper Philip in BBC1’s Lark Rise to Candleford – the cast of which was led by Jennifer’s Ab Fab co-star Julia Sawalha and comedy partner Dawn French.
‘As soon as I got on the set, Dawn said, “Where are our biscuits and coffee, young Ollie?”’ he grins. For this is one gilded youth who won’t throw a petulant strop, even though his Lark Rise performance has led to interest from Hollywood.

The blue-eyed, 6ft 3in hunk is wearing clothes from H&M when our cabbie, Bob from Broxbourne, picks him up from his parents’ home in West London’s Chiswick. ‘I love Dior and Commes des Garçons, but I can’t really afford them,’ says Ollie, who has temporarily moved back in with his parents following the break-up of an 18-month relationship last year.
The romantic in him admits to admiring the slow-burning courtship between Philip and heroine Laura in Lark Rise, even though it came to an end (which means he won’t be in the second series). ‘I liked the way the affair was the complete opposite of speed-dating,’ says Ollie, who is now seeing an ‘absolutely brilliant girl’ whom he met in New York, where his older sister Pascale, 22, works for Manhattan jewellery designer Alexis Bittar.

It was enterprising Pascale who, aged five, made her four-year-old brother wear her dresses and perch on the wall outside their parents’ house to sell cans of cola to passers-by. ‘All that dressing-up is probably why I ended up as an actor,’ he quips, as Bob takes him for a nostalgic drive past Hammersmith’s Riverside Studios, where Ollie went to weekend drama workshops as a schoolboy. And then on to Waterloo Bridge, where his French father, David Cohen, who runs Betty’s business, once put three-year-old Ollie on his shoulders to show him London’s panorama (‘My earliest memory’).

Ollie’s parents remain a huge influence, though he’s about to move into a Clerkenwell bachelor flat with a friend. Despite all their showbiz connections – Betty is godmother to Jude Law – Ollie insists that they ‘don’t really do that celebrity thing. There’s so much fakeness in the fashion world, but Mum and Dad have always given us a good work ethic and were quite worried at first about whether I could make a living from acting. They’ve been together for 29 years and share the same values. I really do want to have that kind of marriage myself.’

But first Ollie needs to capitalise on a career that has leapt from his professional debut six years ago as Jean-Pierre in the teen soap Hollyoaks, to his big break in Lark Rise, and now a starring role in the new BBC1 archaeological thriller series Bonekickers. Ollie describes it as ‘a cross between Indiana Jones, Spooks and The Passion of the Christ. Acting gives me an adrenalin rush I don’t get from anything else.’
Especially when Ollie’s dream goal is to work with actresses Emmanuelle Béart and Michelle Pfeiffer. ‘I went to the premier of Stardust, which starred Michelle Pfeiffer. I nearly died when I saw her on the red carpet – she’s so beautiful. As is Scarlett Johansson, so any of those three will do…’ Steady on, Ollie, you might make Ms Moss jealous.

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