TROPHY BOY: His #BestLife Is A Lie

Through the Internet, important moments in life — weddings, birthdays, personal accomplishments — are no longer shared exclusively within the intimate company of family and friends. With social media sites like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat being used by billions of people, even the most inconsequential events are shared with massive audiences on an endless basis.

Considering that social media is founded on personal connections, the usage of that medium bears remarkable consequences. It makes people want to chronicle every single second of their lives — both for history and public consumption. Meanwhile, their followers swallow up those moments while also craving the supposedly fantastic existences that play out on every screen.

All of that is true in an extremely high-profile industry like the performing arts, where the benefits and dangers of social media are unavoidable. Like his peers, actor Emrhys Cooper knows just as well how social media can impact — or destroy — lives and careers. With that knowledge in mind, Cooper used his creative skills to cultivate a funny yet thoughtful look at social media’s dark side in the acclaimed short film Trophy Boy.

Trophy Boy played at several major film festivals in 2018, including the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. The award-winning film can now be seen on gay-centered streaming video site Dekkoo, and on Vimeo (link to that page below the fold). Production has already commenced on a new half-hour episodic series, which is based on the short film.

Emrhys Cooper plays a narcissistic social media influencer who gets a shocking reality check when his “ideal life” is exposed as a fantasy in the new short film TROPHY BOY. Photo courtesy Andrew Werner.

Directed and co-written by Cooper, Trophy Boy stars the actor as pampered and self-absorbed “social media star” James. Online, James’ universe of followers are captivated by what they believe is his exciting life. Outside cyberspace, and unbeknownst to those followers, James’ “exciting life” is as real as the last episode of their favorite TV show. In other words: it’s all fiction.

Worse for James, the lie of that “exciting life” is exposed when his longtime benefactor/much older boyfriend Mark (played by Gerald McCullouch) boots him from his apartment. James’ only voice of reason is his sexually overactive best friend Andy (played by Anthony Johnston, who also co-wrote the film with Cooper), but when Andy abandons him, will the newly humbled ex-Instagram icon find a way to start an honest new life in the real world?

In making Trophy Boy, Cooper highlights how the excesses of social media can ultimately take down the most vain among us. While Cooper’s own memories of using and consuming social media influenced the idea for Trophy Boy, the film shows off Cooper reprising an archetype he once played on stage: the narcissistic, deceptive influencer that’s embodied in his latest character.

What (and/or who) inspired you to make this film?

Emrhys Cooper (actor/writer/director, Trophy Boy): Two sources. One: witnessing, during my years in Los Angeles and New York, a generation of people transfixed by their social media “likes” and statistics, and basing their self-esteem almost entirely on those sources. Last year, I wasn’t necessarily being cast in the kind of juicy parts I wanted to play. So I thought, why not do it myself?

Two: one of my favorite roles I’ve ever played to date was (the) title role in the stage production of Entertaining Mr. Sloane. I rather enjoyed playing a “psychopathic con man.” So, I guess I wanted to revisit that character on screen.

L-R: TROPHY BOY co-stars/co-writers Emrhys Cooper and Anthony Johnston. Photo courtesy Andrew Werner.

In what ways have your own experiences with social media influenced the creation of Trophy Boy, the story it tells, and the character (James) you play in the film?

Cooper: Give the devil his due: I was also, for many years, centered on what bits of information my social media was feeding back to me. It was my mirror. I’d wake up in the morning and turn immediately to Instagram. There were times when my acting career was zooming upward — and also, the social media attention. The development of narcissism was appalling.

That, in turn, made me study social media attention even more. It’s a vicious cycle. The best fix, my better angels told me, was to go cold turkey, stop looking at my own “likes” and “comments” and (to) instead dive headlong into the development of a modern morality tale. And that, Chris, was the ticket to the tale of the past year.

What were some of the most challenging/exciting parts of portraying James in Trophy Boy?

Cooper: Definitely it was portraying what one fan called an “insufferable” character. I was concerned that as I used some of my own social media in the film, people will think it’s really me. But taking my ego out of the equation, I hope it makes people look at how they’re presenting themselves to the world. Since its release, I’ve been blown away by the amount of people who have reached out to me with such personal stories of social media and the damaging effects it’s had on them.

As an actor who uses social media on a heavy basis, how has playing James in Trophy Boy helped you to understand the excesses and dangers of that medium?

Cooper: I used to put a lot of weight on to social media for validation, especially if things weren’t going well work wise or in my personal relationships. But now I am less bothered about just posting pretty/perfect pics. I’d rather focus my energy on projects that can have much more of an impact. I understand how important social media can be, but at the same time, I think it’s best to not let it rule your life.

L-R: TROPHY BOY co-stars Anthony Johnston, Emrhys Cooper and Gerald McCullouch. Photo courtesy Andrew Werner.

Discuss how the other 2 characters in the film — James’ benefactor Mark (Gerald McCullouch), and James’ best friend Andy (Anthony Johnston) — represent the other problems James has to overcome (lack of self-reliance, self-destructive behavior) in Trophy Boy.

Cooper: James’ benefactor, Mark, had been an enabler. James was not able to grow psychologically while Mark was taking care of his life. Mark would have encouraged James to doubt his ability to grow up and take care of himself. Life with Mark is not shown in this film, but this is a subtle suggestion for a series. Andy was James’ “better angel.” He tried to help. Alas, James appears to be beyond help at this point. We’ll all have to wait to see what happens next.

How did you find your cast?

Cooper: I had the idea for Trophy Boy a few years back, but needed a writer to help me with the script. I attended the premiere of Alan Cumming’s film After Louis and was very impressed by not only Anthony Johnston’s performance in the film, but also his writing of the script.

I met him afterwards, briefly pitched him the idea, and the rest is history. We organically came up with our friendship. My first choice for the role of Mark was always Gerald McCullouch, Anthony had recently met him, and luckily, Gerald agreed to sign on.

What was the production process like?

Cooper: It was honestly one of the best filming experiences I’ve had. Apart from coordinating the locations, there wasn’t any stress. Being the director, I wanted everyone to shine and enjoy the project. We shot for four days this past February in New York City & Brooklyn.

Trophy Boy has gained tremendous acclaim on the festival circuit, including during its showing at the recent Cannes Film Festival. How has that benefitted not only the film itself, but also your own career?

Cooper: Being selected into some prestigious film festivals has given the film and myself some great exposure, which will hopefully let me continue to tell stories.

Emrhys Cooper stars as the vain “social media star” James in TROPHY BOY. Photo courtesy Andrew Werner.

Trophy Boy is currently being expanded into a half-hour episodic series. When and where can viewers expect to see it, and how will it further develop the story and characters introduced in the short film?

Cooper: You’ll get to learn a lot more about James’s past and meet his colorful group of friends. A lot of season 1 is based on things I’ve experienced firsthand, or are going on in the media. The series delves deep into the salacious world of four social media “stars” — where the audience quickly learns that all that glitters isn’t gold.

What do you hope people take away from watching the film, and what advice do you have for viewers who use social media regularly?

Cooper: Firstly, to tear their eyes away from social media sites, and (to) take 10–15 minutes to just meditate or find something that helps you find your inner peace. Ask yourself: “How important am I, really, to whom? Who would take care of me if I were disabled or injured? Who can I trust? What qualities can I improve upon? What do I think ‘happiness’ really means?”

I’m a great believer in meditation. It can makes us humble, and put us all on the same playing field regardless of age, looks, and abilities. One can keep in mind — whether you are religious or not — the ending of one of the most famous poems of all time, the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” written by one of my native England’s great poets, Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

“He prayeth best, who loveth best 
All things both great and small; 
For the dear God who loveth us, 
He made and loveth all.”

Trophy Boy can be seen here:
https://vimeo.com/259475704

For more information on the film, visit:
http://www.trophyboyfilm.com/