Cooper graduated from the acting program at the Samuel Beckett Centre, Trinity College. He lived in New York for several years where he worked at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, the Irish Rep and Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company (founded by, amongst others, John Malkovich) playing Mickey in the American premiere of Jez Butterworth's Olivier award-winning play, Mojo directed by Ian Rickson.
He has played lead roles in the major theatres in Ireland including Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme at the Abbey Theatre, Auntie and Me at the Gaiety Theatre, I Keano at the Olympia Theatre, and in numerous productions at the Gate Theatre such as Arcadia, An Ideal Husband, See You Next Tuesday, Eccentricities of a Nightingale, Betrayal (Pinter Festival) and The Deep Blue Sea.
In 2009, he played the role of Dmitri in the critically acclaimed production of Brian Friel's play The Yalta Game, directed by Patrick Mason for the Gate Theatre at the 2009 Sydney and Edinburgh International Festivals.
He starred as Setanta de Paor in An Crisis, an Irish language satirical comedy series for TG4 for which he was also nominated at the 2010 Monte Carlo Awards, this time in the Best Comedy Actor category.
Also in 2010, he wrote and appeared in a series of parodies sponsored by Betdaq for YouTube.
In 2011, he played Henry Higgins in the Abbey Theatre's first ever production of Shaw's Pygmalion going on in 2012 to star as Joxer Daly with Ciarán Hinds (Boyle) and Sinéad Cusack (Juno) in O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock at the Abbey Theatre, before transferring to the National Theatre of Great Britain.
In 2013 he played Finbar in the highly acclaimed production of Conor McPherson's The Weir at The Donmar Warehouse, which will transfer to the Wyndham's Theatre in London's West End in January 2014. It also stars Brian Cox, Dervla Kirwin, Ardal O'Hanlon and Peter McDonald and is directed by Josie Rourke.
Cooper also writes for the newspaper, The Irish Times.
The following is a list of appearances by Risteard Cooper.
- Après Match (1996 - present)
- The Closer You Get (2000)
- The Big Bow Wow (2004)
- This is Ireland (2004)
- Chasing the Lions (2005)
- I, Keano (2005)
- Batman Begins (2005)
- The State of Us (2007)
- Chasing The Blues (2007)
- Bittersweet (2008)
- Chase the Lions (2009)
- An Crisis (TG4 - 2010)