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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.
He played the leading role of Michael in the RTÉ/Element Pictures film Bitter Sweet for which he received a Best Actor nomination at the 2009 Monte Carlo Television and Film Awards.
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.
In 2011, he wrote and starred in a series of parodies on YouTube sponsored by sports betting agency Betdaq.
Later that year 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 a production of Conor McPherson's The Weir at The Donmar Warehouse, which transferred to the West End in 2014. It also starred Brian Cox, Dervla Kirwin, Ardal O'Hanlon and Peter McDonald and was directed by Josie Rourke.
In September 2014 he appeared as Sir Henry Coverly in the ITV drama The Suspicions of Mr Whicher "The Ties That Bind", while in 2015 he portrayed Dermot Nally in RTÉ's "Charlie" and most recently, the serial-killer Laurie Gaskell in the critically acclaimed eight-part comedy-drama "No Offence" for Channel 4.
Cooper also writes for the newspaper, The Irish Times.
The following is a list of appearances by Risteard Cooper.
"Bird Sanctuary - Abbey Theatre debut (1995)
- Après Match RTÉ (1998 - present)
"Cyrano" Gate Theatre debut (1998)
- This is Ireland by Arthur Mathews BBC 2 (2004)
- Chasing the Lions TV3 (2005)
- I, Keano (2005)
- Batman Begins (2005) - Captain Simonson
- Chasing The Blues (2007)
- Bittersweet RTÉ 1 (2008)
- Chase the Lions RTÉ (2009)
- An Crisis (TG4 - 2010)
"Pygmalion - Abbey (2011) "Juno & the Paycock - National Theatre (2012) "The Weir - West End (2013 & 2014)
- "The Suspicions of Mr Whicher" - ITV (2014)
"Charlie" - RTÉ 1 (2015) "No Offence" Channel 4 (2015)
"Delicious" - Sky 1 (2017) Played the part of James Harley
- "Risteaed Cooper". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2015-03-11.