Published: November 13, 2012
Scott Raab talks with the actor about his new film The Silver Linings Playbook and college and his dad and motorcycles. And then David O. Russell stops by.
Early evening, David O. Russell’s office in Los Angeles. Cooper and Russell have been meeting about their next film.
SCOTT RAAB: Yo!
BRADLEY COOPER: Whatup!
SR: With all the time and location changes for our interview, I thought I might wind up meeting Anderson Cooper at midnight in Bakersfield. And I mean that as a compliment. Thanks for meeting with me.
BC: Are you kiddin’?
SR: Good meeting with Russell?
BC: Yeah. Hopefully David will come in and talk to us.
SR: Are you ready to go?
BC: Let’s go. You want some water?
SR: Thanks. You’re very kind. It seems that you have been pretty successful from the very beginning of your career. Was there any dues paying?
BC: No. I mean, it depends on how you define “dues.” I worked through grad school, and I got this job hosting Treks [in a Wild World], which was incredible. I went to Croatia, the Kornati Islands. They wanted a guy with experience with extreme travel but who has extreme sensibilities. I had never even camped before.
SR: Come on.
BC: Never been in a tent. Didn’t grow up like that.
SR: In an interview about that Trek show, you say you learned that the body “self-cleans,” so you don’t wear deodorant. Maybe your body self-cleans, but mine doesn’t.
BC: I think you have to define “self-cleans.” But yeah, I don’t use deodorant really anymore. I do take a lot of showers, so maybe that helps.
SR: Multiple daily showers?
BC: In the morning and then at night. And after I work out, I’ll take a shower. So maybe three a day. Anyway, with Alias, I moved to L. A. and paid off my student loans. One of the major driving forces was my dad went from here to here. And I wanted to go from here to here.
SR: You’ve talked about your father a lot in interviews.
BC: My father was viciously smart and intellectually curious. We lived across the street from a movie theater. And he would always talk about all these movies, and when I was at the age of being able to appreciate them, he just started throwin’ ’em my way. He was a huge Tom Courtenay fan. Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner was one of the first ones he showed me. And The Dresser. And Under the Volcano. He loved Albert Finney.
SR: Have you read that novel?
BC: No. Is it great?
SR: Harrowing. One of the great raging toxic-drunk novels of all time.
BC: What a character.
SR: You mentioned grad school. Not a lot of actors at your level have gone to grad school. You started out at Villanova?
BC: Right. Where my pop went. But I didn’t really want to go to Villanova. I applied to Georgetown outta high school. I still remember on the pay phone, calling my dad in the office, and he said, “You got the letter, and you got rejected.” It really floored me. It gutted me. Eventually I said, “Dad, I’m gonna reapply,” and he said, “Do it.” We took the train together from Philly to D. C., and we met with this guy, Father Knoth, the associate dean. And we went in and we had an interview for about three hours. My dad and the father were both smoking and talking about being Irish and growing up in the neighborhood. A month later, I get a call, and he said, “Bradley, it’s Father Knoth. Well, you got in, pal.” When I hung up, I was crying. It was a big deal.
SR: It is a big deal.
BC: College is a big fucking deal.
SR: From everything I’ve read, you’re a dutiful, loving son.
BC: I grew up in an interesting family. My father was Irish, and my mother was Italian.
SR: That tribal mix can lead to some volatility.
BC: It’s a rich tapestry.
SR: It’s a moist tapestry.
BC: It’s soaking in volatility. But I was raised well. I put them through some hell, of course. I got arrested when I was 15.
SR: What for?
BC: Just underage drinking. My mom always said, “Just call me, I wanna know where you are.” We always had good lines of communication, me and my parents.
SR: Not to mischaracterize the industry or southern California, but in Hollywood, you’re adrift in a strange sea here. And have been for a long time.
BC: I don’t feel like this is even home. It’s truly a nomadic profession. Film actors are the modern-day carnies.
SR: Fifteen million for acting in a film. That’s gotta be weird.
BC: It’s afforded me the ability to do the five movies I did between Hangover II and Hangover III. And you can solve people’s problems. To be able to say to someone, “You know what? I’m gonna buy your house for you. You don’t have to worry about the mortgage anymore.”
SR: It’s a superpower.
BC: It really is. And I’m not somebody who collects anything. I don’t get off on that.
SR: Cars, watches…?
BC: I love motorcycles. That’s my Ducati outside.
SR: You be careful, son.
BC: I ride very slow. It’s true when they say it’s poor man’s therapy. Do you ride bikes?
SR: A long time ago. And it scared me even when I was doing quaaludes and Wild Turkey. I always felt like I was prey to every idiot out there.
BC: I love the focus aspect of it. And you get everywhere fast because you can split lanes in California. And in Hollywood, there’s so much paparazzi, it’s just logistically phenomenal. Because you’re anonymous. You have a helmet on your head.
SR: I would never want fame.
BC: I live a pretty normal life.
SR: You do?
BC: For the most part.
SR: You’re a somewhat regular-looking guy.
BC: It’s true. I’m walking down the street? Nothing.
SR: A handsome regular-looking guy.
BC: Yeah, but the everyman.
SR: How do you keep that beard so thin?
BC: This is for The Hangover III.
SR: There’s a lot of talent in the Hangover movies. You, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis.
BC: Ed is such a great actor. Just the other day we were doin’ this scene, I turn to Todd Phillips, the director, and I say, “Who’s as talented as this guy? God, how good is fucking Ed Helms?” I mean, he’s such a great actor. As is Zach Galifianakis. These two guys. Forget how funny they are — they’re great actors.
SR: I don’t think people have any idea of Galifianakis’s range because he’s so perfect as the doofus in The Hangover.
BC: That will be shattered within a year, if not sooner, I think. Due Date was beautiful, but maybe it was a little similar to the Hangover movies.
SR: What happened to The Words?
BC: Oh, I don’t know.
SR: We don’t have to talk about it.
BC: No, we can talk about it. It’s a really sweet movie, and for a first outing, for a guy who’s never directed a movie, it’s incredible. And the acting’s good, it was the best thing I think I’d done.
[David O. Russell walks in.]
DAVID O. RUSSELL: Sorry, sorry.
SR [whispering]: That’s David O. Russell.
BC [whispering]: I know, man.
DOR I broke up your whole thing, didn’t I?
BC: What are you, nuts?
SR: When I told my wife we were meeting at your office, we both got excited. I mean, Spanking the Monkey?
BC: Beautiful film.
DOR We’re excited, too. We’re grateful to be here. This is where we cut the movie [Silver Linings Playbook], and we’re the last ones out.
SR: You guys are doing business today?
DOR We’re talking about the next movie we’re doing with Megan Ellison, who’s saving cinema. You know about her?
BC: Phenomenal story.
DOR The daughter of Larry Ellison. Who’s Larry Ellison?
SR: The Oracle guy.
DOR But what’s Oracle?
SR: Software guy. He’s a visionary, a seer.
DOR All I know is his daughter and his son have these companies, and she’s gonna finance this next movie that we’re gonna do with Christian Bale and Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. And she did Spike Jonze’s movie.
BC: She did The Master.
DOR She did Kathryn Bigelow’s picture. People are calling her [Ellison] a savior.
BC: She’s 26 years old.
SR: What made you want to work with the Coop?
DOR I saw him in Wedding Crashers, and he seemed like an angry person to me. Not just the role, but the person. And he was large. He was probably 50 pounds heavier than he is right now.
DOR Whenever I’d see him around socially, I’d think, He seems scary to me. As much as I love the Hangover movies, I knew he wasn’t just a glib, handsome guy. He seemed angry, and anger is interesting to me. But that was only the tip of the iceberg. I had to know what else was under the hood — I’m mixing all my metaphors. So I said to him, “You seem angry.” And he said it was something that he used as a defense. Who admits that in an early conversation? I love that kind of forthrightness because, you know, to my great detriment, I wear everything on my sleeve. I thought, Oh, my God, this is really interesting. He had this defense, and he was actually sort of the opposite of angry. He was scared or vulnerable.
SR: Underneath anger is hurt and fear.
DOR [to Cooper]: What was your first feeling about this role?
BC: I was terrified.
DOR That means you’re not faking it. It’s a good fear. Be afraid. People don’t really know who he is. People see the Hangover movies, but that’s not who he is. [Silver Linings Playbook] is gonna be another one of those. People are gonna say, “Bradley Cooper?” This guy’s got many more in the chamber to bring out. He’s got that hunger and excitement that someone has when they’re breaking.
SR: De Niro seemed totally lit up in this movie.
DOR He was very motivated by the character. These guys, after so many years, they don’t wanna memorize monologues, but he came and worked so hard to memorize every fucking monologue, and it meant so much to him to bring it, and just that was so humbling and beautiful.
BC: His energy? I’m 37 and this guy’s 69 years old. But you better bring your stamina with him. He’s forever 15.
DOR Bob is tireless. Did you talk about Jennifer [Lawrence]? Very strong instincts.
BC: It’s uncanny. Twenty-two years old.
SR: She’s a baby.
BC: Her truth meter is severe. We would defer to her when we were trying to figure things out and she’d be like: Bam!
DOR You don’t know what the fuck’s going on with her. You talk to her and you think she’s just hanging out, but she’s like Joe DiMaggio. She gets on the field and you’re like, What the fuck just happened? She came in and hit a triple and then walked off and acted like nothing’s happening. Sometimes she sounds like a 40-year-old, and then she says something that reminds you that she’s not. And you think, Am I getting into a serious conversation with you? Go fuck yourself, punk. Go learn a couple things before you talk to me that way.
SR [to Russell]: You don’t make enough movies.
DOR I’m gonna start doin’ a lot now.
DOR You know what it’s like.
SR: I don’t know what it’s like.
DOR I feel like we’re on a roll with this picture. And we’re gonna do the next one with Jeremy and Christian and Amy…. Anyway, I’m going to let you guys talk.
SR: It seems like you have some organic sense of joy in just talking about this stuff, that you’re focused, and that you’re enjoying this enormously.
BC: There’s not much agony that goes into it for me. Probably the biggest gift that I have being in this industry is that I like people. So it’s not agonizing to me to deal with people on a daily basis. Shame on me if I have one complaint. I mean, Jesus.
SR: Is that little ponytail thing for The Hangover III?
BC: My character, Phil, has long hair, and it always goes in my face, so I just keep this.
SR: Well, you can pull it off. Not everyone can.
BC: Don’t you get to a certain age where you try to live comfortably? I might look like some sort of elf or something, but my hair’s not in my face and I can talk to you.
SR: You don’t seem to have an act.
BC: That’s right.
SR: That’s a great place to be.
BC: What a relief, energy-wise. There’s so much room for me to listen to you, as opposed to perform for you. I actually can take you in and learn from you.
SR: Good luck with that.
BC: But it’s the truth.
SR: I watched a lot of your movies the last few days, and I’m amazed at how much I like The A-Team. I’ve seen it twice.
BC: I loved that experience. It just didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to exactly.
SR: Did it disappoint?
BC: It did. Otherwise we would’ve made another one. But it was a great experience. And another chance to look under the hood of a director and see how he works. I learned so much from Joe Carnahan.
SR: Teaching and learning seem so important to you. Didn’t you teach while in grad school?
BC: There was this thing called Learning Through an Expanded Arts Program. You have a semester curriculum, and you teach a trade in the New York public-school system. I had about six schools on the roster. I was taking acting classes and I was in these workshops taught by Ellen Burstyn, and I would take exactly what she did and use it to teach sixth graders at P.S. 123 in the Bronx or Queens.
SR: Why not?
BC: It was amazing, incredible. And what a sociological experiment. It was fascinating. And it took everything out of me. At the end of the day, I was done. I was recovering. Teaching is no joke. It’s all-encompassing, teaching.
SR: You’re a good guy. I’ve made my judgment. You’re a good guy.
BC: Well, it paid well.
SR: Now you sound like a prick.
BC: You’re a prick.
SR: Thank you for taking the time.
BC: Of course.
© 2013 Esquire | Written by Scott Raab | No copyright infringment intended.