Bradley Cooper Finds 'Silver Linings' Everywhere
Originally published on Thu February 7, 2013 11:14 am
Bradley Cooper, who is nominated for an Academy Award for his performance as the bipolar Pat Solitano in Silver Linings Playbook, tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that he and director David O. Russell approached the role with the idea that Cooper would "play as real and authentic as [h]e could."
The role is informed by Russell's son, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Says Cooper: "I definitely felt that anchor for [Russell]."
The film itself is adapted from the novel of the same name by Matthew Quick, and the Pat character is integral to the line it walks between comedy and drama.
"We never discussed the idea of whether it was going to be a comedic tone or a dramatic tone," says Cooper. "It was all about being a real tone. ... If you have two characters that have no filter and are going to have a discussion about the medicines that they take, chances are, comedy could, you know, be a byproduct. And that ... occurred when Tiffany Maxwell and Pat Solitano have that discussion around the dining room table about Klonopin and trazodone and all of the various drugs that they take."
Cooper — also known for his roles in the Hangover movies, Wedding Crashers, Limitless and The Words — not only acted in but executive-produced Silver Linings Playbook. He sat in on the editing room with Russell, which is an unusual thing for actors to do. It was an opportunity, however, that Cooper jumped at.
"I hit the jackpot with this movie, because David O. Russell and I from the get-go connected in a huge way. And it really felt like he made me his partner through the filming of the movie, and that led into the post-production," he says.
Directing might be a next step for Cooper; on Silver Linings, he says, it was "almost like I went to film school with this film."
On Robert De Niro's easy naturalism
"As I've been acting the last 12 years, I've thought, 'Well, the one thing I do have is this ability to make things seem ... that I'm not acting.' I've always felt like I can make lines that have been written come out of my mouth in [a] realistic way. ... [T]hen I met Robert De Niro and did the movie Limitless with him and realized that that wasn't the case.
"I ... still remember the table read for Limitless. ... He comes in on about page 25. ... The beginning of the movie is basically my character talking — there's a lot of voice-over — and then all of a sudden he says something to me, and I stopped the reading, and I turned to him and I said, 'I'm sorry. What's that?' And I realized he was actually saying his first line, but it was so grounded — as if he wasn't acting — and I realized, 'Oh, I've just been acting my tail off for the past 20 minutes. And here's an example of somebody, you know, saying what they mean and meaning what they say.'"
On wanting to be an actor after watching Elephant Man as a child
"The movie ended, and I either turned to my father or myself and thought, 'I want to be an actor,' and that never changed up until today. ... It was almost like a party trick for my parents or my cousins or my sister to say, 'Hey, look at little Bradley. He knows what he wants to do when he grows up already,' and then I would say, 'I want to be an actor,' and everybody would laugh."
On watching films as a kid with his father
"It was two kids with popcorn in front of them enjoying the film. That was always the great thing about my dad. I always felt like he was my friend. We used to have this game called 'Would You Put Him in the Movie?' — or 'Her in the Movie?' — and we would have the ultimate film that would have the best actors. [T]he way that we would rate performances in movies is, 'Would they be worthy of the movie?' And so we would be watching a scene and I'd turn to him and say, 'Would you put him in?' And then he'd say, 'Mmmm, maybe not.' So that was the barometer. But outside of that, there was no intellectual discussion about, 'You see, Son, this is how you set up the protagonist.' Nothing like that."
On sending in audition tapes for big roles while he was in grad school
"There would be calls for, I remember, The Patriot for the Heath Ledger role, or Armageddon for the Ben Affleck role, when I was in grad school. ... So I would put myself on tape — I had like a camcorder — and I didn't even have anybody to read with, so I would actually read the other character's lines, leave space in the tape recorder and then say my line, and I did that honestly, Terry, maybe 200 or 250 times over the course of two years while I was in school. And then I would just hand-deliver the tape to whatever casting address there was."
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Bradley Cooper, is nominated for an Oscar for his starring role in "Silver Linings Playbook." We're going to talk about that film, and about lots of other things relating to his life and career.
Cooper grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia, FRESH AIR's hometown. He became famous for his role in "The Hangover." Since then, he's starred in "Hangover 2" and in "Limitless" and "The Words," playing writers in both of those films. And then there's the title Sexiest Man Alive, which People magazine conferred on him in 2011. Let's start with a scene from "Silver Linings Playbook," which was directed by David O. Russell.
Cooper plays Pat Solitano, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after violently reacting to his wife having an affair. When the film begins, he's being released from a psychiatric institution with the understanding he'll live in Philadelphia with his parents, who will help him readjust to the outside world.
But what he really wants is his wife back, even though she has a restraining order against him. Pat's father, a smalltime bookie who takes bets on football, is so volatile, he's not the best role model for dealing with anxiety. In this scene, it's an Eagles game day. Pat's mother, played by Jacki Weaver, is making snacks. His father, played by Robert De Niro, is on edge. And Pat is preparing to go running. He's hyper and unusually happy, thinking he's about to get a message to his ex.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK")
JACKI WEAVER: (As Dolores) I'm making crabby snacks and home-mades.
BRADLEY COOPER: (As Pat) Yeah, come on, Dad. Be nice. Come one, she's making crabby snacks and home-mades. Come on, Dad.
ROBERT DE NIRO: (As Pat, Sr.) What are you so up about?
WEAVER: (As Dolores) You're very happy.
COOPER: (As Pat) I'm happy.
NIRO: (As Pat, Sr.) No. You're so up, up, up, up.
COOPER: (As Pat) Isn't that a good thing?
NIRO: (As Pat, Sr.) No. You're just up, up, up, up. I don't know what that is. Are you taking the proper dosage of your medication?
COOPER: (As Pat) Am I taking the right dose? Of course I am.
NIRO: (As Pat, Sr.) OK. Are you taking a little bit too many or something?
COOPER: (As Pat) No. If I was taking that, I would be on the floor, Dad.
GROSS: Bradley Cooper, welcome to FRESH AIR, and congratulations on your Oscar nomination. So let's start with "Silver Linings Playbook" and figuring out how to play this character. This character is bipolar, which is pretty serious, but the film's a comedy. So how did you figure out how to play him?
COOPER: First of all, it's an honor to be here on this show.
GROSS: Oh, thank you. Honor to have you.
COOPER: Yeah, a massive honor. It's almost surreal that I'm actually hearing your voice and talking with you.
GROSS: Oh, really?
COOPER: Well, normally I'm just listening to you talk with somebody else.
COOPER: The thing about this movie and this character, Pat Solitano, was just to play him as real and as authentic as we could. And we never discussed the idea of whether it was going to be a comedic tone or a dramatic tone. It was all about being a real tone.
So for me, I just focused on that, and then musicality of the way David directs and the actors that he asked to come together, that sort of dictated the comedy and the drama. And I think it's all based on the characters.
For example, if you have two characters that have no filter and are going to have a discussion about the medicines that they take, chances are comedy could, you know, be a byproduct. And that sort of occurred when Tiffany Maxwell and Pat Solitano have that discussion around the dining room table about Klonopin and trazodone and all of the various drugs that they take.
GROSS: So, you know, you're talking about the music of David O. Russell's writing and directing, and one of the things he does in this film - there's a lot of not only overlapping dialogue, but overlapping, like, screaming and hysteria...
GROSS: ...like with you and De Niro, who plays your father, and then the character, you know, who - the actress who plays your mother chiming in.
COOPER: Jacki Weaver, yeah.
GROSS: Yeah, she's great - and the neighbors shouting. So I'm wondering how all of that is orchestrated, like what it looks like on the script, and what kind of direction David Russell gives you when everybody's kind of hysterical at the same time.
COOPER: You know, a scene where Robert De Niro and my character, when Pat Solitano and Pat, Sr. are yelling at each other - for example, in the parlay scene - there's a lot of overlapping screaming. And the dialogue, I think, as written, was just that, you know, what did you do? You know, as Pat comes in, the father said what did you do? You blew it. You know, you spiked the ball at the one yard line.
But because David really cares about the idea of interaction in real time, once I opened that door, Bob was unleashed onto me, and whatever happened happened. And what happened was he started to scream at me in such an authentic way, and I immediately started to cry.
And like a hyena, I sounded, that was sort of shot. And in the editing room, we had to - because we wanted to salvage Bob's performance, because it was so wonderful, we had to constantly take out this sort of crying hyena over my back, which was me crying as Bob was calling me a loser.
GROSS: What was wrong with your crying? I mean, you said you wanted to be authentic, and you were crying.
COOPER: It was authentic, but, you know, sometimes you realize that things just don't work cinematically. For example, when I read the letter, Nikki's letter, we did one take where David and I found something very sort of real for me, and it unleashed, you know, a very emotional reaction, and I cried through the whole letter. And I remember when we were shooting it, and Jennifer sort of - you know, because she's watching it. And she just said Bradley, oh, my God.
And I thought, wow, that was just insane. And then when we got to the editing room and you watched that take, it's just very unpleasant to observe. And you realize, oh, that just doesn't work. That just - you know, less is more. And I think that that is - that also is true for the laugh, the crying hyena part of that parlay scene.
I think it just would have overpowered what Bob was doing, and it just - it sounded so crazy, that it just works much better without it.
GROSS: Do you cry like a hyena in real life?
COOPER: You know what? I guess I have to say yes, because I did then, and that wasn't really acting, you know. I mean, it was happening. There - I think I weep in many different fashions.
GROSS: I feel like I'm at my most hideous when I cry, because I think my whole face goes into, like, spasms. It's not a delicate sight.
COOPER: Yes. Me, too. Yeah. It's not - like, some people just - you know, you see them cry, and it's kind of just wonderfully sort of angelic. No, no, for me, it looks like there's something very, very disturbing happening inside of me.
GROSS: Now, you mentioned when we were in the editing room, and actors are usually not in the editing room.
COOPER: Yeah, that's correct. I hit the jackpot with this movie, because David O. Russell and I, from the get-go, connected in a huge way. And it really felt like he made me his partner through the filming of the movie, and that bled into the post-production. And he really - it - I've always sort of, when I start a project, sort of say the same to the director that, you know, look. I don't think like an actor, and I can really be an asset if you want me to, you know, help you tell the story, because I truly don't - I'm not going to try to protect my performance. I'm going to try to help you tell the best story.
And that's not from any sort of selfless endeavor. I do believe it. I'd rather be bad in a great movie than great in a bad movie. It's always about the movie. And, you know, very often, directors sort of hear - it comes in one ear, and out the other. But he really sort of, I think, saw that, oh, wow. This guy is my partner on the field, and he's not - his primary objective is not to serve his own self. It's for the film.
And that was wonderful. And so he invited me in the editing room, and it was almost like I had a - I went to film school with this film, and I was able to, you know, become executive producer of it, which all that really did was them just sort of bestowing a title onto me so I don't have to apologize before every sort of suggestion I tend to, you know, share.
GROSS: You had used the expression unleashing De Niro, that they unleashed De Niro on me. And De Niro, you know, he's such a mystery to me. I think he's a great actor, obviously, and...
COOPER: Have you ever interviewed him?
GROSS: No, and I probably never will because my impression is - and you can tell me that I'm wrong. My impression is that he doesn't enjoy being interviewed, and also that he's not - he never strikes me, on those rare occasions when I see him interviewed, as somebody who's a particularly verbal person, at least not in an interview situation. He just always seems to be monosyllabic and uncomfortable.
And so when I think of him improvising and suddenly having all this to say and saying it with such animation, and he never seems animated in interviews.
COOPER: It's interesting. And then you see that man, you know, on a houseboat in what looks like a sort of tsunami-like situation going on a dissertation, almost biblical, in "Cape Fear." And you think, wow. That's the same guy? You know, it's - as Max Cady. You know, it's incredible, this guy's facility for language.
But you're right, in interviews, you think that, well that - is that the same person? But, you know, I've been blessed that he's my friend, and I do - have witnessed him being extremely articulate. There's no way he could have directed "The Good Shepherd" and "Bronx Tale" if he wasn't an articulate person who can, you know, convey his very sort of sophisticated ideas to actors and direct a movie. It's a very hard thing to direct a movie, and certainly a good one. And both of those movies are very good. And...
GROSS: Is there something you could put your finger on that you learned from working with him?
COOPER: Oh, gosh, so much, Terry, so much. And - well not - first of all, just the basics, which he taught me through example more than a sort of didactic approach of, you know, sort of sitting me down, just, you know, don't act. Trust what is happening, and don't push it.
And I've always sort of thought, as I've been acting the last 12 years, I've thought, well, the one thing I do have is this ability to make things seem like they're just - that I'm not acting. I've always felt like I can sort of make lines that have been written come out of my mouth in a very realistic way. And then I sort of - then I met Robert De Niro and did the movie "Limitless" with him, and I realized that that wasn't the case.
COOPER: And that happened. I still remember the table read for "Limitless," and he comes in on about page 25. And first of all, he's sitting next to me, which was just incredibly intimidating. And I'm - the beginning of the movie is basically my character talking, and there's a lot of voice-over.
And then, all of a sudden, he says something to me, and I stopped the reading. And I turned to him and I said: I'm sorry. What was that? And I realized he was actually saying his first line, but it was so grounded, as if he wasn't acting. And I realized, oh, I've just been acting, you know, just, you know, my tail off for the past 20 minutes. And here's an example of somebody, you know, saying what they mean and meaning what they say.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Bradley Cooper, and he's nominated for an Oscar for his starring role in "Silver Linings Playbook." Let's take a short break, then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Bradley Cooper, and he's nominated for an Oscar for his starring role in "Silver Linings Playbook." What made you want to act?
COOPER: Well, it crystallized for me in "The Elephant Man." I mean, it literally was the - you know, I watched the film, the movie ended, and I either turned to my father or myself and thought: I want to be an actor. And that never changed up until today, you know, never.
And it was almost like a party trick for my parents or my cousins or my sister to say, hey, look at little Bradley - he knows what he wants to do when he grows up already. And then I would say I want to be an actor, and everybody would laugh.
But before that, I definitely became completely entranced by television and film growing up. I mean, you know, Saturdays, you know - and PBS was a huge thing and watching, you know, "Gomer Pyle" and "Mr. Ed" and the "Colgate Comedy Hour" and Sid Caesar and "The Show of Shows." I mean, these were all TV shows that I watched all the time, and "The Jeffersons."
And then films, my father would show me movies all the time, when I was very young, from like 10, 11, 12. He would show me "Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner," "Hiroshima, Mon Amour," "Deer Hunter" - I mean movies that just, you know, you wouldn't normally show a kid. But I...
GROSS: These are grim movies for a kid.
COOPER: These are grim movies, but I think maybe he saw I had so...
GROSS: How old were you?
COOPER: I was, you know, very young, before my teens, you know, 10, 11, 12. But I had such a hunger for it. And I think that was prompted by knowing that he was so moved by it, and I always wanted to emulate him. But then that sort of parlayed into me enjoying it on my own.
And I always had a real hunger to be older when I was young. You know, I always wanted to be older than I was. So I think that also was an engine to try to learn about things that probably kids my age wouldn't normally want to learn.
GROSS: So when you were watching films with your father, was he a good guide? Would he, like, tell you things to watch out for and talk about the performances or, you know, discuss the implications of the story with you?
COOPER: No. It was much more like two sort of kids with popcorn in front of them, enjoying the film. That was always the great thing about my dad, is I always felt like I was - he was my friend. And the only thing I can really remember specifically is we used to have this game that we would have called Would You Put Him in the Movie, or Her in the Movie.
And we would have this - the ultimate film that would have the best actors. And the way that we would rate performances in movies is: Would they be worthy of the movie? And so we would be watching a scene, and so I'd turn to him and say: Would you put him in? And then he'd say: Maybe not. So that was the barometer.
But outside of that, there was no sort of intellectual discussion about: You see, son, this is how, you know, you set up the protagonist - or nothing like that.
GROSS: So who was in the movie?
COOPER: De Niro was definitely in the movie. Albert Finney was a - he had a big role in the movie. He may have been the lead in the movie. But it would change. I think the character would have many different - it was a long movie, God, and I don't know, the budget would probably have been insane with all the talent. Peter O'Toole was in the movie, Glenda Jackson, Julie Christie, Omar Sharif, a lot of people, Richard Pryor, Gene Wilder, Shelley Duvall, Jack Nicholson - yeah, tons of people.
GROSS: Sounds like an Altman film.
COOPER: Yeah, it does, yeah, exactly.
GROSS: So let's talk about "The Elephant Man" because you said this is the movie that really made you want to be an actor. And this is a movie directed by David Lynch, and it's based on the true story of John Merrick, who was born with a lot of physical deformities and became a specimen in - an exhibit in a freak show.
But I don't know much about the story of the real John Merrick, but the way he is in the movie, he's a beautiful, sensitive soul with a very kind of, like, artistic spirit. But instead of being able to show that artistic spirit to others, his deformities are what is on display in this freak show. And it's so - well, tell us what you love about this film.
COOPER: It was his innocence, or rather his joy of life, despite all of the maladies, both physical and situational, that affected him. And I remember just sort of scenes like when they finally give him - when Anne Bancroft's character, Mrs. Kendal, give him his little sort of dopp kit, and he's sitting there, like, brushing the hair, and it's just so - with his new outfit on, or, you know, how much he was - how gentle he was.
It just sort of killed me as a kid thinking how this man felt so much joy, despite everything that was going on with his life. I think that's what happened. But I just know that I couldn't - I mean, that movie really just - I was sidelined for days afterwards. You know, everything that David Lynch was able to do, the fact that he chose to shoot it in black and white, that carnival music, the "Adagio for Strings."
GROSS: That music's great, yeah.
COOPER: Yeah, I mean, it just - I mean, it's just about a perfect movie, you know. In 1980, I remember he made that. And, you know, and I had - I didn't know anything at that point. I just knew that I wanted to affect people the way I was affected. That was the crystallization. It was when Anthony Hopkins, when Treves walks into that cave-like carnie exhibit, and he's told to wait. And he - and Merrick is called out. And you just stay on Treves' face as he sees Merrick.
It's just such a powerful moment, and I just thought, wow, this is what I want to be a part of. This is - there's something about this medium that I just, I don't know, I need to be inside that and living in it.
GROSS: So you did your master's thesis on "The Elephant Man," but I think that means you acted in a performance of it? Like, what does it mean?
COOPER: That's correct, yeah. It was a three-year master's degree in fine arts, and then - and it culminated in your thesis, which was I think an eight-performance run of a play or a section of a play that you would, you know, rehearse. And at that time, I had discovered that Bernard Pomerance had wrote a play, which I had no idea, and that John Merrick was an actual man, Joseph Carey Merrick, who lived in the late 1800s in London and died at the age of 26 and was a real go-getter, in fact.
And that's maybe the major difference between John Merrick in David Lynch's film and the man that I at least studied and got to know. Who knows what the truth is? But it definitely seems like, well, one of the things about him is what a survivor he was.
You know, he wasn't plucked away and put in this carnie exhibit. He actually sought out this guy Ross - that wasn't his name, though, in real life - this promoter and said, you know, I think that we can make money together. And he left his home at 12 years old.
His mother had died, and his father remarried to a woman who had children who really just made fun of him all the time, and he just couldn't take it anymore, and he left. And this is a guy who, as a kid at 12 years old, who, you know, was born normal, and as the years progressed, started to, you know, realize that something was happening to him physically.
And he just had this will to survive that is just daunting to me. So I just find him to be such a fascinating, fascinating person. And then Bernard Pomerance wrote this play, and I thought, you know what? Let me take a stab at proposing it to my grad school, that I would do it. And they quite frankly tried to sort of gently suggest that I do something else, like, you know, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" or something.
And I thought, no, I really want to do "The Elephant Man." And they begrudgingly allowed it. And then it went really well. And then, you know, hibernating for 10 years, and now I'm 37 years old, and I am thinking gosh, I really want to try to do this again. And he died at 26, so I better do it now. And I said, look, we're going to do it at Williamstown, which is this theater festival where you can kind of try out and do things without any repercussions, basically.
And then we did it this summer, and it really was, Terry, pretty magical. And never did I think that we would then, you know, segue that into hopefully doing it on Broadway, but it looks like we're going to do it next spring for about six months, which is just wonderful.
GROSS: Bradley Cooper will be back in the second half of the show. He's nominated for an Oscar for his performance in "Silver Linings Playbook." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Bradley Cooper. He's nominated for an Oscar as best actor in a leading role for his performance in "Silver Linings Playbook." He became famous for his performance in the 2009 film "The Hangover."
So when you were growing up in Jenkintown, which is a suburb of Philadelphia, you grew up right near a movie theater. How close was it to you?
COOPER: It was literally in my backyard. The only thing between the movie theater and our backdoor was a train tracks. There was a thing called the Fairway. It was an old golf course that they then made into a road that they kept the name, and then there was a shopping center. And so I would just go outside, you know, through my garage, cross the train tracks and walk to the movie theater every free chance I had.
GROSS: Oh wow. You're so lucky.
GROSS: So did they show good movies? I mean was it first-run movies or...
COOPER: Yeah, it was first-run movies. And back then movies stayed in theaters for six months. Her member "Platoon" was there. "Stand By Me" was there forever and "Yentil." Yeah.
GROSS: But that's bad because you can't see anything else if it's there forever.
COOPER: It's bad if you don't like the movie. Yeah.
GROSS: So what did you see there? Like what was the first movie you saw in a movie theater?
COOPER: Oh, gosh. I think it was probably "Star Wars." I'm pretty positive it was "Star Wars." But then the movies I remember seeing there, "Rocky." But I also, I remember seeing "Rocky III" in Atlantic City, and that was coming out on the boardwalk afterwards and trying to like, you know, box like Sylvester Stallone. But "Platoon" and "Stand By Me" are two movies I think I saw probably 30 times in that movie theater, especially "Stand By Me" because, you know, train tracks were right outside my backyard so I could reenact scenes, you know, right after coming out of the movie theater.
GROSS: When you were on FRESH AIR once before, you spoke with Dave Davies. And you told Dave for one of your auditions that well, but I think they didn't really want you to audition for the film but you auditioned anyways, and you sent an audition that you filmed in your kitchen.
GROSS: And I, I would like to hear more about that audition.
COOPER: Well, I mean I did that many times. I was going to grad school and I was looking up, because I don't know if it's like SAG. There's some sort of thing that you're obligated to put out additions, like the casting directors are or something but there would be, you know, calls for I remember "The Patriot" for the Heath Ledger role or "Armageddon" for the Ben Affleck role when I was in grad school. And so I would be privy to these auditions so I would put myself on tape. I had like a camcorder and I would put myself on tape. And I didn't have anybody to read with so I would actually read the other character's lines and leave space on the tape recorder and then say my line.
COOPER: And I did that - honestly, Terry - probably 200 to 250 times over the course of two years while I was in school. And then I would just hand-deliver the tape to whatever casting address there was. And this sort of pitifully sort of heart-warming notion is that I actually when I thought I did a good job I thought oh, there's a chance I could get the role.
COOPER: It was pretty funny. But it was a great learning experience to actually, you know, I remember my audition for "Armageddon."
COOPER: Oh, no- no, it wasn't "Armageddon," for the other one, "Pearl Harbor," I remember. And, you know, and since knowing Ben Affleck now I sort of told him about it and we were laughing.
GROSS: Oh, you could carry a film like with that kind of budget even though nobody knew who you were. Yeah.
GROSS: So did you ever get any kind of response to one of the kitchen tapes?
COOPER: I put myself on tape for a movie called "Case 39" when I was in Philadelphia taking care of my father, had something happen to him and I got that role. And I remember that was the first time that it worked. And I thought that was just incredible. And then a couple other times I got to meet Robert De Niro through doing that. I put myself on tape to play his son and my mother read his lines and he asked to see me when he was coming through L.A., just because he had seen the tape. And this speaks to his character because he, the whole reason he wanted to meet me was to just say that keep doing what I'm doing. I walked in his room and he said, you know, you're not going to get this but I just wanted to tell you that I, I see it, and I see you and, yeah.
GROSS: That's so nice.
COOPER: Oh, it was incredible. I mean for a guy like that to take time out to do that. First of all, to watch some tape and then ask to see the guy. I mean that's pretty, that's pretty impressive.
GROSS: Your father, who you just mentioned, died in 2011 of cancer. What was going on in your life professionally then? I know you spent, you moved back to the Philadelphia area to be with your parents during the last months of his life.
COOPER: Yeah. Which was a huge privilege. God. I mean that's an example of, the good part about being an actor, you know, the bad part is there's no consistency, there's no comfort in knowing you always have a job but the good part is you can take chunks of time off. We were trying to get a movie to shoot in Philadelphia because I knew he was, he'd been diagnosed with lung cancer when we were shooting "Hangover 1." I remember we were in Las Vegas during the press junket and I got a call when I was in the van from the doctor saying the cancer has come back and it's really bad and he probably has nine, he probably has a year. And I just, yeah, I - we had thought he had kicked stage one lung cancer and so this was a shock. And then so from that moment on which, you know, there was another two years before he died, you know, I just tried to make as much as I could time to be with him. So this movie "Limitless" we shot in Philadelphia and then after that I stayed in Philadelphia.
And actually, I remember I had a great opportunity to do a movie and it was a sort of a five-minute decision to not do it and I just stayed at home and moved back into my parent's house. And it's interesting what an environment can do to the mind. I really did forget that I had a whole life in LA. I sort of reverted back to when I was in high school living in my room, hanging out with, you know, whatever friends from high school still lived in the neighborhood and, you know, it was just crazy for those six months. And then I went to, I had to go to Thailand to shoot "Hangover 2" for 10 weeks and, which was very difficult because I did not want to go. I was terrified that he was going to die while I was away. And then I came back on New Year's Eve and flew right to Philadelphia and he died January 15th. And I got to take him actually to an Eagles game, the playoffs the weekend before died. He hit his head on Tuesday, died on Saturday and I took into the game that Sunday.
GROSS: Did you feel like he was waiting for you to come back?
COOPER: Yes. Absolutely. Unconsciously. The thing about my father was he was so such a hard head and he never thought he was going to die. We never had a discussion about, you know, this is what's going to happen after. It was always, you know what? I think it's, I feel good about it. And, you know, we did all these, you know, compassionate use cases of taking and not taking the placebo and doing these drugs that were, you know, we looked at every possibility to try to kick this thing. There was never any notion that, you know what, it beat me, up until the end. So that was interesting in that sense. He did not want to die at all.
GROSS: Isn't it remarkable that even, even when you were in a your 30s and a successful actor in a hit film, you go back to the bedroom you grew up in and you feel like you're in high school again living with your parents.
COOPER: Yeah it's something. It's - yeah, It's crazy.
GROSS: Were you able to deal with that? I mean because that could be - what's the word I'm looking for? That could be so like, stultifying. I mean it can really cramp your sense of who you are as your own person when you're back in that bedroom and feeling like you're in high school again, even though you're not and even if your parents recognize that you're not and even though you're there to help them.
COOPER: Yeah. It was such a unique situation though, also because the dynamics between me and my father had just so oddly changed, you know, where I was, you know, taking, washing, you know how it is?
GROSS: Yeah. Yeah.
COOPER: I mean it's like he couldn't do anything. You know, I was doing everything that a nurse would do. And, you know, so that was the - I think that was even more daunting than the fact that I was living in my bedroom that I grew up in. I mean it was my relationship to him and that was the thing that was kind of stultifying - to use the word that you used. But it was beautiful. I have to say, Terry. I select I got, I became much more in touch with myself during that time period. And certainly the moment he took his last breath was one of the biggest gifts I've ever been given in my whole life. Everything, there was a shift that occurred in that moment in that and it was immediate and the repercussions of it occurred, you know, every moment afterwards. I just stopped caring about so many things that I had given importance to and the level of perspective that I gained from that experience was massive. And I take it to today to talking to you right now. The man I was before that moment is much different than right now.
GROSS: My guest is Bradley Cooper. He's nominated for an Oscar for his performance in "Silver Linings Playbook." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: My guest is Bradley Cooper. He's nominated for an Oscar for his performance in "Silver Linings Playbook."
You have one grandfather who was a cop and another who was a fireman?
COOPER: Correct. Yeah.
GROSS: Did that make you, well, first of all, so many kids want to grow up to be cops or fireman - or at least they used to.
GROSS: Did you have any aspirations in that direction at any point?
COOPER: I wanted to be a soldier; that was my thing. I was obsessed with Vietnam when I was a kid and I tried to...
GROSS: Oh, well, that's because you saw "Platoon?" No, not "Platoon." "The Deer Hunter."
GROSS: Is it because of "The Deer Hunter?"
COOPER: It was all of them. Yeah, it was "Deer Hunter," "Apocalypse Now," "Platoon," it was a triple threat. And I...
GROSS: I can't imagine wanting to go to Vietnam or wanting to be a soldier after those films. They were just like such grim portrayals of war and of the Vietnam War. Like why would you...
COOPER: I think it was...
GROSS: Why would you want to do that afterwards?
COOPER: Yeah, I don't know what that says about my psychology. But I think it - well, I know what it felt like. It was the men in the movie felt like they understood something about life that others didn't and I wanted to go through that experience so I would have that knowledge. And I remember articulating that to my father and that's why I wanted him to allow me to go to Valley Forge Military Academy.
COOPER: And I looked it up on the Yellow Pages and found the number and I begged him to enroll me into the military academy. And he said, over my dead body will I ever have my son go there. He was in the Army Reserves and he was, you know, grew up very sort of in the, you know, in a very strict household. And, but he was a sort of a bit of an anarchist himself, a rebel, and he was not elated with the idea of me going into the military. So, yeah, there was a bit of a thing between us. But, yeah, that's why I wanted to. And, you know, I loved and I loved everything about it, the uniform, the guns, everything. You know, so cop or fireman was not really something - also because it was very, something that I knew. You know, I would spend a lot of time with my grandfather and both, mainly my mother's father who was a cop and also my father's father I knew well, so it wasn't as much as the other the way a soldier was, you know, that was something that was beyond something that I knew about.
GROSS: Would your grandfather - who was a cop, who it sounds like you knew pretty well - take you in the police car with and or on the beat with him?
COOPER: He, at that time, he was a beat cop for 35 years so by the time I was born in 1975, he had already retired. And he had a garlic business. He had a garlic business that he ran out of his basement in South Philly and then or I don't know, it was Pennhurst Street and then also he was a cop. So all I had were stories by the time I was born. I still have his baton actually, in my closet that he had. And, you know, he had his gun and his bullets and the coffee mug in the counter, you know, the whole thing.
GROSS: Was he a cop when Frank Rizzo was the commissioner?
COOPER: Yes. That's exactly right. Yes. Yes he was a...
GROSS: Oh you must have some good stories.
COOPER: Oh wow, that's so great that you said that. Yeah, Frank Rizzo was like one of his heroes. He always, he loved Frank Rizzo and who then became the mayor but he was the commissioner when my grandfather was a cop. That's fantastic that you just said that name, Frank Rizzo. Wow.
GROSS: So was he in any of the confrontations with students or hippies from the '60s and early '70s?
COOPER: You know, he talked one time about he never, he always was proud of the fact that he never pulled a - he never shot his gun and only pulled it once in 35 years. And there was one occurrence where it was a protest and somebody had, you know, sort of barricaded a building and he sort of talked the guy out of it. That was the only sort of famous story that we were regaled with.
GROSS: Nice ending.
COOPER: Yes. Very nice ending. Yeah. And he was really special, my grandfather. You know, those, you know, those neighborhoods were very segregated and racism was ramped. And he was, he, you know, growing up where he did, he would have none of it. Anybody that would come into the house that would say any slanderous remark about any ethnicity he would kick them out of the house immediately. And I never realized how sort of unique that was back then but that's how I grew up and that really just something that he felt.
GROSS: That's great.
COOPER: Yeah. It really - I mean it was really something, especially growing up in Philadelphia, to have that was really, really interesting.
GROSS: How did that affect your attitude? Because sometimes, like, there's this conflict between wanting to be polite and wanting to say, I'm sorry, you cannot talk that way.
COOPER: Yeah. (Unintelligible) was not his - was not one of his, you know, gifts. He was a straight talker and did not mind confrontation. So I grew up, you know - you know, there was a way to talk and a way not to talk.
GROSS: You know what I'm just realizing? You said you wanted to be a soldier and you, I think, bought the rights to the memoir by Chris Kyle...
COOPER: Oh, I know. Yeah. How about that?
GROSS: ...the sniper who was just killed by a fellow veteran who - a very troubled veteran who Kyle was trying...
GROSS: ...to help and was taken to a shooting range.
GROSS: And this guy shot and killed him, and you had already bought the rights to his book. It's called "American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History." As a former Navy SEAL, that must have been - that must have really shocked you.
COOPER: I couldn't believe it. Jason Hall, who's writing the script, emailed me after it happened and then I called him right away. I was - and I couldn't - I just couldn't believe it, and I had spoken to him on the phone and we were very - we were about to dive into it. You know, the first draft was coming in this week, and Thursday I was at Walter Reed Hospital meeting with veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder, among many other ailments, and then all of a sudden I hear this thing and I just couldn't believe it.
You know, the guy has two children and he is an advocate for putting guns back in veterans' hands. I believe that that's something that he thought was a way of therapy, and I believe the story is that the woman who was his neighbor said, can you take my son out who is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder? And he and his neighbor took him out and then the gentleman waited and then at point blank range killed him and then unloaded the rest of his magazine into the other guy and stole his car - his truck. I mean it's just unbelievable. Unbelievable.
GROSS: Are you going to go through with the movie?
COOPER: Oh, yeah. And in fact, I hope to - well, I'm actually going to meet with the writer and the producers at 3:00 p.m. today to talk about, you know, number one, what we can do for his family, and number two, how we can speed up the process and really try to make this movie, because his story, first of all, needs to be told and it's also relevant on two fronts. One, gun control, and two, the need to address this - the many soldiers that are coming back with post-traumatic stress disorder.
I mean, the thing about it is, you know, medicine has evolved to such a state that, you know, more soldiers are coming back and they're going to assimilate into the culture and if we don't address the mental state along with the physical state, you know, it's going to be a problem.
GROSS: So is your intention to play Chris Kyle or to direct the film?
COOPER: Yeah. I would play Chris Kyle. Yeah. Another reason why we have to do it soon, because I am 38, so I can't wait too long.
GROSS: My guest is Bradley Cooper. He's nominated for an Oscar for his performance in "Silver Linings Playbook." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Bradley Cooper and he's nominated for an Oscar for his starring role in "Silver Linings Playbook." So a question on a lighter note than what we've been talking about. I have to ask you the Sexiest Man Alive question, as I know everybody does.
COOPER: Oh, I'm so glad.
GROSS: Yeah. I'm sure.
COOPER: I was waiting for it.
GROSS: Yeah, you're thrilled. But here is my question. You know, there are certain kind of, like, sexy man poses that I think are just, like, hysterically funny. And so, like, there's the sexy man pose where there's a kind of like - this is particularly true of, like, fashion models, like clothes models, and they're staring at the camera like I am so attractive, I really can't believe how attractive I am. And they have this, like, passionate look in their eyes, but you think what's going on in their mind is, if I could make love to anyone in the world, it would be to myself because I'm that good looking.
And then there's that kind of, like, sexy man pose where, like, he's running his fingers through his hair, thinking, ladies - or some men - you'd like to be doing this too, wouldn't you? And then there's, like, I think my t-shirt's a little too tight kind of pose.
So, like, when you're asked to - are you asked to do, like, you know, the sexy man poses for photographers?
COOPER: I mean as you've described each one, I remember those ones being taken of me. Literally, I remember them exactly. I remember I was doing this shoot years ago and we were outside and I could not see because the sun was right in my eyes and the look was that look that's the first one you described.
GROSS: The I am so handsome?
COOPER: Yes. But all I was doing was desperately trying to keep my eyes open and it was very arduous and then the hands through the hair is - I definitely have done that a lot, but that was because I absolutely hate having my photograph taken. I mean a - it is like torture and I just - and so they can sense that - the photographers. So they ask me to do stuff and I've only learned recently that I can actually say no and just - you know, sorry, but you're just going to have to take it the way it is.
You know, starting out, I would do anything they said, you know, jump up and down and do whatever - whatever they - you know, grab a mandolin, whatever you're going to do. And so I definitely - for some reason hair and the - the hands in the hair I think they like because I was doing something and it sort of took me out of my head maybe. But yeah. I am - that kind of stuff makes me feel sick to my stomach.
GROSS: What have you said no to?
COOPER: Oh, gosh, I won't jump on a trampoline anymore. I think that I've sort of ruled out.
GROSS: What's the point of the trampoline?
COOPER: You know, I think they like, you know, motion, you know, movement.
GROSS: Right, right.
COOPER: Anything movement. You know, the old - you know, would you mind, you know - the looking off and then putting your eyes back to camera. That thing? No. That's no bueno. Do you know what I'm talking about? Like, your face is away...
GROSS: I think so.
COOPER: ...but then your eyes come back.
COOPER: You know, almost that look.
GROSS: And what's that supposed to signify?
COOPER: I don't know. Like, I don't know, but it looks just so awful. And then there's the other one of, like, you know, sort of, you know, holding onto your body or something. You're like putting your hand - you're resting your hand on your hands or something. That whole thing, you know.
COOPER: They often do that. You know, would you mind just doing that? Especially when you go to - promoting a movie in a foreign country, they hate me because they'll often take stills after the interview and then they'll say, could you please put your hand - I said, no, I'm sorry. No? You can't do this? No, no, sorry.
And also, if you ever smile, ever, that's the one they're going to use, and I remember my friend and I - I agreed to do this magazine and I was very excited because my friend, who's a great photographer, I said you have to do it with him. And so they said OK. And we said, OK, no smiling. And one click he did of me smiling after a whole day and that was the cover.
GROSS: So it seems to me that, as just an audience member, that what might be the most uncomfortable moment at the Oscar ceremony is when the camera's on you and your name is announced as a nominee and then - you know, you have to smile and look like - yes, I'm, you know, so happy to be here, which you probably are. And then sometimes the camera goes onto one of the losers as the winner's name is being announced.
GROSS: And the look of, like, anger or disappointment or frustration is sometimes really painful to watch. So have you, like, been planning what to do or what not to do if you lose and the camera...
COOPER: Well, I've had a lot of practice.
GROSS: ...is on you?
COOPER: I've had a lot of practice because there are so many award shows, you know, in the given season, that I've already gone through at least five where that has happened and then, you know - and the camera's on for the, you know, concession. I think I have a leg up in the fact that I am truly so happy to be there. I know that's sort of the stock answer, but if you look at sort of the trajectory, it makes sense that I'm elated to just be there and be a part of this group. And certainly to lose to Daniel Day Lewis is actually an honor and I just look forward to him saying, you know, and all the other nominees, you know, congratulations. That's the thing that I'm hoping he says during his speech, but I can't imagine that I would be disappointed.
You know, it's interesting. It's very - it's fascinating, this whole thing, actually. There is something to be said for - and I was talking to Harvey Weinstein about it. I said, it is kind of a very masochistic ritual that occurs. You know, you have a roomful of, you know - I don't know - 500 people who are nominated. You know, in terms of, like, a whole show, you know, with the SAG Awards and Golden Globes, it's a combination of television and film and, you know, one-tenth of that leave winners. So you just - you get dressed up to be told that you lost. It's a very interesting thing, and I think, like, it's very - it just seems very masochistic to me. And then you're told two weeks later to get dressed again and to show up in another room at another location that they're going to give you to lose. It's just very - it's funny. It's like - it's really kind of odd. It's so odd. And they're going to film it and your friends are going to watch it.
COOPER: Watch it. Yeah. Watch you lose time and time again like some sort of bad loop.
GROSS: Well, I would say, when the camera's on you, don't miss an opportunity to do the sexy man look.
COOPER: Which one? Which one?
GROSS: Which one? Yeah.
COOPER: I'll just, like, oddly just start putting my hands through my hair.
GROSS: Exactly. Well, let me wish you good luck. Good luck to you and thank you.
COOPER: Oh, thank you.
GROSS: This has been so much fun. I really appreciate you doing this. Thank you.
COOPER: Oh, well, it's a real honor for me, Terry. I have to tell you, a real honor to be here, and thank you.
GROSS: Bradley Cooper is nominated for an Oscar for his performance in "Silver Linings Playbook." You can download podcasts of our show on our website, FreshAir.NPR.org and you can follow us on Twitter at NPR FRESH AIR and on Tumblr at NPRFreshAir.Tumblr.com. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.