Bradley Cooper has traded rowdy comedy for critical acclaim and a friendship with Robert De Niro. ShortList’s Andrew Lowry meets an actor on the move
Picture Bradley Cooper. Tall, expensive suit, good hair, right? Well, this autumn he’s not reprising his role as Best Supporting Cheekbones. Instead he’s is starring in The Fighter director David O Russell’s indie film Silver Linings Playbook. The suits have been replaced by a bin bag, that grin has given way to sad romantic delusions, and rather than recover from a trip to Vegas, he must get over treatment for bipolar disorder. Cooper’s been attracting the first awards buzz of his career, and holds his own against Robert De Niro. It’s an interesting time for the 37-year-old former doorman. And that’s before we get to his Vespa obsession...
Pat Solitano, your character in Silver Linings Playbook, suffers from bipolar disorder. Were you worried about tackling a condition that many people suffer from in real life?
Well, if you’re diagnosed as having bipolar disorder, it’s not like there’s a sheet saying ‘This is what it is’. David O Russell says that mental illness is much like snowflakes – no two are the same. I watched a lot of footage to learn about people who have suffered mentally, but ultimately we just created a character based on his made-up history. Pat lives in a bit of a delusion in order to cope with his life. He doesn’t have a filter.
Do you have a filter? Can you hide your thoughts?
My friends say I may have a filter verbally, but you can always tell my emotional state by looking at my face. Zach Galifianakis always says that, for an actor, I have the worst poker face in the world. In my real life, I’m the worst actor in the world.
You seem to spend half the film jogging – do many film shoots have this much cardio?
My God, there was a lot of running. I severed my achilles tendon six years ago playing basketball. Every day I just thought, ‘Oh my God, I hope this isn’t the day something pops.’ I was in pretty good shape by the end of the shoot. I loved it – think about it, you get up in the morning and go to work and you get to wear a garbage bag, or a football jersey. You have a crew cut, and don’t shave, and all you do is run. It was nice being low maintenance.
You worked with De Niro again after Limitless – was there ever a moment where you stopped and thought, “Wow, I’m mates with De Niro”?
To this day, I can’t believe it. He’s infectious. You know when you’re with some of your friends and you just start to act like them? That’s what he’s like. When you’re with him, you find yourself just starting to adopt some of those mannerisms through osmosis. I draw the line at going to get a Mohawk, though.
The film has a real sense of place. How important was Philadelphia as a setting?
That’s something David really cares about – look at The Fighter, it couldn’t be anywhere else. He’s very interested in a family, or a specific place or a region, and he’s all about mining the story out of it like some underground ore. We shot it in the part of Philadelphia where the story takes place – there was no set for something else, it was in all these real houses. We really went to the [Philadelphia] Eagles’ stadium and shot there for when the characters were tailgating. Do you do that here, loiter in stadium parking lots at football matches?
No, here it’s mostly in pubs.
Oh, I guess you don’t drive to the game as much as we do. You’re missing out.
You weren’t exactly an overnight success – can you remember your worst job?
When I was in high school, I worked for one of my teachers and I had to compile his father’s newspaper clippings into a binder. That was not fun. Binders full, just full, of newspaper clippings. I had to keep saying to myself, “Hold on to the dream, hold on to the dream…”
Didn’t you work in a hotel as well?
Yeah, I worked as a doorman all through grad school. I remember taking Leonardo DiCaprio up to his room, and I was in the elevator with him and, like, seven of his friends. It was around the time of Titanic. And I remember this guy who looked like a kid, even though we’re about the same age, he looked like a little boy. I remember thinking how I was three feet away from this guy, and we were worlds apart.
Were you thinking, “What’s so special about him?”
No, I’ve never suffered from bitterness, thank God. I understand it, but for some reason it’s not in my make-up. I’m the opposite – I never feel like I deserve anything.
For such a well-turned out guy, it was surprising to read your graduation project at drama school was The Elephant Man.
Yeah, and I just did it again at a theatre festival in the summer, and we’re taking it to Broadway next year. I researched it in London. That was back in 1999 – I went there for four days and visited the Royal London Hospital, which was where he lived, and just across the street was where he was shown, where they had the carny exhibits. I saw his birth certificate, I saw his cloak. All of that stuff.
Did you have to cake yourself in make-up to play John Merrick, John Hurt-style?
No, there was no make-up. Bernard Pomerance, who wrote the play in 1977, specified in his preface that any time anybody performed his play there should be no make-up, no prosthetics of any kind. The whole premise is that you watch this actor – who’s just a normal human being – take on the illusion. I didn’t even know there was a play until I got to grad school – but David Lynch’s film [1980’s The Elephant Man] is the whole reason I got into acting.
How’s The Hangover Part III coming along?
We’re in Los Angeles, and Vegas, and Tijuana. This film is a perfect closure to the series. I’m sorry, dude, that’s all I can say.
Your character in those films is a pretty together guy – he’s usually the one not freaking out, and the one with a plan. Is that you in real life?
Basically, I’m playing Todd Phillips, the director. In everything I do, all I do is play the director. He gave us Vespas. That was an amazing gift. I remember when I first got it, I was like, “A f*cking Vespa?” And then I became obsessed with it, and then I graduated to motorcycles, and it’s now a huge part of my life – and it’s all down to him giving me a Vespa. Zach still rides his all the time.
Finally, a clip of you showing off your French became a minor YouTube sensation – would you like to do a film in French?
I’d love to. It used to come out a lot better when I’d had a drink, but I don’t drink any more. My French has been getting better as I’ve got older – I think as you become more relaxed with who you are, the more dexterous you can be. I used to be so scared about making some grammatical error, but who cares if you get the imperfect tense wrong if you’re communicating? Now, it’s like, “F*ck it.” You can always just mime.
Silver Linings Playbook is at cinemas nationwide from 21 November
(Image: All Star)