With a handful of Oscar and Academy Award nominations to his name following starring roles in Silver Linings Playbook and American Sniper, international sex symbol status and roles which require life changing commitment, staying down to earth would be impossible, surely? But just like his characters, Cooper breaks moulds in every direction.
Interview by Natasha Thomas
Some say that it was a cameo in Sex and The City that allegedly kick started Bradley Cooper’s career in the acting world. His cinematic back catalogue may have initially suggested a comic pattern with roles in the likes of Wet Hot American Summer, The Hangover and Wedding Crashers but it takes a seriously resolute actor to go that far into the realms of comedy and still make it – credibly – out the other side, seemingly more serious than ever before. Flash forward a number of pinnacle roles including a starring part in Clint Eastwood’s highest-grossing war film to date, American Sniper, it is clear that Bradley Cooper will never be typecast.
Cooper darts between serious comedic and serious empathetic genius; did he ever imagine that one day he would play the part of Joseph Merrick in the stage version of The Elephant Man, a character so influential in his formative years, or did he think himself capable of altering his body shape so dramatically for American Sniper in order to portray a role so markedly different to himself physically? A man of hidden talents with a strong commitment to charity work, Cooper recognises his role as an influencer and is using his status to encourage his fans to engage in causes close to his heart. Currently sitting on the Board of Directors at the late Paul Newman charity for seriously ill children, Cooper is involved with a number of projects to assist young cancer sufferers obtain lifesaving transplant treamtment.
Now in his fourth decade, we ask how his roles to date have influenced him.
You turned 40 this year, how has this changed you as an actor and producer? Do you feel your aims in storytelling have changed from the days of Wet Hot American Summer to your present day roles, some of which have been based on biographical/factual events? Turning 40 hasn’t changed me too much. I’ve always just wanted to do good work, learn and grow. I’ve always wanted to work with great actors and great directors. That hasn’t changed and I’ve been lucky to have worked with some of the greats. I just continue to want to get better.
Your acting career has seen you cover a number of challenging issues and diverse subject matters; from the perceptions of beauty in The Elephant Man where your character was disfigured; to the physical and mental exertion required by those fighting on the front line in American Sniper. What has been your most challenging role to date and why? The most physically challenging role for me was playing Chris Kyle [who was a Navy SEAL] in American Sniper; I put on 30 pounds for that role. I was on a strict diet and on a very specific workout routine. Playing Joseph Merrick [The Elephant Man] was challenging in more psychological ways. I’ve found that playing a real person is challenging and intimidating. I feel a sense of responsibility to portray that person in the right way, to honour them.
“Turning 40 hasn’t changed me too much. I’ve always just wanted to do good work, learn and grow. I’ve always wanted to work with great actors and great directors. That hasn’t changed and I’ve been lucky to have worked with some of the greats.”
When a role requires you to physically change yourself – in American Sniper you had to gain muscle and take on a tough training regime for example – how do you prepare yourself physically and mentally for this? For [American] Sniper, I had to get to the point where I believed I was Chris so physically I needed to put on the weight to have myself believe [I was him]. His size was such a part of who he was. So I began this heavily regulated regime, waking up at 5 a.m., working out for five hours and consuming about 6,000 calories a day.
How much do you empathise with characters when you are in role? Have you ever played someone whom you have felt very close to? Of course, I have always felt very close to Joseph Merrick [The Elephant Man]. The film touched me in a very real way when I was a kid. I have done the play for almost a year between New York and London. It’s hard to leave someone behind after you have lived with them for that long.
In your next film ‘Joy’ you work with fellow friend and actress Jennifer Lawrence who you appeared with in Serena, American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook. You will also be working again with Robert De Niro who you last appeared on screen with in Limitless. Would you say that it is difficult to find and maintain good working relationships in the film industry? No, not at all; I love working with David O. Russell and Jen and Sienna and Bob. That will never get old! It makes it very easy as we know each other well, we understand how each other works and that makes everything easier.
You have your own production company, 22nd & Indiana Pictures which you formed with Todd Phillips and which you named after the street your father lived on in North Philadelphia. Can you tell us what is on the cards for 22nd & Indiana Pictures next year? Last year, we combined our company with Todd Phillips so it’s now called 22nd and Green. We are working on a lot of TV and film projects and it’s great. Our first film we produced together comes out next year and it’s called “Arms and the Dudes.” I love being part of the storytelling process behind the camera.
Who has been the biggest influence in your acting career? Would you be able to pinpoint a time when you realised that your talents were for performing? I realised at a young age that I wanted to act. My father showed me so many films growing up. We went to the movies and we watched movies at home. He was a big influence on me.
Your career has allowed you to travel all over the world. Where do you call home and where do you go to escape? Philadelphia is home. I grew up there and we still have a place there. I’m back and forth between LA and New York a lot and I love both cities.
What is the most far flung destination you have travelled to and why? I went on a couple of USO [United Service Organizations] tours and that was an amazing experience. We went to places I would never have been able to go; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Kuwait and Afghanistan.
In June 2014, you joined the Board of Directors of The Hole in the Wall Camp, for which you do regular charity work. How did your first experience of volunteering as a cabin counsellor for the charity in 2006 influence your future charity work? I was very humbled and enjoyed spending time with the kids and their families on my visit in 2006. I didn’t know much about the camp at that time. The concept is so simple; bring a camp experience to children that aren’t able to attend camp. When you see the happiness and sense of comfort that a place like Hole in the Wall brings to the kids and their families, it made me want to get involved. It’s a very special place. They asked me to work with them after that and it’s been a real pleasure. From the awareness and funds we have raised, I get to see the progress over the past 10 years and it’s grown massively. They serve more than 30,000 seriously ill children and families now.
In the past you have encouraged fans to register as bone marrow donors. What other causes do you feel strongly about? I am on the board of the Hole in The Wall Gang. I support various cancer charities as that’s something that’s dear to my heart and it’s something that has affected me personally. I met this young gentleman, only 23, Anthony Daniels in NY and his story was so incredibly heartbreaking. We partnered together and have been trying to raise awareness for him to find a bone marrow match. Anyone can register at deletebloodcancer.org
If you could summarize what the last ten years have taught you in 3 words, what would they be? To be humble or never give up.
November 11th 2015