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This interview was originally broadcast on Feb. 7, 2013.
Bradley Cooper, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance as the bipolar Pat Solitano in Silver Linings Playbook and is currently starring in Derek Cianfrance's The Place Beyond the Pines, tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that he and director David O. Russell approached his Playbook role with the idea that Cooper would "play as real and authentic as [h]e could."
The part was informed by Russell's son, who's been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Says Cooper: "I definitely felt that anchor for [Russell]."
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.
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."