This interview was originally broadcast on Feb. 7, 2013.
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. Bradley Cooper is nominated for an Oscar for his starring role in "Silver Linings Playbook." The film is also nominated for seven other Oscars, including Best Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay We're going to listen to an excerpt of the interview I recorded with Cooper a few weeks ago.
He grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia, FRESH AIR's hometown. He became famous for his role in "The Hangover," and since then, he's starred in "Limitless" and "The Words," playing writers in both of those films. And then there's the title Sexiest Man Alive, which People magazine bestowed 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 when he discovered 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.
Paths become obsessed with getting 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 father, played by Robert De Niro, is on edge. Pat's mother, played by Jacki Weaver, is making snacks. And Pat is preparing to go running. He's hyper and unusually happy, thinking he's about to get a message to his wife.
(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: 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...
...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 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: Yeah. 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. 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: 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...
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?
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, 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'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, 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: My guest is Bradley Cooper. He's nominated for an Oscar for his starring role in "Silver Linings Playbook" which is also nominated for seven other Oscars, including Best Picture. 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." 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: Yeah. 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.
GROSS: 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.
COOPER: 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 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.
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.
GROSS: Yeah. Mm-hmm.
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.
COOPER: 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. Yep.
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, there is something to be said for it, 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.
COOPER: 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 starring role in "Silver Linings Playbook" which is also nominated for seven other Oscars, including Best Picture. You can download podcasts of our show on our website freshair.nrp.org and you can follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair and on Tumblr at nprfreshair.tumblr.com. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.