Bradley Cooper On Reinvention And Hair In 'American Hustle'

Jan 3, 2014
Originally published on January 14, 2014 4:14 pm

The film “American Hustle” has garnered seven Golden Globe nominations.

It’s loosely based on a real sting in the 1970s dubbed “Abscam,” in which FBI Agents paid conman Mel Weinberg to help them entrap public officials for corrupt dealings.

The film version stars Christian Bale as the conman, now Irving Rosenfeld, Amy Adams as his partner in crime and Bradley Cooper as FBI agent Richie DiMaso.

Many reviews have noted the role hair has played in the movie. Cooper curled his own hair for the role — which he described as “a three hour ordeal.”

But as Cooper tells Here & Now’Robin Young, the hair is more than just a sight gag.

“The whole movie is about reinvention. How do you con yourself to get through life?” Cooper said. “Richie does it by living in a shotgun apartment with his mother and curling his own hair. But the truth is he has these dreams, these aspirations of being this FBI mogul who will take down white collar crime. So he tried to reinvent himself in order to be the man who he wants to be.”



  • Bradley Cooper, actor. His latest film is “American Hustle.” His other films include “Silver Linings Playbook” and “The Hangover.”
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit



BRADLEY COOPER: And you've probably heard that the film "American Hustle" is loosely based on the real-life Abscam sting of the 1970s in which FBI agents from Long Island paid conman Mel Weinberg to trap public officials. In the film, Christian Bale plays the conman, now named Irving, Amy Adams is his partner in crime Edith, and Bradley Cooper plays FBI agent Richie, who, in this scene, tries to assert control when Irving wants out.


COOPER: (As Richie DiMaso) You're going to do this because you got no choice. You work for me.

CHRISTIAN BALE: (As Irving Rosenfeld) Now you keep changing the rules. Now you're getting a little power drunk, Richie. Oh, you want to tell him, Edith? Want to make him up?

AMY ADAMS: (As Lady Edith Greensly) Oh, no. I said we shouldn't do any of it, Irving. You know I said that. So now I support Richie. He's got vision.

YOUNG: Actually, what Agent Richie's got is a plan that threatens to spin out of control. It involves other agents posing as Arab sheikhs, trying to bribe a mobster played by Robert de Niro.

The real-life sting took down congressmen, a senator and a city mayor but raised questions about fairness, led to new guidelines for FBI sting operations and led to the suicide of Mel Weinberg's wife, who, in the movie, is played by Jennifer Lawrence with a much happier ending.

The movie also leads to a careful re-examination of the hair and clothing choices of the 1970s. "American Hustle" reunites Bradley Cooper with writer and director David O. Russell, who also worked on the Oscar-nominated film "Silver Linings Playbook." And actor Bradley Cooper joins us from the BBC studios in Paris. Welcome.

COOPER: Hey, thanks for having me.

YOUNG: Could you just touch on the hair to start?


YOUNG: I know all of the actors have been asked about this, but Christian Bale's comb-over...


YOUNG: And your FBI agent has this perm.


COOPER: That's correct. Yeah. He actually curls his own hair that he does every day, which I, unfortunately, had to do every day as well, which was about a three-hour ordeal.

YOUNG: Well, why did you do it? Because we know your character is very loosely based on three agents. There was John Good, Tony Amoroso and Jack McCarthy - all of them involved.

COOPER: That's right. Yeah.

YOUNG: And they are all quick to say now: I didn't do that with my hair.



COOPER: Yeah, I think that they've distanced themselves from me quite a bit.


YOUNG: It's funny because there's so much else that your agent character does that some of it is, you know, skims an ethical line. But it's the hair that's upsetting them.


YOUNG: Why did you do it?


COOPER: In researching for the role, Tony Amoroso - there's actually footage on YouTube of him doing that piece to camera, talking about what it is that they're about to do.

YOUNG: Well, hold up there. We have some of that. Here's the real Agent Amoroso, speaking to a camera in an empty hotel room about the money he's about to offer politicians.


TONY AMOROSO: Each packet contains $10,000 in $100 bills. I am placing this money in the desk drawer directly in front of me.

COOPER: And then you watch the - whatever the given politician come in with Mel Weinberg and watch them, you know, do their sting on these guys. So when I was watching that, to me, it looked like he had a curly hair. And I thought, why don't we do something like that? And that was the genesis of the idea. And David O. Russell, he sort of took that and ran with that and said, yeah, he curls his own air because he idolizes black baseball players like Dock Ellis because back in the '70s, a lot of men actually curled their hair.

YOUNG: Well, they also - in parts - and I can say this because I'm from Long Island, in parts of Long Island, in New Jersey, they teased it, they sprayed it.


YOUNG: What - I mean, I - it's kind of a funny topic, but also, what else does that say?

COOPER: I mean, the whole movie is about reinvention, trying to, you know, what - how do you con yourself to get through life. And all the characters do it in some way: Edith does it by feigning a British accent, Irving does it by sort of living a double life of having an affair and having a life at home with his wife and a kid that he's adopted. And Richie does it by, you know, living in a shotgun apartment with his mother and curling his own hair. But the truth is he has these dreams, these aspirations of being this FBI mogul who will take down white-collar crime.

So he tried to reinvent himself in order to be the man that he wants to be. And part of that is to look basically like these guys that he thinks are men, like these baseball players.

YOUNG: Yeah, yeah. Talk about working with Robert De Niro, because you did as well on "Silver Linings Playbook." He plays your father. You play a young man who is wrestling with mental illness, bipolar illness. Robert De Niro plays a rabid football fan who maybe has a touch of obsessive compulsive disorder himself. Let's listen.


ROBERT DE NIRO: (As Pat Sr.) 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. Taking a little bit too many or something?

COOPER: (As Pat) No. If I was taking that, I'd be on the floor, Dad.

NIRO: (As Pat Sr.) Please stay with us. Stay for the game, spend some family time.

COOPER: (As Pat) Dad, I can't. Look, I'm ready to go. What do you mean?

NIRO: (As Pat Sr.) Spend family time.

COOPER: (As Pat) Wait, you mean OCD, superstitious time?

PAUL HERMAN: (As Randy) Come on. Your dad needs a win. Help him out.

NIRO: (As Pat Sr.) Come on.

COOPER: (As Pat) I can't.

NIRO: (As Pat Sr.) It's the Seahawks. Put on the jersey and stay, please.

YOUNG: What does Robert De Niro mean to you?

COOPER: He's - means just about everything in terms of cinema. The reason I became an actor is - the majority is because of that man. And, you know, it's tough when you meet your idol. Sometimes you - or you - at least you hear constantly that, you know, often one is disappointed because you hold them up on such a pedestal.

But for me, it was the opposite. You know, when I think of him today, it's not of all the great work he's done but of the man that he is. He really is a guy that I idolized in many respects besides just being a great actor.

YOUNG: What did you take from him when you do this kind of acting where you and your - the ensemble are trying to get lost in characters. You got Christian Bale gaining weight to - oh, my gosh, there's one scene where he just exposes his huge belly.


YOUNG: You know, you're trying to lose yourself in the character, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, all trying to disappear in ways that De Niro and his pack kind of perfected. What would you take from him?

COOPER: His willingness to fail, for one, and just watching him be a team player. The thing about a David O. Russell movie is you have to leave everything at the door. You have to leave your ego at the door and be completely willing to be open to whatever happens in the moment. And when you're engaging in that kind of form and there's - the guy with you is - happens to be Robert De Niro, it makes it all that more exciting and possible because you think, oh, well, this guy has done it. And I've watched him succeed in this way before, so I'm going to do it.

YOUNG: I watched the two recent films back-to-back - "American Hustle" and "Silver Linings."


YOUNG: And there in both was Paulie Herman.


COOPER: Yes. I'm so glad you said that.

YOUNG: Well, Paulie Herman, he comes from that posse of - that New York posse of actors, some of them, you know, plucked from tending bar...


YOUNG: become one of the Scorsese-De Niro players. In "Silver Linings," he plays Randy, Robert De Niro's character's betting friend.

COOPER: Nemesis. Yeah.

YOUNG: Yup, nemesis.


HERMAN: (As Randy) Patrizio, I feel terrible, you know? You made the bet, I won a lot of money, and now look, your whole family is in turmoil.

YOUNG: In "American Hustle," he plays, let's just say, an attorney.

COOPER: A friend. Yeah.

YOUNG: An attorney. What?

COOPER: OK, yeah. OK, let's do that. Alfonse Simone.

YOUNG: Yeah. What do you learn from someone like that?

COOPER: As long as I'm prepared, all I have to do is relax and listen. And that's what Paulie does all the time. And he's also somebody who's very willing to just be a team player. I mean, especially in "Silver Linings Playbook," there's a lot of times where he is watching Bob and I talk to each other for 10 minutes. And he always did it in a completely active way. So in the editing room, you could always cut to Paulie, and you knew that his work would be completely there and present and give you a moment if you needed it.

YOUNG: Yeah. Well - so what's next for you, Bradley Cooper? Here you are out in "American Hustle," which many are saying is - the cast is kind of a lineup of the new - you're not the 20-something anymore, but this younger generation. Is there one thing you are keeping in your mind as you go forward here to try not to fall off that tightrope?

COOPER: What would the tightrope be?

YOUNG: Stardom.

COOPER: Oh, God. No. I don't even think about that. I'm definitely way past the early 20s.


COOPER: And, you know, at this point, I'm happy to work and very fortunate to be in a place in my life that I feel comfortable enough to give everything I have and work with these great people. But outside of that, there's really nothing to worry about.

YOUNG: Bradley Cooper, thanks so much.

COOPER: Oh, thanks for having me.


ROBERT PLANT: (Singing) In the days of my youth, I was told what it means to be a man.

YOUNG: Ah, everybody sing. Led Zeppelin's "Good Times Bad Times," which underscores the really, really bad hair, fashion and obviously ethical choices of the '70s in the film "American Hustle." Bradley Cooper, by the way, one of the executive producers as well as star. From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.


I'm Meghna Chakrabarti. This is HERE AND NOW.


PLANT: (Singing) Into the same old jam. Good times, bad times, you know I've had my share. Well, my woman left home for a brown-eyed man but I still don't seem to care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.