EXCLUSIVE Q&A: It arrived too late to factor in guild and critics awards, but the Clint Eastwood-directed American Sniper has established such a connection with American movie audiences that its dark horse chances of upsetting the Oscar status quo cannot be ignored. It passed Saving Private Ryan to become the highest domestic grossing war movie ever; it even shot past the U.S. gross of Bradley Cooper’s previous biggest hit, The Hangover, and trails only The Passion Of The Christ for biggest-ever R-rated domestic grosser. This, for a hard R film about the wartime exploits and horrors faced by the most dangerous sniper in U.S. military history, and the price paid by Chris Kyle, wife Taya, and his fellow soldiers tasked with door to door searches in Sadr City when it was the most dangerous place in Iraq.
Bradley Cooper & 'The Elephant Man' Head To London: It's Official
Nominated for Best Actor for his spare portrayal of the Navy SEAL sharpshooter, Cooper is also the producer who got Warner Bros to buy the project after it passed three times, and he’s in the Best Picture hunt with fellow producers Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Andrew Lazar and Peter Morgan. Cooper’s daily Broadway stage commitment to The Elephant Man has made him scarce on the awards circuit, but he opened up to Deadline about the meaning of this blockbuster and the lessons it taught a young producer. Then he hopped a plane last Saturday to present Eastwood with a medallion at the DGA Awards, marking a rare canceled stage performance.
DEADLINE: So you are the producer who hits the lottery when Steven Spielberg commits to direct American Sniper. Then he drops out. Explain the steps that bring you to Clint Eastwood.
COOPER: The thing about it is, when Steven shows interest, all of a sudden other guys pop up if he leaves. It’s not like there’s a hex around the project. When he takes the time to develop the script, his throwaways, a lot of people want to pick up. That happened with Flags Of Our Fathers, which Steven could have directed, but wound up producing with Clint directing. I’d just re-watched Unforgiven, one of my favorite films, and Greg Silverman at Warner Bros calls me up and he says, ‘What about Clint?’ I said, Clint would be amazing, but isn’t he doing Jersey Boys? Silverman goes, yeah, but he’s reading American Sniper, for recreation, right now. I said, let me call him.
DEADLINE: Did you know him enough to do that?
COOPER: A little, yeah. At one point, I just put myself on tape for his movies, but I met him three times and talked on the phone when we were going to do this other movie, A Star Is Born, that I wound up being unable to do. So I hoped that meant I knew him well enough to call. I’m in Denmark editing Serena. Now, you don’t really persuade Clint to do anything, he’s either going to do it or he’s not. But I said, ‘Hey, Clint, how you doing?’ ‘Bradley, how are you?’ And he’s like [Cooper speaks in this spot-on impression of Eastwood], ‘Yeah, I’m reading this Chris Kyle thing, 10 or so pages at night in-between shooting, yeah, so I guess Steven’s not doing it, huh?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, and I have to say I just watched Unforgiven again, and there are a lot of similarities. I love the idea of treating this like a Western, and investigating this guy and his psyche.’ Clint goes, ‘Yeah, yeah, call me on Monday, let me take a look at the script.’ I said, OK, great, Clint, thank you.
DEADLINE: What happened on the next call?
COOPER: He says [in a hoarse whisper], ‘Yeah, let’s make this f*cker.’ And that was it. I was like, ‘OK, Clint.’
DEADLINE: In the Top Five highlights of your adult life, where does that rank?
COOPER: Tied for first.
COOPER: De Niro, agreeing to do Limitless. I went to his hotel. I read the book, The Dark Fields, and he’d passed on it. I said, please, let me just have a meeting with Robert De Niro. And I was literally like I was on NZT. I don’t know if you ever saw the movie, where the guy takes that pill. I was that guy. I remember we sat in his hotel room. I didn’t know him at all and I just pitched him that movie and all our scenes and I didn’t shut up the whole time for like literally a half hour, as if I was Eddie Morra. He’s like, [another spot-on impression] ‘Yeah, lemme uh, lemme uh… I’ll give you my number… and I’ll think about…let me just think about it.’ I was like, OK, OK. I’m driving home and I had thought of this other idea for the character. I pulled over and I go, do I call him? Will it seem like I’m obsessed? Do I call him?
DEADLINE: And not have him think you are a stalker?
COOPER: Yeah. So I just dialed him. And he goes, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah’…that’s how he answers. I was like, ‘Hey, Bob’…because he asked me to call him Bob at the meeting and so I figured that was OK. I was like, ‘Hey, just another thing, this guy, his name is like this because it’s like this fancy name, but he actually isn’t fancy and he adopted that because he wanted to change his social structure…‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.’ I go, ‘OK, I just wanted to say that. I just wanted to…if you were thinking about why is his name that…’ ‘Yeah, yeah, OK, yeah, yeah, OK, thanks.’ And I literally hang up the phone, walk in my house. I get a call from my agent. Bob De Niro just called his agent and said, ‘You make this deal work, I’m doing this movie.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, my God, Best. Moment. Of. My Life! It was such a testament to never give up, dude, never give up. You know, it’s like if you believe in something, just keep doing it, don’t listen when people say you can’t. You have to be able to listen, of course, and be able to know when it becomes crazy. But Bob De Niro in this movie wouldn’t have happened otherwise. He passed.
DEADLINE: Nor would he have played your father in Silver Linings Playbook, and all those great scenes between you, father and son, each with his own bipolar, obsessive compulsive issues.
COOPER: No. And that was unforgettable to me in other ways. His dad died when he was 71. My dad died when he was 71. My dad died while I was…he was very sick during Limitless. Bob got to know him a little bit and then he died right afterwards. And I went through the whole thing with Bob and we developed this huge connection. So then, to be able to call him dad after that, say that word, dad, which I hadn’t spoken since my dad died, to another human being. And it was set in Philly where I grew up and he reminds me of my dad anyway, or my family rather. And he is such a sensitive man and he was aware of all of that? It was beautiful. It was very cathartic, actually, to be able to say that word so many times after my father died.
DEADLINE: Back to Clint. American Sniper grabbed me and a lot others with its simple focus on soldiers doing an unimaginable job. We see these veterans come back, physically wounded or tormented by these horrible things they saw and did to protect their platoon mates. This is the first movie I can remember that provided such an accessible look at the high price paid by our troops, seen through the eyes of the toughest Navy SEAL warrior. Do you know that American Sniper is about to pass the domestic gross of The Hangover?
COOPER: Which one?
DEADLINE: The first. This is going to pass that movie, this week. The Hangover, at one time the biggest R-rated comedy ever, grossed $277 million. American Sniper will fly past it. [Editors note: it’s currently $282 million domestic and climbing].
COOPER: What? That’s insane.
DEADLINE: Why do you think America has embraced it so?
COOPER: You never know, it’s hard for me to say. But the one thing I can tell you is, in terms of talking about this as a producer, Jason Hall and I, once we got Clint on board, it became about making a plan. What’s great about Clint is, he shoots the white script. What I mean is, you have that script, and all the rewrites done on set are inserted in different colors. Clint shoots the white draft, the one the studio approves, and there’s no rewriting during the shoot. So we knew that we had to get it right the first time. That doesn’t mean that Clint isn’t open to improvisation, but that’s different. So, I found a regimen of how to gain the weight because I knew I had to look like Chris, and I had to get the accent right, and learn how to be proficient with the .338, the .300, and the MK-11 [sniper rifles]. Then, I would meet with Jason and we would talk about Chris and the more I got to know Chris through all this source material and going to his home in Midlothian, Texas, I realized I’d never seen a guy like this on film, ever. There wasn’t going to be this big breakdown scene like you always see, it just wasn’t going to happen. So, our emphasis was stripping down the script and making it real.
DEADLINE: Describe the influence of Clint Eastwood. So many actor-y moments in movies, and then you drive your vehicle in his garage, he gets under the hood and tosses everything that pimped the ride.
COOPER: That’s a good description for what we did. For example, the scene when he comes home from the fourth tour, and he’s sitting there in the bar when Taya calls? There was a version of that where he was in a motel. There’s a gun, there’s whiskey, there’s a Bible, he’s having nightmares with the drill [that a warlord uses on informants]. It’s all very cinematic, but it’s just…not this movie. What happens when you walk through the airport and you see those guys at the bar? I always think, what are they doing? Do you ever go in there in the bar for two hours in the airport waiting for your flight? Are they waiting for a flight? So, we talked about doing it actually in an airport bar, but it didn’t work out with location and everything. But forget the motel, forget that. No, he’s just in a bar sitting there. He’s just that guy you might see if you walk in a bar. All of a sudden he gets a phone call and you realize, ‘Oh, he’s in America. He hasn’t gone home yet.’ And it’s just, no bullsh*t, it’s just real. Stuff like that, taking the scene that’s very cinematic, making it still very cinematic, but in a much more stripped-down Chris Kyle way.
That attitude informed the whole movie, it informed the script, it informed how I acted it, it informed how Clint directed it. And we thought, and this is a long way around to answering your question, that if we had all gotten that right, that’s what America would respond to. You watch the movie and you’re going, ‘Oh, this feels real.’ The hope is you’re not going like, ‘Wow, look at Bradley Cooper act.’ No, in fact, you’re just going, look at this guy. You’re getting to know Chris Kyle, and because you believe it you then go, ‘Oh, look at what these people go through.’ Stripping down the flowery way you can tell a war story, and just really trusting that this story is enough and the guy himself and Taya are compelling enough to carry a two-hour movie. There’s no score in the movie.
COOPER: Having no score was huge. I mean, look at Fury. Look at a lot of war movies. Huge, massive scores. I don’t even know if there’s ever been a war movie without a score. Why no score? Because the minute you put music over those scenes it changes the whole thing. You’re aware it’s a movie.
DEADLINE: The music is a manipulation, telling you when and how to feel?
COOPER: That’s not needed. Well, everything’s manipulation. I wouldn’t say a score is that. But we figured out it was best to play it real and stripped down, which we worked into every facet of the movie, from the script, to the acting of it, to the filming of it, to the editing of it, and to the scoring of it which meant no score…there’s sound design, but even that’s very pared back. And we just kept stripping back in the post production process, just stripping, stripping, stripping.
DEADLINE: That included Kyle’s lack of emotional moments. He was a master deflector. Every time somebody pointed out something like his off-the-charts blood pressure, he’d change the subject. The tells were subtle, the ones revealed the psychological destruction of having to do things like shoot children who were being used by adults to suicide bomb approaching platoons. Jason Hall had said that when he first met Chris Kyle, he looked in his eyes and saw a man still at war. What was the strategy that made all this feel so genuine?
COOPER: You just said it. It’s in his eyes. There’s not a lot of trickery with the camera in this movie. A friend of mine put it best, it’s almost like Clint took a step back, but the camera is half a step behind Chris the whole movie which is a very ego-less thing to do for a director. Even me, as an actor, I took a step back from Chris. Because there’s this scale of his emotional expression. The normal person, would provide you a box this big to work in. Chris’s box was very small and I had to tell the story from within that box. So, as an actor you want to have that big moment when he’s crying, whatever it is. But there is no moment because that’s not the way the guy was.
DEADLINE: How do you respect those limitations and still show the tectonic plates that are subtly shifting below the surface as this warrior crumbles from within?
COOPER: It was all these little moments. We didn’t know when they were going to come. I didn’t know if the crack would come with the dog in the yard, or with the phone call at the bar, when he was talking to the psychiatrist, or when his buddy Marc Lee got killed. I didn’t know if it was going to come with his buddy Biggles in the hospital. Literally, I had no idea.
DEADLINE: The moment the crack did occur, when he sat in that bar unable to go home, you didn’t know beforehand that was it?
COOPER: No. You just do each scene and then that scene in the bar, that second scene, the reason why that became the crack is because I loved Chris so much. I still remember, it was the second take. There’s the camera just coming in, coming, coming, coming like that. And I remember on the phone I felt like I was going to really lose it. I’m on the phone, and because of the way it was written I could hear the kids in the background. When we shot her side there were no kids, but the way I was playing it, I could hear the kids. And then the camera’s coming and I had the hat on and I kind of turned away, because I didn’t want the camera…
DEADLINE: You were embarrassed?
COOPER: Yeah, I was embarrassed. It was so crazy. I was… protecting… Chris. It was so f*cked up, dude, but it worked. I remember I felt like I was going to squeeze my head with my hand, and then I went like that and I was like just desperately trying to hide. And then it was over. And we thought, wow, that’s interesting. But it came out of me wanting to protect Chris.
DEADLINE: You didn’t consciously try to force other cathartic moments?
COOPER: Well, based on the research I did and Taya and other people that knew him, that’s the way Chris was. He never raised his voice once, she said. Never. You know, when they’re in the car after he gets his blood pressure taken and he goes, you f*cking hijacked me back there. He’s just talking, talking.
DEADLINE: Low simmer?
COOPER: Yeah, keeping it under control. Deflecting the attention off himself and asking about how you were. Especially with the guy in the garage. He hated the idea of being called a legend, just hated it, dude, hated anybody asking about all of his kills. Look at any interview he did, he always deflected that.
DEADLINE: The film has gotten some criticism for glorifying those kills. I look at the very first shot he took from a rooftop, a mother and her child in the cross hairs as they try to blow up an approaching platoon. I cannot imagine a father not being destroyed by having to stop that. That crushing dilemma is the cornerstone of the marketing campaign. The only reaction I had was, I am glad that wasn’t me. I don’t know if I could do that…
COOPER: Me, too.
DEADLINE: You’ve seen all this criticism. As one who helped shape the narrative, what don’t these critics understand about the price that a warrior pays, stuck in the most horrible place in the world having to do that kind of stuff?
COOPER: I think everybody is entitled to their opinion and this topic of war is an emotional one and this particular conflict is one that’s highly tuned for debate. Maybe I was a bit naïve to think that wouldn’t be what was going to come out of this, or one of the things that came out of this. To me, it was always just a soldier’s story. And on purpose, there’s no talk about the war, why we’re in it, nothing. It is not what that movie’s about.
DEADLINE: But you didn’t ignore the doubt that must seep into any soldier’s mind. The letter from his fallen buddy Marc Lee read aloud at his funeral encapsulated the great conundrum of a soldier in any war. You serve your country whether or not you believe the people at the top are actually avenging 9/11…
COOPER: Let’s look at that for a second. You are talking about Marc Lee’s letter, which is a philosophical letter. There were no weapons of mass destruction, but it’s not about that. The whole idea of this is it’s almost a mythical story that can be related to any war. It’s the idea of war and the price of war on the family and the soldier. And the things that Marc Lee talks about in that letter, he’s the philosopher. He’s Willem Dafoe in Platoon. So yes, we wanted to talk about that, but it wasn’t specific to this conflict. This is a character study. That’s what I was trying to do and that’s what Clint and Andrew Lazar and Rob Lorenz and Jason Hall, that’s what we were always interested in. The commitment to sacrifice, not only of Chris, but Taya and their family, that was always it. So any questioning why or what was in a global scope, and not in a specific political scope.
DEADLINE: Still, there was a conscious effort to establish self-doubt as an element of the thought process of a soldier risking his life, even if it was clear Chris Kyle couldn’t dwell on that distraction or risk getting killed.
COOPER: I think it’s more about binary opposites and how, in order to show what something is, you have to show what it isn’t. We had to create foils to illuminate the Chris Kyle character. Marc Lee is one of those foils, so is Jeff Kyle. Jeff Kyle is a fictitious creation on Jason Hall’s part. Jeff Kyle was not that character. He was not a guy who said, ‘f*ck this place,’ and they did not meet on the tarmac. But we needed him in order to follow through with this idea that you’re either a sheep or a wolf or a sheepdog, and when did Chris go from being the sheepdog to the wolf and maybe back to the sheepdog, when did the lines get blurred? When did the vendetta, and God, country, family, when did all those things start to get mixed up? You need other characters to illuminate that, and Marc Lee shows what Chris isn’t, in that way, at least consciously. Jeff Kyle is there to show what happens when a character is not like Chris, and to see the effect and how Chris takes care of him. All these elements serve the character of Chris. In doing all this, sure, you’re talking about huge themes, but it was very focused on Chris. Even the sniper Mustafa. He’s Syrian, he’s not Iraqi. He is married, he has a family, he was in the Olympics, he’s some sort of odd doppelganger of Chris in some weird way. He doesn’t talk. Chris barely talks. It’s this odd dark mirror. There are a lot of things going on there, and I’m not saying he’s the same person as Chris. What I am saying is that everything comes back to the Chris Kyle character.
DEADLINE: As you build your production company now with Todd Phillips, how has this philosophy of stripping down to the core influenced how you look at a piece of material?
COOPER: It’s there. But I’ve been very lucky to be brought up by great storytellers, starting with JJ Abrams initially on Alias. I’m from the East Coast and got planted out there in LA and it was like a self-imposed grad school for film. I’d go to the end of the room every day and get everybody’s dailies on videotape and watch them. I learned so much there just about the mechanics of it. Then I learned more on this movie The Midnight Meat Train. With Limitless I really got to work on story, and that brings me to David O. Russell, who is all about that. Where’s the f*cking heart, where’s the f*cking heart, give me the real thing, drop the bullsh*t. He loves to celebrate life and nostalgia and comedy, but there is no bullsh*t. And when you’re working with him, you better not f*cking act.
DEADLINE: He’s not a fan of theatrics?
COOPER: No. He wants to see your soul. I’ve had it jammed in me for so long that by the time I landed on Sniper, I was ready for the way Clint operates. It’s always about, what are we getting at here? There it is, there’s the f*cking mitochondria, this is the sh*t right here, that’s the powerhouse. So, we were on the same page, me and Clint, and that meant no frills, let’s just tell a simple story. We knew that character was charismatic. The guy’s amazing. He’s fucking huge. He’s got this amazing voice. He’s got this levity about him. He has this way of thinking about the world that I’ve never seen on film, quite frankly. When the psychiatrist asks him about himself and how he’s doing, you’re not expecting that answer. I wasn’t. But that’s real to him and you’re looking in his eyes and thinking, what’s going on there? That’s interesting to us, that’s an interesting enough character to fill the frame. You don’t have to come up on a f*cking Brian De Palma thing or come overhead like…no, that’s it, right here.
DEADLINE: Or having the shrink comment that his eyes betray the fact he’s not right?
COOPER: Yeah, well, that’s just Jason Hall making it real, but we were all on the same page. Chris led the way.
DEADLINE: When Jason Hall first met Chris Kyle, he had to brawl with one of his buddies before Chris gave him the time of day. Even then, Jason said he didn’t crack the script until Chris was killed and his widow Taya, gave him a fully fleshed view of the man behind the warrior. What was your own entry point?
COOPER: I had just made a producing deal with Warner Brothers when Jason Hall called. My agent told me about the book and Jason sent it but I hadn’t read it. He pitched me the idea, this real guy with all these confirmed kills. By then, Warner Brothers had passed on it three times but he thought, you just got this deal, they want to make movies with you, what do you think? By the time he got there, I was thinking about how obsessed I was with this genre. The war picture genre. Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, Coming Home, Thin Red Line, The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now. I grew up with those movies and liked the idea of investigating the psyche of a man in that situation. While he told me about it, going back and forth about his view of Kyle, I thought what I also liked about this was it sounded like a Western to me. I got excited. I said we should pitch it differently than was done the last three times. We went to work on that. I thought, this was cool, never thinking that I would actually play Chris.
DEADLINE: You got a yes from Warner Bros without committing to play Kyle?
COOPER: Yeah. I love telling stories, and that’s how I looked at it. It’s not about me, my character and how I’m going to play it. It’s this guy who served four tours and each time he comes back, the bounty on him gets higher and higher trying to get this guy. He’s dealing with the home life, but there’s this thing that just keeps pulling him back into the frontier, toward the ultimate standoff. How amazing to frame that within a real conflict that has nothing to do with a Western but feels like one. The more I read his interviews online, the more complex and fascinating Chis Kyle became.
DEADLINE: Was Kyle as wary of you as he was Jason initially?
COOPER: I was working, we were editing Silver Linings Playbook and I was shooting Serena. After I got back and asked Jason how it was going, he tells me they’re still trying to make Chris’ deal, five months later. So I get on the phone with him, for the first time, and tell him I think we can make a sick movie here, and that he’d better get used to me because I’d be coming down there to Midlothian and spending a year with him because we are going to do this thing right, and that we’d get a great director. And he was like, ‘All right, man.’ He was doing a lot of work with vets by then and he’d done his research and knew I’d done USO tours. I thought it went great and Jason went away to write. And finally, Chris’ deal was done, Jason turned in the script and then Chris was murdered.
DEADLINE: Jason felt his first draft only reflected what he got from Chris Kyle, which wasn’t the movie we saw onscreen. What did you think when you read it?
COOPER: I agree with that scenario. I thought we were going to have to do a lot of work. But it was a good first draft, it gave us the sandbox.
DEADLINE: Too much war hero and not enough of the price paid?
COOPER: It wasn’t as much about that. It’s what a lot of first drafts are and Jason, I would say it if he was right here and he would be the first one to agree, it didn’t have a rhythm. It was hard to find the flow and weave a tapestry that has a through-line that included four tours, growing up bronco riding, and going home. I didn’t get a real sense of the guy either. It felt like it needed work, but to be honest, I had other things going on and it wasn’t my main focus.
DEADLINE: Then, he dies, murdered by a PTSD-suffering vet.
COOPER: Which was crazy and sad. Taya had the conversation with Jason about seven days later and said, if you’re going to do this, get it right. So he went back and we talked about it because we had to rethink the whole thing. It still felt like his story needed to be told. It’s just so crazy how he died. The irony is just insane.
DEADLINE: Never a thought of quitting?
COOPER: No, quite the opposite. But it wasn’t until Steven Spielberg called…that is the thing that started it. He’d read the revised version of the script, the one after Taya got involved.
DEADLINE: Describe that moment, when Spielberg says yes.
COOPER: Oh, I remember when I got the phone call, I was shooting American Hustle, and then he called me. They said Steven Spielberg is on the phone and I was like, what? They’re telling me I have to shoot a scene and I ask David O for a second. Steven says, ‘Hey, Bradley, I read the script, I think it’s the best script I’ve read in a long time and I want to make American Sniper my next movie and I want to do it with you.’ I was like…OK.
DEADLINE: So that’s how you became the star?
COOPER: Yes. I get on the phone and call Warner Brothers. That’s when as a producer, that everything got out of the way and then I went bam. And that is when I became at the head of the ship with everybody in and from then on it was the main focus. So, the first thing was moving The Elephant Man, which I was going to do in New York that spring, and we’re talking to Evangeline Lilly and thinking about who could be Taya, and then working with Steven on the script, meetings, flying back and forth. And it was during awards seasons with Silver Linings, so it was like I remember just it was crazy trying to get this thing together. Then all of a sudden he dropped out.
DEADLINE: What’s it like, developing a script with Steven Spielberg?
COOPER: Well, it’s very similar to I think any collaborative endeavor with a very highly intelligent, highly creative mind which is thrilling. You’ll be texting back and forth and you get on the phone about a scene, and I’ll suggest how the camera is coming down and he’ll say, no, what about this? And it’s like, damn. You’re Steven Spielberg, that’s brilliant and I never could have thought of that. And then, Steven dropped out.
DEADLINE: Great directors fall in and out of love with projects.
COOPER: I understand that, and that directing is a huge commitment. And that because of what we’d gone through, we got Clint.
DEADLINE: You’ve been busy playing The Elephant Man onstage, when your rivals have been Oscar campaigning steadily. Something I’ve never seen before: Ben Affleck, himself in contention himself with Gone Girl, hosted screenings of American Sniper because you couldn’t be there. Sean Penn, too. Here you turn in this less is more subtle performance, but you’ve got this daily Broadway curtain call and can’t stump for the film. What did that support mean to you?
COOPER: Are you kidding me? Just insane. The calls I got from people. I don’t even know Tom Hardy, and he sent me the most incredible email. Anne Hathaway said something publicly and I called her and I just said, hey, we don’t know each other, but it got back to me what you said, and it means everything. Ashton Kutcher, Ryan Reynolds, guys I don’t really know. Sean Penn, I couldn’t believe it. Now, Ben’s my friend and I would do anything for him, but for him to host that thing in a year where he could be up for Best Actor, too? They don’t make many like that dude.
DEADLINE: First time I noticed you was in Wedding Crashers, and at the time I thought, there’s an actor who can play the prototypical bully like Johnny in Karate Kid or Biff in Back To The Future. Were you confident enough then, on that set with all those great actors, to think you were going to be able to show all these colors?
COOPER: You mean, did I know where I was going in my career? Oh, no. How could I know that? How could anybody? No, I was so over the moon, I mean, that was a huge get for me. You look at it one way and I completely understand that, you only know what you see. But I was coming from a TV show where I played the nicest guy, the unrequited love guy. I was going to all these auditions and they’d say, nah, he’s just too nice a guy. And then David Dobkin gave me a break, to play the heavy in this movie. To be in a comedy with Christopher Walken, and Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn. Vince Vaughn was like my hero, playing at the top of his game. The things they were doing every day. I went to work every day even when I wasn’t shooting, just to watch them work. I’d sit there, mesmerized, and feel lucky just to be there.
When it got time for me to get on the field with them, I knew I had to bring it, hard. And I remember feeling what it was like to get comfortable with them, feeling, OK, I’m supposed to be here. They say, OK, make up some story about one of your treks, what? You know, with the seal and the otter and then Owen’s sitting there looking at me and you can see it, he feels like, I know this Sack Lodge guy, this crazy sociopathic a**hole. I went to high school with guys like this. And then it just builds from there. You don’t know where it is going but it’s why you just never quit. Otherwise, I never would’ve been cast in American Sniper or Elephant Man. Two years ago if you said they’re casting Chris Kyle, no way are they thinking of me. John Merrick on Broadway? Wouldn’t happen. That has been my road this whole time. I don’t know anything else. I’ve been very, very lucky, but at the same time it’s never been like I felt like I could sit back and have this stuff just come to me. If you love something enough, go after it. I know there are plenty of people with that love and energy, and I just feel so lucky to have the opportunity to utilize it. I know guys I went to grad school with who are more talented that I am, who haven’t been able to sit in the trenches with Robert De Niro and explore and work on the scene in the attic of a house until we get it right. It’s insane to sit there with Clint Eastwood and talk about a shot and how we’re going to do it, or sit in the room with David O. Russell.
DEADLINE: Clint seems like a man of few words, De Niro too. Would it be fair to say that between those two guys, you’ve gotten a master class in less is more?
COOPER: Yes. But I also have to throw David O. Russell in there.
COOPER: It’s his beautiful combination of fearlessness in celebrating what it means to be alive, and his insistence on stripping away all that is false. He would come to me on occasion and just say, ‘no bullsh*t, f*cking no bullsh*t, just no bullsh*t, come on, come on, come on, no bullsh*t.’ And it sinks in. And you think, right, right, no f*cking bullshit, just be real. Risk, and be real. Risk.
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