Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro shared a halting but affectionate hour onstage at the Tribeca Film Festival this evening, with director David O. Russell joining them halfway through to keep the dialogue going.
The conversation, which was live-streamed on Facebook, focused mostly on the work the two actors have done together, including films like Limitless, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle. The talk also included a lot of reflection on their experiences as directors. De Niro has directed twice (A Bronx Tale and The Good Shepherd) and Cooper’s directorial debut, a new version of A Star is Born, is slated for release in October.
“It can only enrich your awareness of what everybody goes through,” De Niro said in response to an audience member’s question about getting behind the camera. Added Cooper, “As a director, there’s so many things you’re thinking about that as an actor, I just forgot about it…. It was exciting because I kept surprising myself.”
De Niro lavished praise on A Star is Born, which Warner Bros. will release October 5. “It’s really, really terrific,” he said, noting he had seen a screening of the film. “I hope it gets the attention that I feel it should.” Cooper has poured nearly three years into the project (with his last gig before that coming in the summer of 2015 in a stage version of The Elephant Man). Lady Gaga is Cooper’s co-star and he recalled her declaring the effort would be a “barter,” in which Cooper would guide her first movie performance and Gaga would lend Cooper her musical expertise. “You can’t hide when you sing,” Cooper said, adding that he would definitely direct again. “I don’t want to say too much because maybe you’ll hate the movie. But I loved it.. I just hope I get to keep doing it.”
After Cooper said his film was shot in 42 days, De Niro said his films took at least twice as long. “I don’t know how to do it any other way,” he said, joking, “That’s why they don’t ask me to do it anymore.” While he declined to specify any projects, De Niro, 74, said he expects to direct a total of three to five movies during his lifetime.
When awkward silences arose every couple of minutes, Cooper capably filled them in with reminiscences about his earliest contacts with De Niro. (At one point during a lull, De Niro took out his phone and said, “I told people to text me if there’s a question.” When the audience giggled, he put the phone away.) Cooper recalled his first encounter with De Niro, years before the two appeared in Limitless, Cooper recalled standing to ask a question during De Niro’s appearance on Inside the Actor’s Studio. When De Niro called the query about a particular moment in the film Awakenings “a good question,” Cooper recalled that simple gesture feeling like “a light shot through me.” He would replay a recording of the exchange to remind himself to “go with his gut,” no matter how discouraging his industry experiences got.
A later experience, Cooper remembered, was when De Niro called Cooper to his hotel for a meeting when he was prepping for the 2009 film Everybody’s Fine and saw Cooper’s audition tape. While Cooper lost out to Sam Rockwell, De Niro wanted to offer his encouragement. “You told me, ‘You’re not going to get the role. But I see something.’ And you gave me a hug. And I left.” Smiling at the abruptness but also the kindness of the exchange, Cooper said, “That kept me going, like, forever.”
When talk turned to Silver Linings, for which both actors received Oscar nominations, their banter with Russell, who was initially seated in the audience, grew so prolonged that Cooper summoned Russell onstage. In the end, the three didn’t end up having too many more extended exchanges, though Russell drew a big laugh when recalling (complete with high-pitched imitation) an encounter with Joe Pesci. The actor’s advice about working with De Niro definitely could have applied to this evening’s panel. “‘You’re going to find out that if you don’t tell him what to say,” Russell-as-Pesci warned, “‘he’s not going to say anything.'”
De Niro did say more than a few things, but as usual kept it fairly tight-lipped, though often grounded in a sincere appreciation for his collaborators. As they moved from making Limitless to other projects, some of which are still in the development pipeline, De Niro recalled thinking Cooper would always make a reliable partner. “I knew you would do a good job,” he said. “And that’s a nice thing.”