At tonight’s 32nd American Cinematheque Award dinner at the Beverly Hilton, guests were seated in the ballroom by 7:30 PM. But it was not until 10:40 PM that the night’s honoree, Bradley Cooper, took the stage after an outpouring of affection from Hollywood colleagues including A Star is Born co-stars Lady Gaga and Sam Elliott, Jennifer Garner, Sean Penn and many others.
The dinner and multimedia award show was a fundraiser for the American Cinematheque, a nonprofit organization that owns, programs and operates the Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard (opened in 1922) and the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica.
“It took a long time, I know it’s been a very long night, but thank you for staying,” Cooper said, and he seemed genuinely stunned by the speeches, some of which moved him to tears. He said the warmth in the ballroom made it feel like “a very small, comfortable living room — but that’s what happens when love is shown to someone.”
Cooper then added a comment that had already become a recurring theme of the evening: parents. “I had a lot of love for my parents, I started with a huge leg up,” he said of parents Gloria and Charles Cooper.
Jennifer Garner, the first actor to speak about Cooper, said she was the first person Cooper met when he came to Hollywood, and proceeded to compare him to a stray dog. “I took him home and made him dinner…I’m still making him dinner,” she joked. She cracked wise about “the finest work of Bradley’s career – the TV years,” but added, “St. Augustine said, nothing bad can happen to a man who is loved by his mother, and Gloria loves Bradley.”
When the two worked together on Alias, Garner noted, “[Gloria would say] ‘Meet Jennifer, she’s on Bradley’s show!’ “ But, Garner concluded with deep affection, “He’s welcome at my table any time.”
Garner wasn’t the only speaker to bring up Cooper’s mom: Zach Galifianakis, Cooper’s co-star in the Hangover series, clearly enjoyed roasting Cooper, saying the honored actor spent his time worrying about “which mobile plan was best to phone in his performance in The Hangover Part III. But Galifianakis, who spoke about Cooper along with fellow Hangover actor Ed Helms, said sincerely that he and Cooper bonded over talking about how much both loved their parents. “I’ll never forget that,” Galifianakis said.
To be sure, most of those who have worked with Cooper praised him without bringing up Mom and Dad. Gaga and Elliott were perhaps the most impassioned speakers about their recent roles in A Star is Born, on which Cooper served as both star and director.
“Sometimes you call me Gaga, but we both know you call me Stefani,” said a tearful Gaga. “I ran from Stefani for a long time. I put on a superhero cape and called myself Lady Gaga, and you challenged me to deep dive to a place where I had to see her again…I can call on you as a friend and cry and be myself and have you never, ever judge me. There is only one human being on the planet you remind me of, and that’s Tony Bennett.”
Elliott said that of all the people who spoke, he probably had known Cooper for the shortest length of time. But Elliott said he had watched Cooper’s work and felt he grew up as an actor in American Sniper. “Everyone in this room is deeply in love with you, my friend, for all the right reasons.”
Penn chose to rant about today’s Hollywood, where most people are “more interested in selling a film than making it,” before adding how much he admired Cooper for not falling into that category.
“Full disclosure: I don’t like handsome or young men,” Penn added gruffly, but admitted Cooper is the exception.
Patricia Clarkson, who starred onstage with Cooper in Elephant Man, called Cooper “a leading lady’s dream come true,” and praised him for choosing her, an actress of a certain age, for the role. “Ladies, that’s a man,” she said to applause.
Cooper’s Wedding Crashers co-star Vince Vaughn called Cooper a “once-in-a-generation actor, a rare combination of gift and work ethic and auteur … but enough about Sean Penn.” He also joked about Cooper’s personal Day-Glo jogging clothes, an outfit that made him look like “a child dressed by his parents not to be hit by a car at night.”
However, Vaughn turned the crack into a positive, adding that the wacky exercise wear “was a foreshadowing of an attitude that serves him well, not really caring what people think…he is a once-in-a-generation actor.”
Other speakers were director David O. Russell, Brian Klugman, and American Sniper colleagues Jacob Schick and Taya Kyle, wife of Chris Kyle, portrayed by Cooper in the film. Schick, who has suffered visible injuries, said Cooper “always treated me like a whole man.”
“If life is a dance, Bradley is the disco ball,” Taya Kyle added.
The fourth annual Sid Grauman Award recipient was Doug Darrow, on behalf of Dolby Laboratories.