Interview Date: 03/09/2011
Run Date: 03/16/2011
For eight years, Bradley Cooper was your stereotypical, good-looking working actor; always entertaining yet remaining in the confines of Character Actor or Protagonist's Sidekick. Then came "The Hangover." The 2009 film became one of the most successful comedies ever and Cooper suddenly became an overnight success (despite years of gainful employment and a stint at New York's prestigious Actors Studio).
As Eddie Morra in "Limitless," Cooper plays a failed writer given a drug that unlocks the brain's full capabilities, allowing him to learn languages or play the piano in hours. More importantly, Morra begins studying — and conquering — the stock market, setting himself up for a showdown with Robert De Niro. Cooper spoke about the film recently in New York.
Journalist #1: Bradley, will you tell us a little bit about Eddie Morra, who you saw him as, as a character and how you came to choose this role?
Bradley Cooper: Well I read the script maybe eight months ago, that Leslie Dixon wrote, based on this novel by Alan Glynn, an Irishman who wrote “The Dark Fields.” I didn’t read the novel until after I got the role. I didn’t even know it was a novel. But she wrote this incredible script with a phenomenal character Eddie. And I met with Neil Burger because I just thought oh wow; to play a guy that goes from A to Z like that would just be incredible. And so I met with him and just tried to basically pitch him why I had to play it. And then I think about six months later, we got the offer to do it. And then it was about just hopefully getting it made.
But what did I think of Eddie Morra? Yeah, I loved him. I liked the idea that when we meet him, it’s not that he feels sorry for himself at all; he’s just actually resigned to the fact that his life is such that his potential wasn’t fulfilled. And that’s where we meet him that day. It was cool when he had a book contract when he was 25, and he talks about how great it’s going to be. But when he’s 35, and it still hasn’t been written, it’s just not cool anymore. And then to see a guy who goes from this sort of complacency to then having power, and what he does with that power and what his plan is; you’re left in the movie not knowing. He says at one point, "I had a plan and money was going to allow me to get there." But in the end he’s in politics, so what was this guy up to? And I liked him; I thought he was a good guy actually. I liked playing old Eddie a lot. The crew did too. We would lament the days where the wig wasn’t there.
J2: So once Eddie has access to this drug and finishes his book, he undergoes a series of career changes. If you had access to a drug that made your potential limitless, do you think you would still be an actor? Would you venture into other areas? Do you think you might become a writer? You seem to have a special affinity for playing writers.
BC: I’ve obviously thought about this, just from the questions. I would definitely try to learn as many languages as I could right away. And then after that, much like Eddie did, learn as many instruments as I could. After that, I don’t know, but I would probably try to get money so I could go around and utilize that. But it would be incredible to just start jamming with all these great musicians and communicating with people wherever you are, in all of the different dialects. But I would still be an actor or director. I would probably start finally getting off my ass and facing the fear because all I really want to do is direct movies anyway, I just haven’t done it.
J3: This movie is all on your shoulders. What challenges did that create for you personally? What you expect from yourself and which area you go to achieve your goal?
BC: I will answer that in two ways: One, I didn’t feel like it rests in my shoulders because I didn’t direct the movie. You know, it’s Neil Burger’s film. But I definitely was allowed the opportunity to help be the guy in the field and play this character who the story revolves around. And I loved it. There’s a very small window of what I enjoy in this business, which is I love being a big part of the storytelling process; it really fulfils me. Whether or not I’ll get that opportunity again, I don’t know. I hope to. But you know, if this movie’s successful then I probably will; if it’s not it will be harder to. But I absolutely loved it. I love that pressure. Because to me it’s excitement, especially when you know what you’re doing. I found a hook with Eddie early on reading the script, so I never felt the pressure. I just couldn’t wait to get out and play him each day. I couldn’t get enough of it. And I enjoyed the aspect of the drug. I tend to speak very fast and so I like these sort of paragraphs that I had to memorize and speak. Because when he’s on the drug he can’t stutter or anything. He thinks in these succinct paragraphs that just come out and I loved doing that. And Neil shot a lot of those in one so there was no cut; it was almost like doing a play. I loved that experience.
J4: So when you were coming up in the actor’s studio, would any one enhancing drug be something that you would be interested in taking?
J4: Well talk about that aspect of this being so available to kids still. The real stuff, Adderall, Ritalin.
BC: That I don’t know anything about.
J4: Do you think it’s dangerous that we’re not really looking at it as a serious drug, and they’re just taking it?
BC: Well in terms of this movie, whether it helps to provoke questions and conversations like that, that is what it is. That we set out to do that, no. I didn’t set out to do that as the actor. I found this movie being a compelling story about power and what you do with power, much more than drugs. It goes from a guy who all of a sudden has power and how he utilizes that power over people and over what he can accomplish. And when you abuse it and whether you treat it with respect. Now if a drug can be equated with power, then it becomes a conversation about the drug. But nothing specific to that.
J5: The first thing that did you did while taking the drug was clear your physical surroundings. How important do you think that aspect is for clearing your mind?
BC: I definitely am a huge creature of my environment. It dictates my emotional state to a huge degree. So yeah, environment is everything. I like the fact that he mentions it, it’s like what is this drug? It makes you anal retentive? What the hell is going on here? But that’s one of the first things he does. Environment is huge to me. And sometimes I like being in complete chaos, and other times I like it to be clean. It’s not one thing all of the time.
J6: I have a question regarding roles. When it comes to thriller-dramas like “Limitless” versus “The Hangover” that’s more comedic, what mindset do you use to prep for either role?
BC: It's completely the same. It’s playing a role and whatever that happens to be. It may demand different ways, but the structure’s the same in terms of you have to prepare. And acting’s acting, whether it’s comedy or drama. There’s a music to it and the music changes with comedy, that’s all, for me.
J7: What’s the difference between the kind of adrenaline rush that focuses you when you’re acting and the experience of the drug that gives you access to all of this extra information and knowledge? You spoke earlier about your choice of storytelling, and how you feel the necessity to have a kernel of something that you love in it. So if you could turn that kernel into an essential truth for you, what would it be?
BC: Okay, so the first question…which I forgot already. I’m obviously not on NZT right now. Adrenaline, as opposed to the drug? I made things specific for me because the idea of reading up on the way neuro-pathways operate in one's brain and how synapses function wouldn’t serve me in terms of organically inhabiting that idea. I had to find something specific for me, which had nothing to do with anything like that, in order to play whatever that expansiveness is in my mind. I didn’t choose the feeling of adrenaline from doing something, whether it’s playing a sport or getting into a fight, or acting on stage. Just because to me, my experience, sensory wise with that, maybe I should have; it probably would have been better. But it feels like I’m on a drug when those endorphins are released. And for me, NZT wasn’t a drug. It didn’t feel like it was on a drug. It was just clear and focused. There was no difference; it was just calm. There was a calm to him, to me, when I was doing it that I worked on. And he actually says that when he says “I wasn’t high; I wasn’t wired; I just knew what I wanted to do and how to do it.” And that was it right there. Just focused. And the ability to focus…it was almost like lasers focusing in all of these different directions at the same time.
The nugget; well if it’s a truth, it’s love. Because I have to love something in order to have it mean something to me. But it changes for everything. It was a moment in the script that I read where I thought "Oh yeah, I have to do everything I can to try to play that role." It was one moment.
J7: What was that moment?
BC: It was when he drinks the blood. When I read it in the script, I had never seen that before. And if it’s pulled off, the movie works. If it doesn’t, it fails. And in that moment, if the audience is laughing at the movie, the movie doesn’t work. But for Eddie, it’s an example of how low or where he’s willing to go to survive and to maintain whatever it is, that power that he has. And I just sort of loved how we get from this guy in the beginning of the movie to that moment? That I need to play; I need to experience. For every movie it’s been a moment. For “The Hangover,” it was the phone call when I called Tracy. It was more like I just saw it, how it was going to be. I thought oh, I would love to do that.
J7: And did the finished product coincide with your vision of it?
BC: Yes. The blood drinking? Yeah. I mean we had to adhere to ratings and stuff like that, so it wouldn’t be exactly but yeah, I’d say so. Yeah.
J8: Bradley, do you see this as a monster movie? There's a murder and at the end he seems to outfox the fox, if Robert De Niro is the shark. And so it’s kind of like a happy ending and then the monster takes over his world.
BC: I don’t see him as a monster. So in order for it to be a monster movie, he would have to be the monster. No, I don’t see Eddie as the monster at all. I don’t think he killed her, but he may have. Once the movie’s out there, your opinion of what Eddie did is just as valid as mine. There is no difference. But I certainly didn’t see him as a hoarder of merchandise. It’s interesting how he’s used his power in the movie. It’s not to make money.
J8: To rule the world.
BC: Well we don’t know, you know; we don’t know where he’s going. So no, I didn’t see it as a monster movie. But that’s interesting. I like that idea. Because monsters might be good too, who says they’re bad?
J9: I think our viewers are going to be really interested in the ending and the end effects of NZT that Eddie has. I was wondering if you could elaborate on some of these new superpowers that he now has.
BC: Well anything he’s ever sort of seen, heard, tasted or smelled since basically in the womb, he can recall in an instant and utilize for whatever way he wants. And basically, by the end, this idea that the drug has evolved and such that he’s sort of able to use physics, in every possible way. And looking at behavior, you know he could tell that that guy was texting and he was able to figure out there’s sixty feet, and in order to stop given that make of the truck and the way the brakes work, thirty feet wouldn’t be enough, he’s going to rear end that taxi. So it’s not like he’s omniscient at all; it’s just all logic but he can do it like that.
J10: You’ve always been a successfully working actor, but with “The Hangover,” your career really took off. All of a sudden you became a star and sex symbol. So how did you experience this? Was it sort of amusing for you or did you ask yourself why now?
BC: Clearly being a part of a movie that is so financially lucrative provides opportunities. And that’s what that movie did for everybody. And with that comes a higher profile so you have paparazzi and you know that you just have to learn to navigate. The great part is that I was able to do a movie like “Limitless.” You know maybe Relativity wouldn’t have hired me to do it if I hadn’t been a part of “The Hangover,” which was so successful.
J11: There are a lot of rumors that Charlie Sheen is going to be one of your co-stars. So confirm, deny and what are your thoughts about possibly working with Charlie?
BC: Well unless they have a time machine and we can go back to Bangkok, my understanding is that we already filmed that movie. It’s an interesting thing to start spreading, but you’d have to be a part of the Starship Enterprise in order to make that happen.
J12: The “Hangover” franchise has had a major effect on your onscreen image and continues to do so again, later this year. Has that caused you any concern of being locked into a genre? And in that context, how important is it that you do the movies like “Limitless”?
BC: It doesn’t scare me only because I operate pretty simply. I want to work with great filmmakers and great actors and get better as an actor. That’s basically it. What that usually means is it’s not going to be the same kind of movie or the same genre or the same role. So by hook or by crook I’m going to try to get different roles just because I’m operating under that premise. Doing a TV show like “Alias,” for an example, I played probably the nicest guy in the world. And I would audition for movies, during that time and afterwards, and normally the feedback would be, "Bradley's such a nice guy. I don’t really see an edge, but such a sweet guy. Please tell him we loved meeting him." And then David Dobkin took a real chance and hired me as the heavy in “Wedding Crashers” to play a sociopathic bad guy. And then it became, "Bradley, he’s an asshole, right?" Elia Kazan said if you’re going to audition to play a cowboy, you’d better show up with the horse. It’s beyond my control who’s going to cast me or how you’re going to be pitched and held. So for me, it’s just basic. I want to keep doing different things because I want to get better. So hopefully I’ll be hired to do them. So “The Hangover” was a huge success. Will it mean that I’ll be cast in movies like that? No, because I won’t do movies like that. But then it might also mean I’ll never work. So we’ll see.
J13: What about Robert De Niro? What about the opportunity to work with him? What it was like to work with him?
BC: Talk about icing on the cake. I never — when I first got the movie — did I think that Carl Van Loon would be played by Robert De Niro. And my past with him, without him knowing it, goes back a long way just because he’s the reason I became an actor. And then I went to school at the Actors Studio MFA program here in New York, and he came to our school and I asked him a question. And that meant the world to me.
J13: What was the question?
BC: When you were doing “Awakenings,” there’s a scene where he wants to go for a walk and he has to be interviewed by the medical panel and he’s trying so hard to be normal. But the drug started to not work anymore and he’s starting to get the ticks and one tick was his right hand and he would make up for it by pretending to brush his eyebrow. And I thought that was just so genius. I asked him is that something you saw people do because they were embarrassed by their ticks and make up for it in some way? Or is that something that just happened? And then he went, "Yeah, no, I didn’t see anybody do that, but that was a good question." There was like a beam of light that shot into my chest. I was so excited. So that was the first experience with Robert De Niro.
And then I put myself on tape to play his son in “Everybody’s Fine." My mother played him and we did it in my house in Venice. I put myself on tape because I couldn’t even get an audition for it. And he somehow saw it and wanted to meet me. So I met him in his hotel and we sat down and he said “Um, you’re not going to get it, but I see you. I see it.” Okay. And then he said “Who was reading the other role?” I told him it was my mom and he goes “Yeah, I thought that.” And then that was it and I left. Cut to the Tribeca Film Festival a year later and I sit down next to him and I was like “Hey, how’s it going?" No idea who I was. Cut to sitting in his hotel room in L.A., pitching him the idea to do “Limitless” which was so crazy. And he was great. At that meeting, it was like I was on the drug. I did not stop talking. One thing I’ve learned about him is he does not like small talk, which was great. So I got in the hotel room, I didn’t say, "Hey, how you doing? How’s the room? I just sat down and spoke for like 15 minutes. And he gave me his cell. Two days later, he said I’ll do it. By the time we got there to shoot it was effortless. And plus I had seen him in so many movies, I felt such a connection to him. So it was wonderful, wonderful and I hope to work with him a lot in the future.
J13: What was the De Niro movie that made you want to be an actor?
BC: It was moments. I mean “Raging Bull” was the first thing I saw him in, but I was so disconnected from it, all I could get was the emotional experience that Scorsese was creating; not really what De Niro was doing. But “The Mission,” when he’s carrying the rocks up to the Mission, there was something about that moment when he lands and he’s crying and they’re touching his face. “Awakenings” when he dances with
Penelope Ann Miller in the hospital. And of course “The Deer Hunter” and “Jacknife” and so, so many movies. When he played Capone in “The Untouchables.” I loved him at the end of “Brazil.” I’ve seen everything.
J14: I was curious, did you ever feel like Eddie at the beginning of the film? Did you ever feel that down and out feeling?
BC: Sure, absolutely. Oh god yeah. As a human being, do you feel worthless at points in your life and things aren’t going to happen the way that you wanted them to? Yeah, sure.
J14: When was that point in your life?
BC: Today. Just now when I was speaking to that lady.
J15: I want to ask about some of the scenes where you’re shooting yourself multiple times. What was that like and how much time did you spend doing those?
BC: That was [director] Neil Burger who came up with all of that. I had never seen that before except for in “Being John Malkovich.” It was very time-consuming and very get up and go, so it was very sort of mathematical. But I really enjoyed that. I like sort of having to act within the structural confines; there’s something sort of interesting about that. Because you have to go here and here and you have to be able to be organic in that little space. Not necessarily that stuff because I was just cleaning the apartment.
J15: When I saw those scenes, I was very curious what it was like as an actor to try to get that.BC: Yeah, you have to be very precise. I always loved in “The Royal Tenenbaums” where Gene Hackman is telling Anjelica Huston that he’s dying and it’s shot so Hackman only can go in that part of the frame and she can only go right to there. And being able to have to act within that structure is very exciting.