How Bradley Cooper Went from Wannabe Ninja to Oscar Contender
Bradley Cooper made an interesting choice during his directorial debut, “A Star Is Born.” He directed key scenes in the film while pretending to be drunk.
Cooper stars alongside Lady Gaga in the film, and his character is an alcoholic. He stayed in character during filming of the scenes when his character, Jackson Maine, was drunk, including when he was working behind the camera.
“Thank God the actors were willing to allow me to direct them sort of in that state, because it was easier to stay in that space,” Cooper told Vanity Fair. “It just took me a little longer to communicate what I wanted.”
The real Cooper has been sober for 15 years, which may not mesh with the mental image of moviegoers who are most familiar with his work in the “Hangover” trilogy.
We dug into figuring out who the real person is behind the actor and, now, director.
Cooper’s Early Life
Cooper was born on January 5, 1975 and grew up in Philadelphia. His mother worked for a local NBC affiliate and his father was a stockbroker. He also has an older sister, Holly. When he was young he liked to cook and play basketball, and dreamed of moving to Japan to become a ninja.
“I never lived the life of 'Oh, you're so good-looking',” Cooper said in a 2010 interview with Huffington Post. “People thought I was a girl when I was little, because I looked like a girl — maybe because my mother would keep my hair really long.”
Cooper has also said he “wasn’t the smartest person” or “the coolest kid” while attending Germantown Academy.
“The Elephant Man” Influence
Cooper decided he wanted to become an actor after his father showed him “The Elephant Man.” His parents were initially worried about his career choice, but were won over after seeing him play the lead character in a school production.
He went to Villanova University but later transferred to Georgetown in Washington, D.C., where he majored in English and graduated in 1997. He rowed at Georgetown and took part in student productions, and he also became fluent in French while on exchange in France for six months.
A Strong Start in Acting
Cooper’s television debut was a brief appearance opposite Sarah Jessica Parker in a 1999 episode of “Sex and The City.”
He then went on to host the adventure-travel series “Globe Trekker.”
In 2000 he earned a MFA from the Actors Studio Drama School at The New School in New York City, where had been personally selected for the program by James Lipton.
Meeting Robert De Niro
At the Actors Studio he worked with famed acting coach Elizabeth Kemp, who has continued to advise him throughout his career. In one of his classes at the school, Cooper had a question-and-answer session with Robert De Niro that would later become an episode of Lipton’s “Inside the Actors Studio.”
His Early Career
Graduation from the Actors Studio brought Cooper steady, if not notable, work. He made his film debut in 2001’s “Wet Hot American Summer,” a critical and commercial flop that eventually found a cult following. Cooper also starred in the eight-episode, Netflix prequel “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp” in 2015.
He also appeared in made-for-television movies and had a recurring role on the WB series “Jack & Bobby.”
Making Friends in Hollywood
Cooper played a newspaper reporter on “Alias,” where he got to know Jennifer Garner. Cooper describes Garner as his first friend in Los Angeles and someone who was “very maternal” to him as he tried to make sense of the city and life as a working actor.
Cooper has not had a drink since 2004. He said his substance abuse problems intensified during the second season of “Alias,” when his role was reduced. He was filled with self doubt and considered quitting acting.
“I was so concerned what you thought of me, how I was coming across, how I would survive the day. I always felt like an outsider,” Cooper said in an extensive, 2012 interview about his sobriety with “The Hollywood Reporter.” “I just lived in my head. I realized I wasn't going to live up to my potential, and that scared the hell out of me. I thought, 'Wow, I'm actually gonna ruin my life; I'm really gonna ruin it.’”
“Kind of a Sociopath”
Cooper’s first big break came when he played Sack Lodge, the romantic rival to Owen Wilson's character in "Wedding Crashers." Cooper has described the character as "kind of a sociopath," but the part allowed him to shed the nice guy typecasting that had marked most of his early roles.
Acclaim, But Not Major Fame
His career, however, was still marked with critically acclaimed performances that few people apart from the critics saw. He was cast to play Anthony Bourdain in Fox’s sitcom based on Bourdain’s book, “Kitchen Confidential.” Despite strong reviews, the show was canceled.
He played Pip alongside Julia Roberts and Paul Rudd in "Three Days of Rain" on Broadway. He also picked up supporting roles on the series "Nip/Tuck" and in the films “Yes Man" and “The Rocker."
His First Marriage
Cooper married Jennifer Esposito, an actress, in December 2006 after a two-month engagement. She filed for divorce in May 2007, and it was finalized in November of that year.
"It was just something that happened. The good thing is, we both realized it. Sometimes you just realize it," Cooper told OK! in 2011.
Cooper has also been romantically linked to Renée Zellweger, Zoe Saldana and English model Suki Waterhouse.
Launched by “The Hangover”
The 2009 film "The Hangover," which would go onto to have two sequels, is undoubtedly Cooper’s breakthrough film.
Reviewing “The Hangover” in The New York Times, A.O. Scott wrote Cooper offered “the most interesting variation on an old standard, playing his aggressive, cocky frat boy with a snarl of rage that masks an anxiety as hard to account for as it is to miss.” The Daily Telegraph said Cooper’s performance and the film’s success made him “a bona fide leading man.”
Cooper also got high praise from critics for his portrayal as a struggling writer in 2011’s “Limitless” and as a rookie police officer in 2012’s “The Place Beyond the Pines.”
“Silver Linings Playbook” Took Him to the Next Level
Cooper was in four films released in 2012, but none were as big as “Silver Linings Playbook.” He starred alongside Jennifer Lawrence and reconnected with De Niro.
Cooper reportedly balked at taking the role, thinking he was out of his depth, but Director David O. Russell convinced him he was perfect to play a divorced, former teacher with bipolar disorder who falls in love with a young widow.
Cooper won an MTV Movie Award for Best Performance and was nominated for an Academy Award, Golden Globe Award and Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actor.
More Movies, More Nominations
The following year, Cooper and the rest of the cast of “The Hangover” received poor reviews for the third and final installment of the franchise. But Cooper would once again get across-the-board award nominations for his supporting role in “American Hustle.” Once again, Cooper did not win the Academy Award or Golden Globe.
In addition to appearing together in “American Hustle,” Lawrence and Cooper starred in “Serena,” which was released in 2014. The film, based on a Ron Rash novel, was skewered by critics. He returned to Broadway in 2014, where he received a Tony nomination for best actor for his performance as the lead in “The Elephant Man.”
He’s Willing to Transform Himself
That year was rounded out with the release of “American Sniper,” which Cooper starred in and co-produced. To play Chris Kyle, Cooper reportedly gained 40 pounds of muscle in a rigorous training program and trained with a Navy SEAL who had served with Kyle to learn how to use a rifle.
His nomination for an Academy Award made him just the tenth actor to received Academy Award nominations for acting in three consecutive years.
Becoming a Father
A month after he broke up with Waterhouse in March 2015, Cooper began dating Russian model Irina Shayk. He moved into her apartment in New York City in November of that year. Shayk gave birth to their daughter, Lea, in March 2017.
The Buzz Around “A Star Is Born”
Cooper’s first foray into directing is the remake of several earlier films by the same name. It tells the story of singer Jackson Maine, whose romance with Ally – played by Lady Gaga – becomes strained as her rising career overshadows his fading career. The film received positive reviews after debuting at the Venice International Film Festival in August 2018.
The Oscar buzz surrounding the movie turned into eight Oscar nominations, including one for Cooper for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Perhaps this could be the year Cooper breaks through during awards season.
Cooper is currently working with director Clint Eastwood on the crime film “The Mule.”
He will also return as audience favorite Rocket in the next Avengers film, which is scheduled for release in 2019, and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” which is set to premiere in 2020.
Is more directing in his future?
“I could never direct anything that I didn’t write,” Cooper said to Joe.