Bradley Cooper has just called from Las Vegas, and he sounds tired.
“Hey. How’s it going?” he says casually, his voice a tad ragged.
Before you jump to any conclusions about the reason for that raggedness, know that Cooper — the Pennsylvania native, Georgetown University graduate and ridiculously busy actor — was in Vegas for work at the time of said phone call. He was there shooting “The Hangover Part III,” attempting to perform his duties as a member of the Wolf Pack while simultaneously doing a full-court media press to promote “The Silver Linings Playbook,” the new dramedy that casts him as a bipolar, Philadelphia Eagles fan who falls for Jennifer Lawrence. Depending on which Oscar prognosticators one chooses to believe, the role could transform Cooper from magazine-anointed sexy celebrity into a first-time Academy Award nominee.
In the course of that recent 15 minute-conversation — one that took place during the final days of his reign as People’s Sexiest Man Alive — Cooper, 37, perked up considerably as he discussed his experience making “Playbook,” his feelings about the Philadelphia Eagles and how weird it is to read headlines that say he’s dating Rashida Jones. (He isn’t. But, for the record, he says she’s a “wonderful person.”)
Here’s a transcript of our chat.
I know you shot “Silver Linings Playbook” in Philadelphia. How close were the locations to where you grew up?
Cooper: I grew up in Northeast Philadelphia, just outside [of it] in a place called Jenkintown. It was about a 25-minute bike ride away.... But you know, my father worked downtown right where we shot. Our base camp was at City Hall, which is right by where he went to high school. So it was all very familiar.
So did some of your friends and relatives from the area visit you on set?
My family was around. My cousin would bring sandwiches for everybody a couple of days a week. My uncle came by. It was a family-filled experience.
Can I assume that you’re a Philadelphia Eagles fan?
Cooper: Yes, ma’am. I’m a huge Eagles fan, I’m a huge Philly sports fan. The only thing I never grew up with — hockey was not big in our family.
So did you or anyone in your family have any superstitions or rituals related to Eagles games like the characters in this movie do?
Cooper: I have a superstition that when I actually do physically watch the game, they lose. Which is so hard, because I love to watch the Eagles play. But I just feel like the last couple of years, every time I’m away they win and when I’m watching they lose.
So you don’t watch the games anymore?
Cooper: I still do and then they’re losing. But that’s an odd superstition, I guess. I’m hoping it’s not true. It didn’t used to be that way. I remember watching them play Green Bay, when they had that famous 4th and 25 pass from McNabb to Mitchell down the center of the field. That was amazing. I watched that, and he caught it ... but other than that, you asked if I’m superstitious, no. No.
I wanted to ask about the preparation you did to play Pat. Did you do research about bipolar behavior or mental illness in general?
Cooper: [Director] David [O. Russell] sent a bunch of stuff my way. Some documentaries, footage and interviews. We looked at some material together. And then we just went off the book, which was the primary source. I was basically working on it, just experimenting with the language and finding out specifically what Pat’s malady is. Because bipolar is like snowflakes — no two are the same. It’s not like there’s a general thing where, oh, I’m going to play bipolar now.
There’s very specific things like, for example, he really goes off the rails when he’s triggered by something that reminds him of a traumatic event that stunted him in some way emotionally. And one of those events we see is when he walks in on his wife sleeping with another man in his bathroom. And then that Stevie Wonder song ignites that and sends him into a manic state. We pretty much blocked out what specifically it was with him, and then it was just modulating it on the day, on set, in front of the camera. David’s all about experimenting in front of the camera so there isn’t much rehearsal, it’s really done in front of the camera.
We certainly had a version that was a little more Asperger-y and that was just too much. We decided, especially David, was like, you know, Pat is the foil through which we learn about all the other characters and their stories, so if he’s too extreme the audience is never going to come onboard. So it was really about modulating him, which I thought was a really smart thing that we did. Otherwise we could have been in trouble.
When you say that there wasn’t much rehearsal, does that mean you did a lot of takes?
Cooper: No, because we shot it in 33 days. That’s very few days to shoot that movie. David likes to go through mags — you know, shoot the whole mag — so you’ll do a scene for 10 minutes. He also likes to be lit for 360 degrees so you can move the camera anywhere and you’re not going to see a c-stand or shades or something. It really is very alive, as opposed to doing a take, cutting, re-setting, doing a take. We used all 12 hours of every day pretty much shooting film. So it wasn’t even about how many takes was that, it was just like, let’s experiment, you know what I mean? You go back, we’re improvising, and he’s throwing in lines and changing dialogue and rewriting and so, it just keeps morphing.
So it was more fluid.
Cooper: Oh, yeah. Very fluid. It’s very alive. It’s a wonderful way to make a movie. It’s very unique.
Was that a really different experience from what you’re used to?
Cooper: Oh, yeah. I mean, I’m used to being on sets where it’s heavily focused on improvisation. But nothing this exciting, I have to say. This was very — for everybody. Everybody that came in said this was one of the very best experiences in their lives that they’ve had acting, including Bob [De Niro].
David O. Russell has a reputation for being a great filmmaker but also one who sometimes pushes his actor to difficult places. There are some scenes where your character is particularly agitated or upset — did he mess with you a little bit to get you to where you needed to be to do those scenes?
Cooper: Mess with me — what do you mean, like some weird —
Well, what did he do, if anything, to get you to that mental place?
Cooper: We were there. Here’s the other thing, there’s no time to, like, be precious about anything. It’s just be there, go there. So if you don’t show up ready to be open, it’s just not going to work. The whole thing’s going to stop, and then we’re in trouble. It really is like, there’s only one way to go and that is be completely open and just do it. What’s wonderful about that is you get out of your head. You know, how do I get to this place? You just go there. That’s the best way to describe it. The discovery is in the doing, not in the preparation for the doing, I guess is the best way to put it.
You and Jennifer Lawrence also have to dance in this film. Did you have any experience with dance from your theater background?
Cooper: You know in grad school we did, we had a movement class which was at Alvin Ailey Dance Studio, which was an incredible place in New York. I was very lucky to have that training.
Although your characters aren’t supposed to be particularly great dancers...
Cooper: Yes, which was fun. It was really fun to make it, Pat learning this move. By the way, not that I would be like Fred Astaire. But I do love to dance.
Did you and Jennifer choreograph any parts of the dance yourselves?
Cooper: Mandy Moore did. This great choreographer they hired came up with the dance. And then we just sort of did our own also, because David was very keen on that happening. So we just sort of morphed it, molded it like we did the whole movie. The dance routine was very much in the same vein as making the film, you have this material, and you institute it in this very organic way into the doing.
I recently read in an interview you did with Entertainment Weekly that you’d like to be directing in five years. Is that true?
Cooper: I hope less than five years, yeah ... I love the filmmaking process, and I’ve been able to be executive producer on the last couple movies, including this one. And that basically just allows me to be a part of the whole process, from pre to post to marketing, the whole thing. I just love putting a movie together. That’s how I think. I don’t really think about my role and that’s it. What turns me on is the conceptualization of the film through the lens. So I hope I get a chance to do it.
Do you have a specific project in mind?
Cooper: I don’t. If I did, I’d be doing it now. I have some ideas but no, there’s nothing specific.
Now I have to ask you somewhat of a goofball question, so please play along. Your duties as the Sexiest Man Alive are about to end. It’s a huge responsibility as I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you. What advice do you have for the next person who takes on this role?
Cooper: I’ll be meeting with whoever it is at an undisclosed location. There’s a bunch of secrets I have to pass along to him. It’s a whole ritual. It’s a whole thing. [Pauses] That’s a joke.
I know it is.
Cooper: Okay. [Laughs] I said something [to a reporter] at one point, like I’d been doing a campaign for it. And, like, doing mall visits, and it was reported that I wasn’t joking.
I think I can tell when you’re being sarcastic. I think.
Cooper: It was just funny, that I would go around to malls.
It’s amazing how those comments can become a real thing online really quickly even though they were meant as a joke.
Cooper: Yeah. Especially if you’re at a — I didn’t even know this, I was at a place the other night, the Soho House in Los Angeles, and I guess Rashida Jones was there also, who I know not very well. I think she came over to the table. I went out to say hello to Harvey Weinstein. And then, like, [a story] said “Bradley Cooper and Rashida Jones: are they dating?” I thought, oh my God. I wasn’t — we didn’t even look at each other.
I saw that item, actually. I think it was a Perez Hilton post.
Cooper: It’s so crazy! I thought, wait, I didn’t even see, like we didn’t even — that doesn’t even make any sense.
Did you actually read the item or did you just see the headline?
Cooper: Yeah, when I read it, it kind of said that. But the headline would not imply that at all.
That was what was ridiculous about it. You read it and the point of it was these two were just in the same location. So why did I just read this again?
Cooper: [Laughs] Right. It’s just so crazy.
Do you pay attention to that press more than you used to?
Cooper: I’d say I pay less attention to it. Initially it was just sort of flabbergasting. And then you’re like, wow this is just crazy. And then you just kind of forget it. I was actually looking up something, and it was like that’s what came up.
You were Googling your own name, is that what you were doing?
Cooper: It was a couple days ago. It was something for “Silver Linings.” [Laughs] Yeah, it was something for “Silver Linings,” an article. And then it was just like, Rashida Jones, what?
It’s good to find out who you’re dating from the Internet, I think.
Cooper: Yeah. By the way, she’s a wonderful person. But yeah. That’s just so crazy.
I wanted to quickly ask you about another project: I read that you may be doing a film with Cameron Crowe. Is that happening?
Cooper: Yeah, maybe. I think we’re just trying to work it out. But I love him. I’m a huge fan of his, and I would be honored to work with him — my God. Are you kidding?
Last question: Can you tell me anything about what you’re shooting right now for “Hangover III”?
Cooper: Uh, we’re shooting “The Hangover III,” and we’ve been here for about a month.
And that’s all you can say, right?
It’s even more top secret than your Sexiest Man Alive meetings.
Cooper: [Laughs] Yeah. Right.