By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 5, 2009
Bradley Cooper has the look of a perfect cad: collared shirt unbuttoned one notch further than the average fellow, dirty blond hair in waves that betray any trace of a comb, lounged oh-so casually with an elbow on the back of his chair at the Ritz-Carlton.
And yet: The man can't stop eating jelly beans. Or giggling.
"I'm soooo sorry. So sorry," he says smiling, with a red one clenched between his teeth. "I haven't eaten jelly beans in soooo long, and I love them so much."
"And they're in these little things, you know what I mean, to make them look appetizing," he continues.
The actor's disarming enthusiasm for candy is almost enough to make you believe him when he says things in his world aren't much different from they way they were 12 years ago when he was a senior at Georgetown University, a few blocks away.
Almost. But let's not forget that this is the guy whose bright blue eyes proved so seductively loathsome in "Wedding Crashers" and "She's Just Not That Into You." Whose acting résumé includes stints on "Alias" and "Nip/Tuck," and juicy roles in Jim Carrey's "Yes Man" and the cult comedy "Wet Hot American Summer."
And he's the guy who leads the ensemble cast of what could be one of the summer's highest-grossing comedies, "The Hangover." He has returned to Georgetown to promote that movie and is ready, now, to tell us what it's about.
"It's about jelly beans," he says, laughing.
"No. It's really simple. It's about these three guys who take their friend on a bachelor party to Vegas for the weekend right before his wedding. They think it's going to be this big party, but they wake up in the morning 10 minutes into the movie. . . . There's a tiger in the bathroom, there's a baby in the closet, they don't know where Doug, their groom, is, and they can't remember what happened."
Cooper, 34, wanted to make the film as soon as he finished reading the script. No, it was more than that: He knew he was going to make it. Which is just the kind of guy he is.
That brings us to a quick diversion and a Casey Kasem-style message Cooper wants to send to one lucky lady out there. Jessica Alexander, are you listening? You're the reason he's here. Er, was originally here -- in the neighborhood, anyway.
You see, Cooper and Jessica attended the same private Philadelphia high school. She was a senior; he was a few years younger. The day the yearbook came out, he saw it: "Jessica Alexander, Georgetown University."
"And I just liked the way it looked," he recalls. And just like that, he made up his mind to go to school there, too.
"That's how I am in my life: I get something in my head, and that's it," he says. "Like 'The Hangover' was an example of, 'I just feel like I'm going to do this movie,' and I ended up doing it."
Eventually. After reading the script, Cooper met with director Todd Phillips, who was also responsible for the buddy movie "Old School." Then for a year after that meeting, Cooper didn't hear a word about the project.
"I thought it was dead. I was up in Williamstown [Mass.] doing a play. I got an e-mail from [Phillips] saying, 'Are we going to do this, or what?' And I was like, 'Do what?'
"The next thing you know we're shooting the movie," he says. "So I don't know what went down -- who passed -- but I wound up getting it."
Cooper can't really say whether the film is true to typical bachelor party antics (he's been to only one in his life), but the script did capture, he says, the debauched dynamics inherent whenever straight guys are gathered in packs. "Oh, yeah, yeah. Males in groups -- it's like, 'Turn on National Geographic.' "
The pack Cooper was thrown into for "The Hangover"-- co-starring Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis -- helped make his six-week shoot in Las Vegas "the best experience I've had -- probably ever, actually."
Something just clicked, he said, in "how effortless it was to work together, the three of us. And how it felt to be a part of something that was pretty special. I hadn't felt that since 'Wedding Crashers.' "
It was "Wet Hot American Summer" that made Cooper realize he wanted a career in comedy, but he knew he wanted to act long before that. In fourth grade, his class put on a production of "Around the World in Eighty Days," and he recalls waiting for his grand entrance, rubbing his fake mustache and thinking, "Ahhhh, the life of an actor."
"Literally I was in fourth grade and I was like, 'Yes, yes, yes,' " he says. "I still remember that -- being by myself and saying, like, 'This feels right.' "
But it wasn't until college that he tried out for another play, and then only because a girlfriend nudged him to do it. (So that woman, too, deserves a request and dedication on the Bradley Cooper Shout-Out Line.) He did decide on his own to apply to an acting program at the New School in New York, and since then the work has come slowly but steadily -- right?
"Sorry. What was the question? All I'm thinking about is getting into those," he says, pointing to a dish of untapped jelly beans across the table. "Um, what were we talking about?"
"Oh, right. It's a struggle. But anything's a struggle. I'm very grateful and fortunate to make a living as an actor," he says. "And I try never to forget that. Or lose that gratitude. Because it can all go away in a half a year. If I don't get a job within the next eight months, I'm in trouble, you know what I mean?"
Seems unlikely: It has been a big year so far. Aside from "He's Just Not That Into You" and "The Hangover," Cooper also has a romantic comedy with Sandra Bullock called "All About Steve" coming out in September.
"Yeah, I mean there's definitely been a progression," he says, having finished off all but the black jelly beans. "That's undeniable. . . . But everything I've been able to do, my reaction is the same reaction as everybody else's: 'How did that happen?'
"But I'll take it."