The "it guy" of the moment, thanks to a run of charismatic and pretty boy handsome comedy roles, Bradley Cooper was sold on his first major solo starring role by a scene in which his would-be character is tired, desperate and face-first on the ground. That may seem uncharacteristic, from knowledge limited to "Hangover" references and "Wedding Crashers" memories, but here's a little secret: Bradley Cooper is a serious actor.
On the phone at 8:00 am on a Monday to promote the DVD/Blu-Ray release of his March thriller, "Limitless," Cooper had been out late the night before, not partying like a celebrity, but cruising the rough streets of Schenectady, New York with police officers, learning whatever he could about life on the beat for his upcoming indie drama, "The Place Beyond The Pines." Given the circumstance, stock quotes delivered on early morning auto-pilot could be reasonably expected, but Cooper gives considered insight about his craft and a film he clearly has a passion for that stretches beyond the leading man star status and DVD sales cash that its success guarantees.
While, yes, "Limitless," the Neil Burger-directed story of a scraggly, struggling writer who takes NZT, an experimental superdrug that turns him into a rapid thinking, physically commanding and suddenly charming new man -- think Captain America meets Vanity Fair -- puts Cooper in a now-familiar position of alpha male on screen, he was most excited to take on his character, Eddie Morra's, dark moments, where his true traits come out.
"I have to say the one scene that sort of pushed it over is when Eddie drinks the blood and I thought 'I have to do that scene in the movie,'" Cooper remembers, referring to an action sequence when his Morra, now back to his weakened original self, is seemingly without hope, beaten badly in a battle against a mob man who, having pumped up on the pills himself, leads a ruthless squad of thugs to attack him in his apartment. "I had never seen it before, and it was the ultimate visual of how desperate this guy is, the lengths this guy goes to."
There's an affinity Cooper clearly feels for the character, and again, not because the role offered him the chance to wear nice suits and display an enhanced version of a men's magazine's nebulous definition of what it is to be a modern gentleman, his first real chance to do so since his early 2000s run on TV in shows such as "Alias."
"I don’t even see him as power hungry," he says of Morra, who uses his new capacity to retain and recall wikipedia-sized reams of information to, amongst other things, take a gobsmacked Wall Street by storm. "His objective certainly is not to make money, his objective is to do something else and he needs money to get there. Even when he’s in Mexico with all those people," Cooper explains, discussing a good-life montage that comes shortly after taking the drug, "he doesn’t care about it, that’s why he says 'You know this is fine but I didn’t want to be around it, it didn’t do anything for me.'”
Cooper, then, is more Morra than his cocky, nearly philandering ringleader Phil from "The Hangover" films, who is the man pushing the wild bachelor parties that end up in amnesiac scrambling. The film's release, timed two months before "The Hangover, Part II," did a solid job of setting him up as more than just the go-to guy for fast talking, hard-partying characters, but he insists that sort of actors' integrity insurance was just a well-timed coincidence.
"It sort of just worked out that way, that it was released right before 'Hangover 2' and that it did well," he says, "but no it was nothing that planned out, it just happened to be a job that I happened to get that I auditioned for and loved, but it wasn’t a strategic move or anything."
On purpose or not, Cooper fits the writer that is finally, brilliantly completing his long-gestating book and working to win back the girlfriend who left him at the height of his self-destructive decade-long writer's block. Like his Morra, Cooper is creatively driven, having made clear in the past few months that he doesn't intend on settling into a comfortable life of acting superstardom: he's currently writing a big screen adaptation of the novel series, "Hyperion" and wants to direct.
He championed "Limitless" from the start, signing on as an executive producer, which allowed him a new level of input into the film.
"Being able to have an EP title allowed you to be in all of the conversations without having to apologize all the time," he offers. "Being able to be there from pre-to-post-production with the casting and then you know just creatively being there, being able to collaborate on every level, which was just a real testament to [producing studio] Relatively and Neil to allow me to help do that."
Cooper also enthuses about the opportunity afforded by working with Robert De Niro, who co-starred in "Limitless" as a Wall Street tycoon both skeptical of and reliant on Morra's perplexing genius.
"It was incredible, it was a dream come true," he says of his time working with the big screen titan. "Every aspect, the fact that he’s an amazing human being and became a good friend and then also that he’s Robert De Niro, the reason I became an actor to a large degree, and also he came to the school that I went to and I got to ask him a question years ago and then to be able to work with him now is just incredible."
The reverence is honest; "no, not once," he laughs when asked if he happened to remind De Niro of his scholarly inquest.
Ultimately, though, regardless of any Oscar-winning supporting players, the film was Cooper's to carry, a fact he took very much to heart, given his understanding of how fleeting his profession -- and industry -- can be.
"I definitely felt anxiety I guess would be the right word, or pressure, that if the movie didn’t do well I wouldn’t get another shot to have a role like that in a movie," Cooper admits. "So, I definitely felt that they were certainly marketing the film and positioning the film that if it didn’t succeed it would probably weight on my shoulders. So, I really wanted it to succeed, because I love what I do so much and I want to do more of it, so of course you want it to succeed."
And succeed it did. "Limitless" opened the box office at number one in its opening weekend, ultimately taking in $155 million worldwide, no synthetic performance enhancers for Cooper required.
"Limitless" was released on DVD and Blu-Ray on Tuesday.