Nearly two months later, on a Thursday night, I was at the Greenwich Hotel again, this time to interview Bradley Cooper, who was staying there while in New York for the premiere of American Hustle, in which he plays an ambitious FBI agent. When it comes to promoting his films, Cooper, who is also 39, may be the polar opposite of Phoenix. Cooper is a film lover who thinks like a businessman; he will enthuse about, say, how much he admires The Royal Tenenbaums and how it’s a crime that Wes Anderson, the director, never won an Oscar. What’s more, he doesn’t hesitate to fly to any city anywhere to meet and greet and to present at a premiere or a film festival. He seems to view doing press as a form of campaigning, and it works: Last year he was nominated for an Academy Award for best actor for his part in Silver Linings Playbook, a dark comedy about a love affair between two mentally unstable people. Cooper, who didn’t start acting until after he graduated from Georgetown University, has a kind of puppyish zeal for every aspect of filmmaking. Even though he is quite accomplished and is no longer required to audition, he will make a video of himself to prove to a director that he is right for a part. Cooper is so enthralled by the process of acting that it doesn’t even seem to bother him when directors turn him down. “I read for Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street,” Cooper told me. “But the part went to Jonah Hill.” As usual, he sounded upbeat.
In the many months between the release of Silver Linings and the Oscars, Cooper crisscrossed the globe several times to publicize the film. “I loved it all,” he said, plopping down on a velvet couch in the corner of the hotel’s cozy bar. He was wearing jeans and a navy sweater that zipped at the neck and accentuated his bright blue eyes. That afternoon, he had flown in from Hawaii, where he was shooting Cameron Crowe’s latest film, in which he plays a military contractor. “The way I look at it is, I always dreamed of being in the room with actors like Daniel Day-Lewis and Robert De Niro, so how can I mind being there?” Cooper said. “If I’m a kid and my whole fantasy is to be part of this world, and then I’m actually doing it with my heroes, shame on me if I complain about having to do an interview on the red carpet.” He paused and took a sip of mint tea. “Although it is a helluva grind.” Cooper was, perhaps, thinking back to the many, many forced flirtations on the awards circuit when TV entertainment reporters asked him to speak French or dance or dish about his Silver Linings costar, Jennifer Lawrence. Whatever the request, Cooper was a gentleman throughout: He knows the value of media attention. “There were times when I felt like a fucking monkey,” Cooper said now, laughing. “But most of the time, it was amazing! I love Q&A’s. I love talking to people about films. I can do it for hours and hours. And I wanted the film to be seen.”
During the campaign for Silver Linings Playbook, which made more than $236 million internationally at the box office, Cooper, who has an almost fanlike enthusiasm for actors and filmmakers, grew very close to David O. Russell, the film’s writer and director. “Bradley became like my brother,” Russell told me at a party for their latest collaboration, American Hustle, a loose retelling of the ABSCAM sting in the ’70s. “He has a rare ability to think of the whole film and not just his performance. Most actors concentrate on their part, and that’s fantastic, but Bradley can hold the entire movie in his head. I started to ask him what he thought about certain scenes in Silver Linings, and the next thing I knew, I had asked him to be in the editing room.”
Unlike Phoenix, Cooper has no problem watching himself. “I don’t give a fuck about my character—I love storytelling,” Cooper explained. “In the editing room, you have to be vicious. You’re sitting in a cave for 12 hours, and you get the knives out and carve out the story together. But don’t get me wrong, it’s not a selfless thing: If I’m great in a bad movie, it doesn’t matter. But if I’m good in a great movie, then that’s good. All I care about is making the movie great. I’m not precious about my work in the film. Not at all.”
Like Phoenix—and this may be the one thing they have in common—Cooper has a romantic streak when it comes to acting and movies. He grew up in Philadelphia; was very close to his father, a stockbroker, who died in 2011; and seems to view show business as a large, extended family. After starring as the toxic playboy Phil in The Hangover in 2009, which was a $467 million worldwide blockbuster, Cooper, who was then known for his work in comedies, fought to be seen as a dramatic leading man. In 2011, Relativity Media, an independent studio, financed Limitless, a mix of thriller and intellectual parable that starred Cooper as a writer who discovers a drug that allows him to use 100 percent of his brain power for personal gain. Limitless was a hit, redefining Cooper’s profile in Hollywood. Suddenly he was considered an actor who could guarantee box office returns, and he had range: He could be romantic, funny, charming, threatening.“Careerwise, Limitless changed everything,” Cooper told me. “That film paved the way for someone like David O. Russell to consider me for Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle.”
In March 2013, about a week after the Oscars, American Hustle started shooting in Boston. The timing was good: Despite a huge push from Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook won only one Academy Award (best actress for Jennifer Lawrence), and returning to work was an excellent way for Russell and Cooper to quell their disappointment. “At the time, I was with David 12 hours a day, and I told him I wanted Richie to be different and to look different,” Cooper said. “We tried wigs and that didn’t quite work. One day, we curled my hair. The minute we did that, Richie was born.”
There’s a kinetic energy to Cooper’s performance in American Hustle, a kind of manic intensity that is also true of the actor himself. Unlike Phoenix, Cooper wants to be liked and understood. Phoenix may be the more daring, complex actor, but Cooper has a contagious love of the game. They share a deep respect for great directors, but while Phoenix has an almost mystical relationship to his craft, Cooper is proactive: He writes letters to people like David Fincher, whom he longs to work with, and he options books, including the one for his next project, American Sniper, in which he’ll play Chris Kyle, a soldier who served in Iraq. “Clint Eastwood is directing that movie,” Cooper said as he prepared to leave for dinner. “I’ve tried to work with Clint since Flags of Our Fathers. I put myself on tape for that, and also to be in Gran Torino, and again, to play Leo’s [Leonardo DiCaprio] boyfriend in J. Edgar. Nothing worked out. And yet, when I was an adolescent, I believed in two things: I was going to work with Robert De Niro, and I was going to work with Clint Eastwood.” Cooper paused. “Now De Niro is like a father to me, and I’m making a film with Eastwood! My life is a real dream. Sometimes I get afraid that I’m going to wake up. And then I realize, if I work hard, good things will come.”
the reason Joaquin Phoenix is mentioned is because the full article has an interview with him in it as well