After hitting it big with The Hangover, the Georgetown grad plays a guy who discovers a pill that unlocks the limitless potential of his brain (sans tiger).
Author David Carr Illustration Jeffrey Decoster
YOU WANT TO HATE BRADLEY COOPER. He’s devilishly handsome and a graduate of both the Actors Studio and the honors English program at Georgetown University, where he was also— you guessed it—on the rowing team. He’s in amazing shape, speaks fluent French and, by the way, starred in The Hangover, which grossed just south of half a billion dollars.
But here’s the problem: He’s nice. Not movie-star nice but human-being nice. When we spoke in January, he was in New York at the Greenwich Hotel on his 36th birthday. But instead of the customary big night out (clubs, models, bottle service and so forth), he was marking the occasion with his parents, who were up from Philadelphia, and his dog Charlotte, who accompanies him everywhere.
Before hitting it big with The Hangover in 2009, Cooper bounced between TV and film for a decade, most memorably playing Will Tippin on Alias and the argyle-clad Ivy League sociopath Sack Lodge in 2005’s Wedding Crashers. After a turn as “Faceman” in the A-Team remake, Cooper spent most of last summer in Philly, his hometown, filming his forthcoming film, Limitless, alongside Robert De Niro. It’s about a schlubby writer named Eddie Morra who stumbles upon a remarkable pill that allows him to use every square inch of his brain to perform remarkable mental feats. It’s part Pygmalion (with Morra playing Eliza Doolittle to the drug’s Henry Higgins), part romance, part gangster movie, and a long way from The Hangover. Cooper’s character is charming, brainy and irresistible to women. It’s sort of like real life—only Eddie needs pills to pull it off.
HEMISPHERES: So what did you do in Philadelphia over the summer—besides make a movie?
COOPER: Actually, we’re doing some reshoots there right now. It’s great being with my family, just soaking them up. Every morning I take my dog out to Germantown Academy, where I went to school, and run around the fields there. And we love to go down to Pat’s for cheesesteaks. It’s not touristy for us, because we’ve been doing it since I was a kid.
HEMISPHERES: For someone so fit, you sure seem to like eating.
COOPER: We’re Italian-Irish. I grew up with the first question of the day being, “What are we eating for breakfast?” And then once you ate breakfast it was, “What are we going to make for lunch?” and then “What are we going to make for dinner?” Then it was getting something ready for tomorrow.
HEMISPHERES: Speaking of too much of a good thing, your drinking and drugging days are in the past, yet you’re making a movie about a drug that seems to fix everything. What drew you to Limitless?
COOPER: It’s one of those hot scripts that’s been around for years. Heath Ledger wanted to do it. Then Shia LaBeouf was attached. Finally, Neil Burger, who directed The Illusionist, came on to direct it. Given my history with chemicals, I thought it would be interesting to play something like this, where the character feels he has sudden powers. It’s not about addiction, per se; it’s about the idea of having power over people. The character deals with the side effects pretty quickly—you’re not seeing him jonesing that much—so the movie ends up more about how he negotiates the new relationships that come from the drug, rather than him obsessing over it.
HEMISPHERES: How critical do you think your training at the Actors Studio was to your work?
COOPER: Very. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing before that. I grew up in an environment where being emotional was not something that was seen as honorable.
HEMISPHERES: You just did an appearance on Inside the Actors Studio. What was it like to go onstage there?
COOPER: I was reluctant to go back, because I didn’t think I really deserved to be there. But after I made Limitless, at least I could stand there without feeling like a complete fool. It was a really wonderful night. When I went to school there, they did a show with Steven Spielberg and Robert De Niro, and I got to ask a question. It was weird to be back on the stage answering the questions.
HEMISPHERES: Even though Limitless is a pretty serious movie, you’ve proven you can bring the funny. Where does that come from?
COOPER: I think certainly my upbringing and DNA have a lot to do with it, but it’s all music when you come down to it. It’s just recognizing the music of something and going with it. Plus, I surround myself with funny people.
HEMISPHERES: How’s the sequel to The Hangover coming along?
COOPER: We just wrapped it. I got back from Thailand on New Year’s Eve. We were gone for a little over nine weeks in Bangkok. I can’t believe it’s in the can already. It’s a great formula, it really is. This one continues that kind of gritty comedy. That’s about all I can say about it.
HEMISPHERES: When you were making the first one, did you guys know you were creating a film that would ultimately swamp the culture with tiger and hangover jokes?
COOPER: When we were shooting the scene when Mr. Chow jumps out of the trunk of the car naked onto my neck, it was about ninety degrees out, and we were in a dirt parking lot behind a casino. I was sitting there with Todd Phillips, the director, looking at playback of that moment, and I remember we both sort of looked at each other and said, “Are we making a comedy? What the hell is this?” I really can’t say for sure, but I think Todd’s gift is that his comedy comes out of realism, and one of the reasons the movie connected is that it was about a world that normal people could relate to—even though there’s a tiger in the bathroom, a baby in the closet and Mike Tyson singing that Genesis song.
HEMISPHERES: In your time as a journeyman actor, you used to be able to pretty much come and go as you please. Those days are officially over, right?
COOPER: If that’s the cross to bear, I go willingly. I struck gold with those guys—Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis and Todd Phillips. They really are just wonderful men and great collaborators.
HEMISPHERES: So what’s the worst hangover you ever had?
COOPER: There are a lot to pick from, but probably my first one, when I was twelve. I took my blanket down to the living room and just lay there all day, unable to get up.
HEMISPHERES: That’s sort of boring. Were there at least any tigers in the house?
COOPER: Not that I noticed, but I was sleeping.
HEMISPHERES: Speaking of paws, you have abnormally large feet.
COOPER: I’d say I’m a thirteen, thirteen and a half, depending on what style shoe. I had size twelve feet with I was eleven, and I was so excited. I thought I was going to be, like, six-five and a great basketball player. Instead I’m almost six-two, just with huge feet. I’ve got boats at the bottom of my legs, for sure.
DAVID CARR, who covers culture and media for The New York Times, thought he had found a drug that made him 10 times smarter. Then he discovered everyone has access to espresso.