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Silver Linings Playbook star Bradley Cooper: I had to try it

Big Issue
Published: November 26, 2012

Silver Linings Playbook star Bradley Cooper on being a sex symbol, ‘not drinking’, and the wild stories that surround him

The world’s sexiest man has just surrendered his title to Channing Tatum. But, judging by the smile on Bradley Cooper’s handsome face, he couldn’t be happier about it. He didn’t even want to be named People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive (in 2011), openly insisting that Ryan Gosling should have taken it. “I would never change my position on that,” he laughs. “That is one sexy man.”

The problem for Cooper is that most of his career has been hung on that pair of diamond-cut cheekbones, instantly recognisable from the bawdy, beery carve-up of The Hangover or from various bits of date-night toot like He’s Just Not That Into You.

For his latest role in Silver Linings Playbook, which tells the distinctly unstarry tale of a bipolar divorcee who moves back to his parents’ house following a breakdown and finds love with a pathologically promiscuous widow, the high-wattage good looks had to go.

“I wanted to shed any visual marker that might point to my character in The Hangover,” he says. “We didn’t want anything to sideline the movie in that way, so I shaved my head, grew a beard and tried to look like the other men in Philadelphia, which is where the film is set but is also where I’m from.

“No one in north-east Philly has long hair and they all wear cargo pants, big jackets and gold chains. So that’s what we decided to go with.”

I get the sense that playing mere eye-candy has never been enough for Cooper, even though that’s what he’s often been landed with, way back to his first big job in Sex and the City, where he almost had a one-night stand with Carrie in an episode titled They Shoot Single People, Don’t They?

When we meet in the flashy Connaught hotel in Mayfair, the long hair is back and the face is fuzz-free. All in all, he looks pretty damn sexy to me. I’m instructed not to mention that fact, by a PR person who thinks there might be better topics to talk to him about. So, of course, I ask him what it’s like being a global sex symbol.

“It’s nice of you to say that,” he says modestly. “I take that as a compliment. As you can tell, there aren’t exactly screaming fans outside the door. Perhaps at a premiere or when we do a tour there are fans about, but it’s not something I deal with on a day-to-day basis.”

Just like his latest character, there’s something distinctly down-home about Cooper, who looks everyone he meets directly in the eye and says “Hi, I’m Bradley”, even though we all know who he is.

He’s dressed in plain black combat trousers and a dark fleece jumper, looking more like he’s about to go hiking than appear on Graham Norton’s radio show as part of a whirlwind publicity tour. The only clue to his fame is the fawning way in which the hotel staff approach him. When he orders a quadruple espresso, another one and then another arrive in quick succession.

“I guess I got a new one,” he smiles as the fourth super-strong coffee is plonked down on the table.

The amount of coffee sitting in front of Cooper would make for a cracking hangover cure, but drinking’s not a part of his life. “I’ve never said I’m sober, I just say I don’t drink,” he insists.

He’s cagey when pushed on why he stopped drinking and drug-taking, only admitting that he reached 30 and didn’t want to do it any more. “When you get to that age you make decisions. It seems to be the general thing when you realise your 20s are over.”

He also confesses to struggling with depression, like his character in Silver Linings Playbook. “I’ve felt so debilitated that I couldn’t get out of bed, all sorts of things like that,” he confides. What provoked it? “Life, I guess. Finding your way through it, you experience all those ups and downs. But that’s what you draw upon. Any life experience is going to come out when I act. There is no separation.”

It’s little wonder that Cooper’s 20s were tough. As an Irish-Italian boy growing up in Philadelphia, a whole continent’s width away from Hollywood, the odds were stacked against him. His father, a stockbroker, was initially suspicious about his son’s choice of career because “acting’s a bit of a pipe dream”. Nonetheless, he agreed to help fund him through drama school in New York City.

“Dad came to see me in a play and there was this look in his eyes that said, ‘There’s something here’,” Cooper recalls. “That gave me a lot of confidence because it told me that he believed it was worth it. I was very relieved when I made it as an actor because I knew my family had made such an investment in my education. But I know how I am. If I didn’t try it, I would have regretted it and, to tell the truth, I don’t think there was anything else I could have done.”

Cooper was close to his father and was devastated when he died last January. His then girlfriend, Renée Zellweger, reportedly skipped the Golden Globes to be at his side back in Philadelphia. This fresh wound gave particular resonance to his latest role, because Robert De Niro plays his dad, a gambling addict who risks the family home.

“There’s a scene where he shouts at me – and I mean really shouts at me – calling me a fucking loser. And that was really horrible. I was crying so loud we had to edit it out because I just sounded like this cackling hyena. He’s not kidding when he acts. He has such a facility for dexterous emotions that you really believe what he’s saying.”

Although he’s happy to talk about work, Cooper’s outside-work existence is mostly off-limits. He dodges the question when I ask him if he’s in love at the moment, shifting uneasily in his seat.

“It’s a bold statement to say people are obsessed with my private life,” he insists, even though American tabloids are packed with pictures of him escorting various beautiful women down red carpets. Desire for tittle tattle about the Hollywood hunk is so strong that wild stories have been spread about him, including a rumour he turned down burlesque star Dita Von Teese when she approached him in a restaurant.

“I’ve never even met her,” he insists. “That story’s completely fabricated, which is really scary. I read a thing which claimed that I took my dogs to a spa, which I read on the same day one of my dogs died. Someone made that one up, too. It’s a bit terrifying.”

He’s going to have to get used to being ground up in the rumour mill if the critical success of Silver Linings Playbook finally catapults him into the Hollywood A-list, which looks pretty likely. Now, with a bona fide heavyweight performance under his belt, Cooper’s aiming for the top.

“The idea that I can call Ryan Gosling or Michael Fassbender peers is like a joke to me,” he says.
“I can’t even believe that I’m working at the same times as these guys, who are utterly
inspirational.”

Finishing the second of his four double espressos, Cooper apologises and gets up to leave. As we walk out of the hotel, we pass my new wife, who I’ve quietly kept away from Cooper for fear of being totally outshone by his Jupiter-sized sexual charisma. Shaking her hand, he says “Hi, I’m Bradley” for what seems like the hundredth time that day and then leaves for a television appearance.

With rumours already swirling about a possible Oscar nomination, that little introduction may soon prove totally unnecessary.

© 2012 Big Issue | Written by Jasper Hamill | No copyright infringment intended.