The sweet face of success
Bradley Cooper is all about the 'Face' these days, but it's pretty much impossible to miss the rest of his body too, especially in the trailers for the new big screen adaptation of classic 80s TV show The A-Team.
For while it may be a movie aimed squarely at the boys, Cooper's willingness to throw off his shirt to reveal that ripped, sweaty chest is a generous sop to the girlfriends reluctantly dragged along to watch their fellas relive the giddy, fort-building-with-cushions-behind-the-sofa Saturday teatimes of their youths watching Face, Hannibal, Murdock, and BA Baracus kicking ass, leaping from helicopters, and engaging in general high concept, cigar-chomping, fool-pitying, love-it-when-a-plan-comes-together mayhem.
Therein lies the appeal of the genial 35-year-old Cooper: he's a guy -- to co-opt a cringey term from US presidential politics -- that other men want to have a beer with, while also making female fans go all aquiver thanks to the killer combo of looks, abs, a Cheshire cat grin and a mischievous sparkle in the eye.
It's a wonder, then, that it took so long for him to break through to mainstream success, having spent the past decade paying his dues on TV and in small movie supporting roles, before scoring big in last summer's sleeper hit comedy The Hangover (we won't mention Cooper's subsequent appearance opposite Sandra Bullock in the bad stalker "comedy" All About Steve).
Now, with a tent-pole summer movie, and an Oscar-winning fiancee on his arm in the guise of Renee Zellweger, it seems this is very much Cooper's moment to leap from The A-Team to the Hollywood A-list.
"That I've been able to have a job for 10 years, steadily doing stuff and getting better, learning and working with better people? F*ck, it's beautiful," he says. "In terms of my experiencing it all, it's been a slow, gradual progression and I've had so many experiences from then to now that it doesn't feel like this boom, all of the sudden, crazy change. It's just a dream to be able to do these kinds of things now."
Roles don't come much dreamier for men of a certain age than that of one of the leads in The A-Team, based on the boys' own action cheesefest TV series, which ran for five years in the mid-1980s. The plot, for what it's worth, is a variation on the show's initial premise. You know how it goes: crack commando unit, sent to prison by military court for a crime they didn't commit, escape to the LA underground, today wanted by the government, soldiers of fortune, if you have a problem maybe you can hire et cetera et cetera.
In addition to Cooper, who plays Templeton 'Face' Peck, the cast includes Liam Neeson as the silver-haired Hannibal Smith, former boxer Quinton Jackson in the Mr T role of BA Baracus, and District 9 star Sharlto Copley as Howling Mad Murdock. Jessica Biel is the sole female character, playing an army captain and Face's ex.
"It was just tons of guys for the whole movie and then Jessica, God bless her," Cooper laughs. "She had to submit to all this very male energy for six months. It was unbelievable in that aspect. It felt like it was some rugby team or something."
Cooper is quick to assure the original series' still-loyal fans that the movie isn't about to ride roughshod over their treasured childhood memories. "I think that we were definitely conscious to adhere to the integrity of the TV show," he says. "The creator [Stephen J Cannell] came by the set one day, looked at about 20 minutes of assembled footage from our movie, and told us that it was exactly how he had always envisioned the show, which was really cool. You have the essence of everybody, but it's a little grittier and a little bit darker. It definitely has the same tone in terms of comedy and mood."
That said it still hasn't been enough to placate some of the fans and critics, who, even now, say that the movie has been seriously miscast. "I can't imagine anybody else playing Hannibal after this," Cooper contends. "Liam grounds the movie, and all of us, as we were shooting it."
He continued: "Sharlto sent an audition tape, and he just nailed it. He was a huge fan of the TV show and he loves to do different voices. As for Rampage, you get this guy who's already tough so you can just assume that from the beginning. Our director, Joe Carnahan, got a great performance out of him. [For my part] we definitely wanted to hold on to that element that Dirk Benedict from the original series so iconically played, which was the chic aspect of Face, and the suaveness."
Then, of course, there is the aforementioned body. As one might recall from various scenes in The Hangover, Cooper was already a pretty fit guy beforehand, but it still wasn't enough to pass muster on The A-Team set.
"I got cast maybe two months before we started shooting, and Joe called and he was like, 'Hey, we got to get you big for the movie. This guy's got to be able to handle himself'.
"I was like, 'I think I'm in shape. I run'. He said, 'Well, your neck is too thin. We've got to get you big'. And I thought, 'Oh shit!' I had two months to get really ripped, so I hired a trainer and started this food programme, where basically you eat 2,000 calories a day, which is not that much at all. No sugar, no salt, no flour, nothing.
"Then you work out two hours a day, everyday. It was the worst, but I couldn't believe how much my body changed. I remember right after shooting my last topless scene, which was during a fight with Liam's character, I went home to Philadelphia, got three pizzas while watching a game, then walked over to another place to by a tub of Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia, and then got trail mix to put on top of it."
Due to his increased public profile over the past year -- aided in no small part by performances in the critically poo-pooed but successful rom-coms He's Just Not That Into You and Valentine's Day -- there has been an inevitable surge in interest in Cooper's private life. He was married to actress Jennifer Esposito for just four months in 2007, and was linked to just about every actress in Hollywood afterwards, including Jennifer Aniston. Of that rumoured romance, Cooper had this to say last year: "I'm so flattered that someone would think I'm dating Jennifer Aniston, but it's completely untrue. But wow. Not bad, huh, for a kid from Philly?"
Rather, Cooper has been dating Renee Zellweger since late last year, having met her on the set of the horror movie Case 39. The couple is said to be engaged, but both have remained firmly tight-lipped on their relationship. For all his easy-going charm, Cooper draws an uncompromisingly tight veil around his off-camera life.
"It all depends on what you want out of [success]," he says. "My goal has always been to get better as an actor, to work with great people and great directors. So, I'm not really going to do press unless it has to do with promoting a movie. I don't find that taxing at all. As for everything else, luckily I'm 35 years old and I know enough of who I am. I can make my own decisions about what I won't talk about."
Whatever lies in store for Cooper after this, we do know for certain that next up after The A-Team he will return to the role that made him a star in The Hangover sequel. "The first movie was such a cool phenomenon, I don't have any ownership of it all," he says. "I actually don't feel like I was a part of it in that way. The fact that it was successful had nothing to do with what I did. It's something else.
"We start shooting The Hangover 2 in the fall, but no-one knows anything about it, except [writer-director] Todd Phillips." He pauses, before adding with that wide grin: "Maybe it's going to be a musical set in space."
The A Team will be out on July 28