Sunday 18 March 2018

Hangover heralds Limitless success for Cooper

Hollywood's newest leading man has every reason to be smug, but he left Evan Fanning pleasantly surprised

Evan Fanning

Bradley Cooper kicks back in his chair and looks satisfied with his lot, like a man who knows his time is now. He has every reason to look this way.

At 36, Cooper has gone the long way round but is now a leading man, with lucrative movie franchises selling on his name. He has the A-list girlfriend and, in his own words, is getting paid "insane" amounts of money to do what he's always wanted to do. Why wouldn't he come across as content?

But then Cooper has always had something of a smug look. Or at least his characters have. He's made a name for himself playing the guy with the slightly untrustworthy smile.

He first came to movie prominence (following a stint in the TV series Alias) in Wedding Crashers , where he played Rachel McAdams's no-good fiance. In He's Just Not That Into You he played Jennifer Connolly's husband who falls for Scarlett Johansson's charms and begins an affair.

There's a theme developing here, but in person Cooper possesses none of the cocky arrogance his characters often display. As he settles back, sipping from a tall glass of green tea ("straight tequila," he jokes) he's self-deprecating and humourous; genuinely excited at where his career has taken him. He's happy to talk about his Irish heritage, with his father's family coming from Cork. "I've looked it up but not in terms of going there," he says. "I've only been to Dublin."

Cooper's latest film, Limitless, is a big one for him. Robert De Niro and Abbie Cornish may have their names on the poster but he is the star carrying the film on his shoulders. I wonder if he feels more invested in this; is he more anxious to see how the movie does now that he is all alone rather than part of a wider ensemble as he was in The Hangover, his most successful film, and others such as The A Team and Valentine's Day?

"Yes, definitely," he replies. "There are moments in one's life where there are consequences as to whether something is successful or not. I remember when I did this play, Three Days of Rain, on Broadway I thought, 'you know if this doesn't go well it actually is going to make a difference'.

"I was brought up being told 'try your best, it's OK'. Well it is OK, but there are going to be ramifications. And I think this is one of them unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, that if it doesn't do well or it's not well received it may be tougher for me to have whoever is funding a movie say, 'we can rest the main character on this actor's shoulders and feel that he can be compelling enough for a viewer to watch for two-plus hours'."

Limitless is certainly compelling. A thriller set around the idea that Cooper's character, hapless science- fiction writer Eddie Morra, discovers a pill that unleashes the full capacity of the brain. Suddenly his life improves spectacularly.

It may be Cooper's first big solo project, but he has long found himself on the "celebrity" pages thanks to his relationship with Renee Zellweger; a relationship which is kept firmly under wraps and is currently subject to "are they engaged or not?" speculation (Cooper was previously, and briefly, married to Spin City actress Jennifer Esposito).

A relationship such as that, and the phenomenal success of The Hangover (the sequel is due out later this year) has allowed Cooper to become a leading man in his own right. "I don't think that Relativity [the company behind Limitless] would have put this role in my hands if it hadn't been a part of such a lucrative project as The Hangover," he says.

So did he feel a seismic shift in his career when The Hangover took off?

"It's hard to say if it was a vertical shift, but it was definitely a shift. It was certainly a vertical shift financially. With The Hangover 2 I never thought I would get paid that much money in my whole life. For me it was just insane. It's also tricky. There is a scenario in which this movie doesn't do well, The Hangover 2 is a huge success and you can make buddy comedies the rest of your career."

There is a scene in Limitless where Cooper's character Eddie, who has fast-tracked his way to the top of the world of high-finance thanks to this miraculous pill, is faced down by Robert De Niro's more worldly mogul, Carl Van Loon, a man who has been there and done it all.

De Niro's character delivers a thunderous lecture telling him he has never had to climb the greasy poles or done the hard yards to truly appreciate being at the top. You can't help but watch the scene and think that perhaps, just perhaps, there is an element of De Niro addressing the young gun Cooper.

"When we were shooting that [scene] part of me thought 'have I not earned this?' He's looking right at me, and I don't think he says Eddie in that, he just says the words, and I honestly felt that thing you feel in life when someone says something awful to you. I thought, 'oh my God. He really thinks that. This is Robert De Niro's chance to tell me that he thinks I haven't earned anything'."

Cooper had previous experience of being stared down by De Niro, so denies that he was ever intimidated by meeting the legend.

"It wasn't scary. That could be because my relationship with De Niro predates the movie. At least in my mind it does.

"He spoke at our school in 1988 and I asked him a question. Then I put myself on tape to play his son in a movie [in last year's Everybody's Fine]. He saw the tape, and I had a chance to meet him in his hotel room and spend about 15 minutes with him. And then I was a juror at the Tribeca Film Festival and I sat at a lunch with him at a big table. I went up to him and said: 'Hey Mr De Niro. We met when I went to play your son'. And he was like 'This Boy's Life?'

"I thought, This Boy's Life? I would have been 12. He has no idea who the f**k I am. It's such a beautiful Hollywood story. But then the story continues and a year later I'm pitching him an idea to play a character in a movie I'm doing."

It sounds like you're almost stalking him?

"One could say," he deadpans. And then laughs the laugh of the truly satisfied.

Limitless is in cinemas from Friday

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