Paul Brownfield is an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the Nov. 14 issue of AwardsLine.
For Bradley Cooper, shooting David O. Russell’s The Silver Linings Playbook involved a lot of jogging through familiar Philadelphia-area neighborhoods wearing a sleeveless trash bag over a sweatsuit; otherwise, all he had to do was convey the deep inner turmoil of a guy with bipolar disorder who’s off his meds and obsessed with his ex-wife and back in his childhood home after a court-ordered stint at a state hospital. Adapted from the novel by Matthew Quick, the film is at once an ethnically specific family drama, a romantic comedy, and a raw glimpse into mental illness. Cooper says he was as familiar with the milieu of his character, Pat Solitano, as he was fearful about whether he could go to the film’s deeper emotional places.
AWARDSLINE: When did you first see the script?
BRADLEY COOPER: I met David on the phone about another project, while The Fighter was in post. And then that project fell apart, and then he asked me to read (the Silver Linings Playbook) script. Not offering it to me, just asking me to read it. And then it sort of went away, and then I was shooting a movie in Schenectady in September, called The Place Beyond the Pines, and I get a call from him saying, “You know, it looks like it’s opened up and I want you to do it.” And I thought, “Well, aren’t you guys shooting in October?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “Well, I wrap the last week of September.” He said, “Can you come down on the weekends?” So I did. And then I just drove from Schenectady to Philly—and a week later we’re on camera, and I have a trash bag (on) running down the streets of Philly.
AWARDSLINE: You not only star in the film, you’re also a producer. Was that something you knew you wanted to do?
COOPER: You know, it happened on Limitless. And I sort of realized as I’ve been getting older and more and more into this business that I don’t tend to think like a lot of other actors that I know. And I just love telling the story and how that all happens. So whenever a director will allow me to help them tell that story in other ways than just playing my role, I’ll jump to it. It was a really wonderful collaborative experience on set, and that just kind of bled into the post process as well.
AWARDSLINE: Russell’s reputation as being at times confrontational with actors precedes him.
COOPER: The reputation that preceded him for me was stellar. I spoke to Jessica Biel, who I’d been on The A Team with, and I said, “You know, I think I might do this David Russell movie,” and she said, “Run. Don’t walk to that.” She did a movie that never even came out with him, actually, and she loved him. And then I also spoke with Jason Schwartzman, who’s a buddy, and he could not be more effusive about what a wonderful experience he had with David. So I was going to do it anyway, but it just made me even more excited to know what it would be like. I had an instinct that it was going to be special in that way, and I wasn’t wrong. It’s a very unique way of making a movie, and I would love to do every movie like that.
COOPER: There is no hiding. You’ve got to show up, and you have to be willing to go to emotional places in an instant and get out of your head. (You) give (yourself) over to the process and be dexterous with lines and improvisation, and do lines that he’s throwing at you, and also know that the camera can come on you at any time. He likes to flip to 360, which means that if we’re doing a closeup, he can turn the camera onto you if he wants to, if he likes what’s happening. There’s an electricity that is forged with those things in place, and that brings more real-time occurrences, which is what you dream of as an actor.
AWARDSLINE: The character you play, Pat, has all this pent-up rage. Talk about playing to the hinged part of his rage more than the unhinged.
COOPER: There needs to be a conflict, and his conflict is trying to keep it together. If he’s just unhinged, there really is no obstacle for him: He’s just a free spirit, and his free-spirit state happens to be completely fucking crazy. But this is a guy who’s trying to keep it together and keep his eye on the prize. He’s under the delusion that if he just gets his wife back and he gets his job back, everything’s going to be fine. If he can just hold onto that. He’s white-knuckling it, you know? Despite the fact that he’s living at home, he lost his job, he can’t drive a car, his wife has a 500-yard restraining order out against him, yet he somehow thinks that he can just hold onto this. That’s a guy who’s trying desperately to stay hinged. And he’s not taking his medication.