Q&A: Bradley Cooper On Silver Linings Playbook

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.

A Look Back At The Campaign Strategy Of Crying Game

This story appeared in the Nov. 14 issue of AwardsLine.

Excellent buzz is the most cherished asset during awards season, but in 1992, Miramax and producer Stephen Woolley asked audiences the impossible: Keep a secret.

Amazingly, they made good on their promise about “the twist” in The Crying Game, turning an undefinable genre title with a fresh-faced cast and then-unknown Irish director Neil Jordan into a crossover boxoffice hit (a $101K opening turned into $62.5 million domestic) and serious awards contender, further solidifying the Weinstein brothers’ rep as the quintessential shepherds of awards-worthy fare.

Concerned that critics would spoil The Crying Game’sturning point during its initial release in Great Britain by his company Palace Pictures, Woolley ripped a page out of his bible, King of the Bs, an anthology of interviews with Z-grade directors such as Roger Corman and John Waters. Woolley wrote a letter to the press, asking them to avoid spoiling the film’s twist in their writeups: That the singer-hairdresser, Dil (played sublimely by Jaye Davidson), with whom ex-IRA terrorist Fergus (Stephen Rea) falls in love, is really a man.

The film’s first U.S. review by Variety out of the Telluride Film Festival set the secrecy standard that all American outlets emulated after receiving letters at press screenings: “The plot contains two major—and several other minor—convulsive surprises that, if revealed, would considerably spoil a first-time viewing experience, making it nearly impossible to describe the film in advance in meaningful detail.”

“For people to avoid giving away the twist, the film had to deliver. Audiences talked about it at dinner parties and on the factory floor,” Woolley recalls.

As Miramax continued to hold the media spoilers at bay, “the film posed a real problem to advertise, up until the day of release,” Woolley says. Miramax settled on a one-sheet that would really throw off moviegoers: A mug of Miranda Richardson (who played Fergus’ comrade Jude) holding a gun and sporting a Louise Brooks hairstyle.

“Miramax played on the words Crying Game and positioned the film as a noirish thriller with the tagline ‘Play at Your Own Risk,’ indicating that there was a slight sexual connation, a dangerous area,” Woolley adds.

As Crying Game gained traction during awards season, Miramax made strides to keep the lid on Davidson’s identity. The National Board of Review respected this by intentionally giving Davidson the award for Most Auspicious Debut. One of the few interviews Davidson granted was to The New York Times’ Janet Maslin in December 1992, and the resulting profile continued to shroud the former fashion designer assistant’s sex, while detailing his overnight discovery at a film wrap party. A former marketing consultant, who worked on The Crying Game, remembers how “we held off from giving the Academy Jaye Davidson’s photo until the last minute.” However, Oscar voters were hardly in the dark as Miramax bought best supporting actor For Your Consideration ads in Variety throughout the season.

When Oscar nominations announced Davidson as a nominee in the category, it appeared the cat was finally out of the bag. A San Francisco Chronicle op-ed exclaimed, “The secret about Davidson is pretty much out—she was nominated for an Oscar as best supporting actor. How many more clues do people need? And yet everyone is still being coy. The new ads for The Crying Game mention that it was nominated for six Oscars but don’t mention Davidson by either name or category.”

The Associated Press also outed Davidson, much to the chagrin of Miramax cofounder Harvey Weinstein, who, as the article pointed out, “called the Associated Press urging the secret remain secret. ‘You’re not hurting me financially. You’re ruining the movie for audiences.’ ” Hardly so. The Crying Game’s U.S. boxoffice surged two-fold between Oscar noms and the night of the ceremony, from $15.8 million to $47.3 million.

Davidson would lose the Oscar to Gene Hackman for his turn as a crooked sheriff in Unforgiven, but that didn’t bother the Riverside, CA, native. He never plotted an acting career in the first place. A prolific role as the sun god Ra in MGM’s scifi film Stargate followed. At one point during Cannes 1998, it was announced Davidson was attached to a Steven Seagal action title Cousin Joey opposite Mickey Rourke (which was never made). Largely, Davidson remains MIA with IMDb reporting his last acting credit as a Nazi photographer in the 2009 short The Borghilde Project. Per Woolley, “I think he’s in Paris. The last I heard, he was really happy.”

Still, The Crying Game’s marketing machine continues to break the mold. Some studios have tried to copy it and failed. And arguably no other distributor, especially during awards season, has ever attempted a word-of-mouth campaign based on hush. Had the film unspooled in the current age of viral blogging, it’s plausible that any coverage on The Crying Game would be preceded with the warning “Spoilers Ahead.”

“The first bravest thing was making The Crying Game,” says Woolley.The second bravest thing was the domestic distributor that went out there and broke all the rules: Acquiring a tiny British-made film by an unknown filmmaker and pretending that it was a mainstream picture.”