By Steve Persall
Times Movie Critic
On a recent Sunday afternoon Bradley Cooper should be talking American Hustle, but his beloved Philadelphia Eagles are being shut out in a snowstorm.
"Ahh, really? It's 14-0?" Cooper asks a bearer of the bad news, tossing in a few dissatisfied expletives. Playing an Eagles fanatic in last year's Silver Linings Playbook obviously wasn't a stretch.
Playing an ethically challenged FBI agent tied to his mother's apron strings, keeping his disco-era perm tight with pink curlers? Now that's a stretch for anyone voted Sexiest Man Alive by People magazine.
Cooper, 38, is a Golden Globe nominee for playing Richie DiMaso, the immoral compass of American Hustle, another example of his knack for contrasting golden boy looks with tarnished personalities.
"Flawed individuals often seem to me to be the most interesting types of characters to play," Cooper said in a telephone interview. "It's really not about, oh, how will I be perceived. The minute you start going down that road …"
Cooper's voice trailed off as if finishing the sentence might jinx him. Or else the Eagles just scored. By the time he hangs up, the game's tied 14 all and Cooper is rushing to American Hustle's New York premiere. Cooper is listed as an executive producer of David O. Russell's rambunctious blend of sex and greed, which seemed like a good place to start:
As a producer, what do you bring to the creative table, or is it just a vanity credit?
No, it has no vanity in it whatsoever. However willing the director is to let me in on their process is how big a role that executive producer credit will allow me to have. With David, it's to truly be his partner, and help him tell his story, from preproduction through the editing room.
As a producer, are you casting Jennifer Lawrence in every movie you're in?
I should be doing that. (Laughs) In any scenario, you want whoever you're playing with to be better than you are, bringing different things but coming from the same school, so to speak. Jennifer is loose, present, willing and happens to be just incredibly magical on film. Just a joy to work with.
What makes Russell such a popular director among actors?
David gets turned on by complicated, flawed characters who have a tremendous amount of heart, and are led by that heart more than anything else. ... On the set it's communal, collaborative, constantly changing. As an actor you have to be completely open and willing to get out of your head, to not do whatever it is you prepared to do but be open to what can be created in the moment. Things are happening, surprises at every turn.
How do you know when you're getting a performance right?
Everybody has a different way of getting to the place where they believe what they're saying. That's the goal, what you need to do. For me, it happens every movie where the character just starts to bleed into me, on and off camera. It's very comforting when that starts to happen because I feel safe that it's going to be okay. When the day comes that I don't feel that, that's going to be a scary moment.
Steve Persall can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.