Bradley Cooper is one of the most sought-after talents in Hollywood. With plenty of awards and nominations and more than a handful of prosperous movies under his belt, Cooper has definitely seen a fruitful career. His ambitious attitude and adventurous spirit are what allowed him to climb to the top—but he certainly didn’t end up there without lots of hard work.
By now, everyone is familiar with A Star Is Born, the romantic musical drama that captured the world’s attention with its fresh storyline and arresting leads: Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. The tragic love story was so efficacious that it won an Oscar, a Golden Globe, three Grammys, and one BAFTA Award. The movie was Cooper’s pride and joy, a passion project that had been in the works for a few years before its release. Cooper not only portrayed the leading role of Jackson “Jack” Maine, but he also helped write the screenplay, some of the original songs, and not to mention—he was the director behind the whole thing.
A Star Is Born was surprisingly Cooper’s directorial debut. The movie’s impact shocked critics everywhere who had doubted the prominent actor’s directing skills. “Everybody said, ‘Don’t do it.’ Because, think about it: ‘OK, I’d like to make the fourth remake and I’ve never directed before with someone who’s never done a film,’” Cooper explains about how far-fetched his idea sounded at first. Not only had he never directed anything before, not even a commercial but similarly, Lady Gaga had never acted in a film before. It sounded like a recipe for disaster, but little did everyone know that Cooper had been working his way toward this moment for a long time.
Backtracking a bit, Cooper first landed his acting debut in 1999 with a guest appearance on Sex and the City. Not too long after, he appeared in his first film, Wet Hot American Summer (2001), where he played Ben, a counselor at a summer camp. The comedy became somewhat of a cult classic over the years and opened doors for him to land additional roles. Over the next few years, the roles consisted of TV films like I Want to Marry Ryan Banks (2004) and shows like Alias, where he played Will Tippin, a reporter and the best friend of Jennifer Garner’s character. His next big break came with the comedy Wedding Crashers (2005), where he acted out a more prominent role as Sack Lodge, the boyfriend of Rachel McAdams’ character. After Wedding Crashers, Cooper became a desired name in comedy, also starring in Yes Man and The Rocker in 2008.
His ascent into stardom definitely did not come without its struggles. Even though Cooper was seemingly able to keep landing roles, they weren’t the roles he wanted. The small parts and supporting characters weren’t what he had in mind for himself, and because of this he fell into a dark place. To ease his woes, he decided to turn to alcohol. “I was so concerned what you thought of me, how I was coming across, how I would survive the day. I always felt like an outsider. I realized I wasn’t going to live up to my potential and that scared the hell out of me,” Cooper shared.
The alcohol use started to become more frequent until he got out of control at a party and knew he had to do something about it. “I was at a party and deliberately bashed my head on the concrete floor — like, ‘Hey, look how tough I am! And I came up and blood dripped down. And then I did it again. I spent the night [in a hospital] with a sock of ice, waiting for them to stitch me up,” Cooper recounted.
He was just about ready to give up his acting dreams when he landed his breakthrough role in The Hangover (2009) alongside Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis. The comedy ended up a commercial success, becoming one of the highest grossing R-rated films in the U.S. A few more comedies followed before Cooper finally landed a role that allowed him to show off more of his acting chops. In Limitless (2011), a sci-fi thriller based on the 2001 novel The Dark Fields, he plays the main role of Eddie Morra, a struggling writer who takes a pill to access 100% of his brain. He starred alongside Robert De Niro and Abbie Cornish. This role ultimately changed casting director’s perception of Cooper as a comedic actor, showing that his skillset had evolved beyond the one genre.
Following two more action films, Cooper landed another role that would change his life and the trajectory of his career. Silver Linings Playbook featured him as the lead role of Pat Solitano, an ex-teacher that moves back in with his parents after spending time in a mental institution. He starred alongside Robert De Niro again, as well as Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Tucker. This was the first taste of awards success for Bradley, as the film was nominated for seven Oscars, including one nomination for his performance. Clearly, Bradley’s collaboration with both Jennifer Lawrence and director David O. Russell is a recipe for success because the trio worked together yet again for American Hustle (2013). It was nominated for ten Oscars, with Cooper garnering one nom himself for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. It also won a Golden Globe and two BAFTA Awards.
In 2014, Bradley Cooper took his career to new heights as he lent his voice to Rocket the Racoon, a character in the Marvel movie Guardians of the Galaxy (GoG). His inclusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe guaranteed him big blockbuster pay for the next few years, as he reprised his role for Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (2017), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), and Avengers: Endgame (2019). After GoG, further success arrived with American Sniper, where Cooper worked with legendary director Clint Eastwood. The film was nominated for five Oscars, winning one for Best Achievement in Sound Editing. Bradley was nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role. Working with Eastwood was a learning experience for Cooper, as he took notes on how he maneuvered through his directorial duties.
“I love Clint Eastwood and I look up to him so much. And I always had in my mind, ‘Well, he was 41 when he made Play Misty For Me.’ So I always thought when I get around that age, I gotta just [direct],” Cooper said.
A fun fact about A Star Is Born is that Clint Eastwood had brought it up to Cooper before they even began working on American Sniper. The project was the fourth remake of the classic Hollywood film, and Eastwood’s proposed version would include Cooper as Jackson Maine and Beyonce as Ally, his love interest. Cooper, who felt he wasn’t experienced enough at the time, turned it down and Beyonce dropped out of the project not too long after. So, what changed between that first conversation and his directorial debut? “[Well, Eastwood] was thinking about doing it and we were talking about it. I was 38 at the time…and I just knew…I just thought, ‘I don’t know if I could buy me [playing Jackson] like that.’ And then life happens and we wound up doing American Sniper together which aged me. And then a year of doing The Elephant Man [on Broadway] aged me. And I thought, ‘You know what? I think I’m ready.’”
Bradley garnered experience through American Sniper and his return to Broadway in 2014, where he portrayed Joseph Merrick, aka Elephant Man. His outstanding performance won him a Tony nomination. After the two intense projects, he knew he was ready to act in A Star Is Born, however when he approached Eastwood again about the film, he turned it down. One night, Cooper had a dream about an opening scene for the movie, and just like that, he knew he had to direct it.
For the film, Bradley had to endure tons of challenges. For one, he went through an arduous process to change his voice with a vocal coach, aiming for a low, raspy tone. Next, he had to learn how to sing and play the guitar and piano, to make his character’s musical abilities believable. It turns out, he’s a naturally gifted singer, but still, singing lessons helped him to improve. Thirdly, he had to navigate uncharted waters as a director—he had never done it before after all! It turns out that all of the challenges and tedious hours he put into the film were worth it—his efforts paid off remarkably.
“People I care about…told me not to direct A Star Is Born, said that it would be too difficult and I should start with something easier. Luckily, I didn’t listen. I loved that it was really, really hard to make this film. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have the same value. And that’s always been my goal: to make something, no matter how challenging, that will be remembered.”
Cooper, now with the additional title of “director” under his belt, will only continue to make more movies that will be remembered. In fact, he’s already working on some. He’s already confirmed to return as Rocket the Racoon in Guardians of the Galaxy 3 and will also act in Bernstein, where he will play Leonard Bernstein, the famous American composer, author, and pianist; both movies will debut in 2021.
By Selene Rivera