Having toiled away in bit-parts in comedies like Wet Hot American Summer and Wedding Crashers for years, Bradley Cooper finally broke through to the mainstream, aged 34, after appearing in The Hangover in 2009. Since then, it’s almost as though he’s been making up for lost time.
Now a bona fide dramatic actor, Cooper has clocked up three Academy Award nominations for performing in Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle and American Sniper, as well as a fourth nom as producer of the latter. As if such achievements weren’t enough, Cooper has now turned his hand to directing, and the result is a filmmaking debut that’s already generating Oscar buzz.
A Star Is Born, a remake of a 1937 film that itself had its own high-profile remakes in 1954 and 1976, will star Cooper as country singer Jackson Maine, with Lady Gaga playing his ingenue, pop singer Ally. If the film proves a hit (big box office at least already seems guaranteed), it will be just the latest success in a whirlwind decade for Cooper.
There’s more to the actor than awards and bountiful artistic output, of course. The man has packed a great deal in during his 43 years, much of which isn’t exactly common knowledge.
Here are 12 things you never knew about Bradley Cooper.
12. He wanted to join the army growing up
If Bradley Cooper’s father had only listened, there would have been no four Oscar nominations, no millions in box office dollars and certainly no Sexiest Man Alive award (2011) from People magazine.
See, as a kid, Cooper wanted to join the army, going so far as to ‘beg’ his father to send him to Valley Forge Military Academy in Pennsylvania: “I found the number in the yellow pages…I was obsessed with soldiers”.
Cooper’s father said no (he also said no to Bradley’s request to move to Japan to become a ninja, which just seems cruel), and Cooper instead focused on his studies in English and acting. He got his wish eventually though, getting to train with the military as part of his preparation for American Sniper.
11. He speaks French fluently
Try not to get too jealous, guys. Along with the talent, the good looks, the riches (he was paid $15 million for the last Hangover movie alone) and the success, it turns out Bradley Cooper has another, final ace up his sleeve with which to charm the ladies.
Cooper, as anyone who’s caught his French press junkets will know, speaks fluent French. It all started with a movie: according to Cooper, in the film Chariots of Fire, “there’s a scene where a guy was speaking French and I thought, ‘Man, that sounds so cool'”.
After studying French at school, Cooper took off to France during college as part of a foreign exchange programme. For six months he lived with a family in Aix-en-Provence, after which time he became fluent in the language.
10. He used to be dangerously addicted to drugs and alcohol
He’s the model of clean-cut now, but before he turned sober aged 29, Bradley Cooper was on a sure path to self-destruction. During his time on JJ Abrams’ Alias, Cooper developed an addiction to drugs and alcohol, something which eventually came to pose a serious risk to his life.
After an incident at a party in which he, in a bid for attention, deliberately bashed his head on a concrete floor, landing him in hospital, Cooper decided enough was enough: “I thought, ‘Wow, I’m actually gonna ruin my life; I’m really gonna ruin it.'”
It was partly the feeling of failure he developed while working on Alias, in which his character gradually came to have less and less screen time, that sent Cooper spiralling (“I realised I wasn’t going to live up to my potential, and that scared the hell out of me”). The actor says that getting sober saved his life.
9. He’s deeply religious
“I’m Catholic in my bones,” is how Cooper describes himself. He was talking about his heritage – on his mother, Gloria Cooper’s (formerly Campano) side, he’s Italian, and on his father, Charles Cooper’s side, he’s Irish – but for Cooper religion is also an important part of his daily life.
Cooper was, along with his sister Holly, raised a Roman Catholic in Philadelphia, and he continues to pray daily even now, always wearing with him a chain with the image of St Michael (taken from the set of The Place Beyond the Pines) and a chain with an image depicting Christ (taken from his time on Silver Linings Playbook).
Religion, it seems, is a serious matter for the former hellraiser. In a 2013 interview, Cooper said: “Am I a spiritual person today? Yes. I don’t know how I could not be. It’s like saying, ‘Do you breathe?'”
8. He started out hosting a Learning Channel travel show
Only very few lucky actors get anything like their dream role right away, and Bradley Cooper was no exception. He didn’t start getting the meaty dramatic leading roles he’d always dreamed of until he was in his late 30s.
Before The Elephant Man, before Silver Linings Playbook, even before The Hangover and Wedding Crashers, Cooper had to take some gigs to pay the bills. These included bit-parts in TV shows and, amazingly, hosting a travel show on the Learning Channel.
From 2000 to 2001, Cooper was the host of a travel-adventure show called Globe Trekker. It wasn’t hefty dramatic work, and Cooper made only $5,000 an episode, but it wasn’t all bad either: Cooper at least got to see more of the world, including Peru and Croatia, as part of the show.
7. He made his acting debut in Sex and the City
For a time, TV seemed destined to be Bradley Cooper’s home, despite his love of cinema and ultimate ambition to be a film actor. It was here where he first got real exposure, not just in Globe Trekker, but in Alias, in which he featured in a supporting role from 2001 to 2006.
This wasn’t Cooper’s first TV gig, however. Before that, there were parts in since-forgotten shows like Touching Evil, Jack & Bobby and The $treet. He also got a ‘cameo’ on Sex and the City, which constituted his acting debut.
Cooper got only a few lines in the 1999 episode, playing a man who Sarah Jessica Parker’s fashionista Carrie picks up in a bar, but it set the actor on the long path to stardom all the same.
6. He also appeared on Inside the Actors Studio before he was famous
Back when he was an aspiring actor, Cooper was accepted into the illustrious Actors Studio in New York, being selected personally by dean James Lipton, who told Cooper’s parents that their son was going to go “all the way”. During his time there, Cooper appeared on Lipton’s show Inside the Actors Studio as a student, asking guests about their process.
Cooper appeared on the show twice, once asking Sean Penn a question, and on the second occasion asking Robert De Niro – who would 20 years later become a friend and regular co-star of Cooper’s – about his preparation for the film Awakenings.
Cooper would himself later appear on the show as a guest, and James Lipton would talk of his pride of interviewing for the first time a former student who “achieved so much” that he later became a guest.
5. His American Sniper preparation was insane
American Sniper, the unexpected blockbuster that went on to be an unexpected multi-Oscar nominee, brought Cooper the best notices of his career to date. He was probably relieved, considering the sheer effort he’d put in for the movie.
To play Chris Kyle, the US Navy SEAL considered the deadliest sniper in history, Cooper had to work hard. First off, in order to gain more than 40 pounds of muscle, Cooper was at one stage consuming 8,000 calories a day, or the equivalent of a meal every 55 minutes, and worked out for four hours a day to the point where he could deadlift twice his bodyweight.
Cooper also underwent military training, firing off live rounds, and made an obsessive effort to get into character. Cooper at first contacted the real Kyle, but after Kyle died, Cooper took a different approach. He hired a coach to perfect the accent, studied hundreds of hours of home movie footage of Kyle, spent time with Kyle’s family, listened to Kyle’s playlists at the gym and even acquired and wore Kyle’s actual shoes for the film.
4. He was married before he was famous
He appears to have settled now – he has a child, born in 2017, with partner Irina Shayk – but Cooper until recently was something of a Hollywood lothario. Cooper’s girlfriends over the years have included Zoe Saldana, Renee Zellweger and Suki Waterhouse, with rumoured romances with Cameron Diaz and Olivia Wilde.
In his pre-megafame days, however, Cooper had once already settled down. In 2005, Cooper began dating fellow actor Jennifer Esposito, and the couple were married the following year.
It didn’t last long, with the pair ending their whirlwind romance with a divorce in 2007. Two years later, Cooper would became a household name thanks to The Hangover, and would become known in the media for his playboy lifestyle.
3. An accident in his youth left his face severely scarred
He’s a famous sex symbol now, as evidenced by his legions of fans and that 2011 Sexiest Man Alive title. But an accident from when he was still a teenager could have denied Cooper ever having a shot at leading man fame.
In Cooper’s own words: “I have six scars on my face. My biggest one goes from my left eyebrow to my scalp. In eighth grade a big glass lamp fell off the wall and onto my face.” After the accident, Cooper couldn’t move part of his face for six months.
The accident left Cooper scarred, and required him to get plastic surgery, aged just 15. Thankfully, the scars are barely visible today, and have done nothing to dent Cooper’s career in Hollywood.
2. The Elephant Man inspired him to become an actor
Of all the films you can think of that would have sent Bradley Cooper hurtling down the Hollywood rabbit hole, you might imagine it was an actor-y kind of movie, maybe starring his hero Robert De Niro, now a friend, or Daniel Day-Lewis, who Cooper considers “the greatest” actor of all time.
In fact, it was the 1980 David Lynch drama The Elephant Man that oddly enough convinced Cooper to become an actor. The film, a true-to-life account of John Merrick, a severely disfigured man who in Victorian England was paraded in a freak show as ‘The Elephant Man’, “floored” a 12-year-old Cooper.
Cooper even at that age ‘identified’ with Merrick, and later did a grad school thesis on the film. It began an obsession that culminated in Cooper playing the character on stage in 2014, in a performance which would earn him rave reviews and a Tony nomination for Best Actor.
1. He considers The Hangover his hardest role
Since shooting to fame with the Hangover movies, Bradley Cooper has taken on an increasingly challenging set of roles. American Sniper saw him go deep into character, Silver Linings Playbook found him plumbing the psychological depths, while The Elephant Man required him to physically morph live on-stage.
However none of this compared, says Cooper, to what he had to do to anchor the film that made his name. Of all the demanding roles Cooper has taken on, he still considers The Hangover his most challenging.
The Hangover’s Phil, an amoral schoolteacher responsible for much of the debauchery seen in the movie, was hard work for Cooper simply because he was not someone who Cooper could ever relate to. “That guy is so different from me. I’m always amazed by it, actually. When I look at that character on screen, I don’t see me at all.”