Classically good-looking, very blueeyed Bradley Cooper has been popping up in movies for almost a decade and a half. You’ll recognize a young Cooper playing Ben in 2001’s “Wet Hot American Summer.” Then there were TV movies, TV series and the lead part in “The Midnight Meat Train.”
Yeah, you read the title right, and no, you don’t ever have to see that film. Note: It’s on marquee of a cinema Cooper walks by in “Silver Linings Playbook.” Speaking of which, until “Silver Linings Playbook” (for which he was Oscar nominated), Cooper has really been more of an ensemble actor. The spotlight has been on him often, but he’s never really held a film on his own.
Until now. In “American Sniper,” under the direction of Clint Eastwood (making his best,
tightest movie in years), he plays Chris Kyle, the real-life marksman and Navy SEAL who became known as one of the greatest shooters in the Iraq War.
As Kyle sets his gun sights on the enemy in the film, so, too, does Eastwood set his camera
sights on Cooper. This is an intense character study within an intense war film. It’s also
Cooper’s best work to date. He recently spoke about it in Los Angeles.
Q. Besides starring in this film, you also produced it. What drew you to the project?
A. Movies for me have always been healing, and I love storytelling so much. We fell into a situation here where we had the opportunity to tell this man’s story, who was a very charismatic, dynamic human being.
It’s not a movie about the Iraq War. It’s a movie about what someone like Chris has to go
through as a soldier, and the dilemma and the horror of it, and the battle internally and what he went through with his family [at home].
There’s a lot to make it something that you want to watch, but the takeaway, for those who
can relate to him, will be that maybe it’ll be healing for a vet who’s gone through similar things that Chris went through.
Q. You really look like you know what you’re doing in this film. What kind of prep work did you go through to play Chris?
A. Here’s the thing about acting. I had three months, and I had to choose what to become comfortable with.
And the thing that we talked about choosing was the weapons, three sniper rifles—the Mark 11, the 338 Lapua, and the .300 Win. Mag.—and being dexterous with those three. Because you’re watching [Chris] on the gun, so I really focused on getting into the mindset of what it would be like to be a sniper. Not so much about the training of becoming a Navy SEAL, which I would have loved to have done.
But we only had three months, and I sort of supplemented that with the weight training. So
it was about the guys who were training me, with live ammo, with those three weapons.
Q. This is the first time you’ve worked with Clint Eastwood, who has a reputation of shooting a scene, getting it done and moving on to the next one, rather than doing take after take. What was your experience with him?
A. First of all, you’re really excited to come on the set every day because Clint Eastwood’s there. That never gets old. It was amazing.
But sometimes you do movies and you feel, ‘Well, I’m warming up on the first three [takes],
and then we’ll get into it on seven and eight, and we’ll sort of feel it out.’ But that wasn’t happening on this movie, at all. You better bring it, on the first take. Clint will ask you how you feel and if you want to move on.
He’ll probably ask you why, and he’ll either say yes or no, do another one. But the truth is
there weren’t any more than one or two takes in this film, and then you move on. You have to show up ready.
I learned that when I made two movies with David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook” and
“American Hustle”). With David, when you’d step out of the van in the morning, you’d better be able to shoot the scene from the moment your foot touches the ground. So I’m very well-equipped in that way, and have come to love it, because there’s an energy and a vitality and a sense of it’s actually happening. I think if I ever get a chance to direct, I would always want to do that. You know, never make them feel that they have a hundred takes; make them feel like this is it.