Obsessed with Film met up with Limitless star Bradley Cooper a couple of weeks back to talk performance enhancing drugs, attaining perfection and the perils of drinking human blood. Ed Whitfield popped a chat pill and in an illuminating discussion found out that Coopers character wasnt planning to steal the moon but his alter ego may be stalking Robert De Niro. Now read on (we talk extensively about major plot points in Limitless, so beware of spoilers)... Bradley Cooper used to be a nobody, just like you and I, well, I. Then he took a drug called exposure and suddenly he was a star, bright eyed, being paid more money than he ever expected to see in his life and filling our minds with beautiful memories from movies like The Hangover and The A-Team. As an English Major, late of Georgetown University and once down on his luck, Cooper presumably felt a natural affinity with Eddie Morra, the down at heel writer he plays in his new thriller Limitless. Morras luck changes when he pops experimental drug NZT, a brain steroid that unlocks the untapped acres of mental real estate we use as a dumping ground for wasted memories and old information. Your whole life is somewhere in that void, and the movie plays with the idea that once youve gained access to that stockpile of material you have the potential to become the ultimate version of yourself. Director Neil Burger depicts Morras higher state of consciousness as iridescent, creating the worlds first Technicolor polymath. When I meet the man who plays him in a West London hotel room, hes full of clever Eddies confidence and easy charm. He also shares those cobalt blue eyes. I wonder if hes related to the late Paul Newman. Following a warm handshake were getting comfortable while I position my recorder at a favourable angle to my subject on the table that separates us. Working out where to place it before you cut me? he quips with a nervous laugh. If the aim was to put me at my ease, it works. That hint of vulnerability humanises Cooper and Im reminded that its an important part of why hes popular with audiences. His matinee mush may be unobtainable for most of us, cursed as we are with Matalan genes, but theres a sincere, everyman quality to the guy. Hes friendly and good humoured. Best I dont ask him why a character with a four figure IQ would give up being a literary author to become a stoke broker, then. Congratulations Bradley, your charm has killed my best question. I start off by asking him about a key scene, where a desperate Morra drinks the blood of a freshly deceased villain to get a dose of the drug. OWF: Okay, lets kick off. First and foremost, what was in the blood?
BC: What was in the blood? Something sweet, syrupy.OWF: Did it gross you out, the idea of actually having to do this scene?
BC: Perhaps it reveals my state of mind, but its the reason I wanted to do the movie. I came across that scene in the script and I thought ah, Id love to see that on film and Id love to be the one that does it. I really did. Its the moment in the movie in the movie, thematically, where you realise just where this character is. If the movie works, or doesnt work, youll be able to tell in that moment, because if the theatre is laughing at the actor, pretending to drink blood in the scene, weve completely failed. But if youre with Eddie at the moment and youre watching a guy at his lowest and what hell do to survive and the idea that hes drinking blood and whatever that creates in you, as a reaction, then weve succeeded up and to that point. So, did you laugh?OWF: I might have laughed.
BC: (Laughs)OWF: Youve had massive success with The Hangover and The A-Team but this is the first time youve carried a film on your own. Was there added pressure, attached to that?
BC: There didnt feel like there was any added pressure whatsoever. I would have felt tremendous pressure if Id showed up to work unprepared, because there a tremendous amount of preparation involved in playing Eddie in all his evolution stages that demanded a lot of work, and had I showed up not having done the work then Id probably have had a panic attack and needed to be put into a hospital, because there wasnt much time, I mean we shot it in something like thirty eight days and like you said, the narrative is completely dependent upon Eddie Mora. The people involved in that, I couldnt let down. Theres something about that, even in an ensembleI mean, making a movie is like running a race, a marathon of sorts, yknow with The Hangover and then The A-Team, well, I was on the starting line with Rampage and Sharlto and Liam and were all running and we pass these towns, yknow, its like the Tour De France and in this town Jessica Biels here, and then you pass through here Its the same thing with The Hangover. Theres Zacky , me and Ed , and were running, and theres Justin Bartha and, well But in this movie Im by myself running this race. I pass a town where Robert De Niro is and, well yknow. So that was much different. Its also an opportunity to really bond with your director. You and the director are in the trenches together, which I love. I just cant get enough of that.OWF: Was the thought of working with De Niro scary as well?
BC: No, it wasnt. That could be because my relation to De Niro, my connection, predates the movieat least in my mind (laughs). The first movie of his I saw was Raging Bull and I used to think, before I met him, God, his hands are just like my Grandfathers and I didnt even know he was Irish and Italian, I mean, Im Irish and Italian, but he reminded me so much of my family. I always felt a real emotional connection to him. He was one of the first actors whod make me cry when Id watch him. Then I got a chance to see him, as he spoke at our school and I got a chance to ask him a question in 1998, and then I put myself on tape to play his son in a movie, which he saw the tape of, and then I had a chance to meet him in this hotel room, because he saw the tape and we spoke for about 15 minutes. Then I was a juror at the Tribecca film festival, so I saw him around, yknow, Id catch him walking in and out, actually I sat and had a big luncheon with him. He was the table and I said Hey Mr De Niro, we met last year when I put myself on tape, etc and he said This Boys Life? and I said No, Id have been twelve, and I thought, he has no idea who the fuck I am. So thats a beautiful Hollywood story (laughs). But the story continues a year later, Im in his hotel room, another hotel, pitching him an idea to play a character in a movie Im doing, so that was very odd; an odd turn of events.OWF: Sounds like youre stalking him.
BC: (Deep breath) One could say.OWF: Did this having any bearing on the relationship between the two of you, then. As you were in awe of him?
BC: No, quite the opposite in fact. If anything it was the most effortless experience Ive had acting, ever. Hes a wonderful human being and very generous. Hes been doing this for 40 years. His level of excitement and willingness to work, on the day, in the scene, is unparalleled.OWF: Is working with him like being on NZT?
BC: It is! Its like, do you know the beginning of There Will Be Blood?(OWF nods)
That MmmMMMMMMMMMM!OWF: Did you feel like that scene in the movie resonated, the one in which he picks you up on your lack of experience. Morras there, trying to be on the same as him and Van Loons reply is Ive been there, Ive done all the work, Ive gone the grind, youve got the smarts but not the experience
BC: Its so funny you say that God, you really hit it. That was the one moment when we were shooting, when part of me thought, because hes basically saying I havent earned anything, and Im thinking have I not earned this? (Laughs) I really did think that, I thought God, hes looking at me, and I dont think he really says Eddie in that, yknow, just the words, and I felt that thing that you feel in life where someone says something awful to you, and I thought, oh my God, he really thinks that, this is Robert De Niro taking his chance to tell me that he thinks I havent really earned anything. I thought, God, hes such a fucking good actor, because he made me feel that way and thats how I should feel thats the scene.OWF: You talked about having to get up to speed for that movie and thats literally true isnt it, because you have to speak very fast in this movie, theres a lot of dialogue, you speak in several foreign languages
BC: I was reading about Ben Kingsley and how he prepared for his role in Sexy Beast, where hed be running and say his lines as hed be running and stuff. I had this script a while before we shot. I had it maybe 4 or 5 months and there were whole sections that I put to memory, very early on, and Id just say it throughout my day, all the time, say the speech in the dining room where I talk about it just being a parlour trick and so on, that was just like, half a page scene. The other thing yknow, was talking about Switzerland and the bar and regaling to all these people, and then, ah, a bunch of stuff, but by the time we got to shoot it you know, Neil chose to shoot a lot of that stuff in chunks, in one take, so there was no room for cutting and we had to do it yknow 25 times like that (snaps fingers). It wasnt like well do it a few times and use the best one, it was like weve got to this 25 times and every time has to be perfect because theres a lot of moving parts that arent working, yknow, so because Id do it and maybe someone was standing in the light or, yknow, or the camera hit the guy and we had to do it again, so. Thank God Id put that over to the side already, so I could just be Eddie. But I liked that, because I speak fast enough as it is, in my life, and more often than not Ive had a direction from a director saying, okay, just slow down. So when I read the script, I was like, Oh, I dont have to slow down!OWF: What about the Chinese and the Italian?
BC: Yeah, that was fun. I mean, that was really fun because in order to pull it off you cant just speak it, youve got to inhabit it, its talk all day in that language. Language brings with it a certain physicality, Mandarin is the staccato and Italian is languorous and so I loved doing that, that was great. I had a freebie with French because I speak French, soOWF: Do you feel invested in this slightly differently, I mean weve talked about you versus an ensemble but in terms of fan expectation and how it might be received, is there any difference for you as you wait for the figures to come in?
BC: Well I did this play, Three Days of Rain, and there are moments in life, wait, thats a line from the movie (laughs), there are moments in ones life where there are consequences as to whether somethings successful or not. I remember doing this play on Broadway and thinking, yknow if this doesnt go well, it really will make a difference. I was brought up being told, try your best, its okay, but its like, itd be okay but there would be ramifications. I think this is one of those times, unfortunately. If it doesnt do well and it isnt well received, it maybe tougher for me to have a studio or someone funding a movie say, you know what? We can rest the main character on this actors shoulders and feel that he can compelling enough for a viewer to watch for two plus hours, because its a different kind of thing yknow? Its just a different kind of thing.OWF: I thought you were compelling, for the record. Just coming back to preparation. One of the strongest ideas in the movie is that notion that everything you see and hear is potentially useful, that you can unlock this knowledge and be at your best. What experiences did you draw upon, when preparing to play this character?
BC: Its a really good question because I was really faced with a dilemma, namely, how do I make this real for myself? So that Im not acting it. So that Im not effecting it, on the day, because that would be brutal to do and very brutal to watch. Theres nothing like bad theatre, its the worst thing in the world, when youre watching somebody act, and certainly if youre trying to watching someone trying to act smart(Laughs). So I took it completely out of the world of that. Because I thought, even if I read up on neurological science for the next four years it wouldnt give me any kind of meaty material which I could then turn into an organic expression that would make you believe that Id opened up a new frontier of experience, all the synapses of my brain. I just went to a completely different place of something that I thought would move me in a way that by expressing it, you could think that Id taken that drug. Thats my way in. Other things that Ive done in my life, that brings a result that appears as if, that if you said this guy was on NZT, youd go, oh yeah. So for me it made it easy because I know this. Thats what I did. Without saying was it was, because thats personal, it was just a very specific thing, but it was definitely a huge awakening for me, and it was organic. Yknow, when we first starting shooting Eddie on NZT, I was doing him a little bit like a cyborg, there was a little mechanical aspect to it, and then I remembered watching the playback with the director and thinking how much of the movie am I on the drug? (Laughs) Quite a bit! I thought, Im bored, and Ive just watched half a scene! Not that cyborgs are boring, I dont know, but hes on the drug and hes smart enough to know that he doesnt have to act like a robot. So we got rid of that very early on.OWF: So you broke through the geek barrier.
BC: (Laughs) Yeah, thats what is it, right? But I thought yeah, this is not how we play this.OWF: So how would you categorise this movie? Is it a drug movie or a superhero movie without the tights and the cape?
BC: I see it as a dramatic thriller, I guess. But I think the fact were ever discussing what genre it is, is a good thing. Its a unique movie. In a world today, and you can attest to this more than I can, where theres a sort of generic code to whats been put out there, siphoning it through three or four categories, the prevailing one being remake, as Im about to be a part of in The Hangover Part II! (Laughs) And I just did the A-Team! (More laughter). But this is an interesting concept, there arent movies like this. Its a great hook. What would you do if you could unlock your full potential and you could be the best version of yourself?OWF: But is he the best version?
BC: Thats a great question.OWF: I ask because theres a bit of ambiguity there, isnt there? The girl he meets in the hotel room, a question mark over whether he murdered her. Do you think its dangerous for people to have no fear?
BC: Well, I think he has fear.OWF: He does?
BC: I certainly think so. He certainly had fear of what would happen if he didnt have a supply. When the gangster comes to his apartment toward the end, hes full of fear he thinks the guys going to kill him. He thinks of killing himself, throwing himself off the ledge because he doesnt want to go through whatever horrible death is about to occur.OWF: But Im talking in terms of doing things you wouldnt normally do your interactions with people, having that confidence and lack of timidity in all things.
BC: Ah, you mean like when he says, All fear, all gone?OWF: Exactly.
BC: Well yeah, if Im sitting opposite you and I can figure out what youre thinking and what you want and what youre going to do next, thats a very powerful position Im in. Thats where he is. Theres no level playing field. Theres the playing field and theres where he is. Its all there in the last scene in the movie where Carl Van Loon, whos worked his arse off to be above everybody, realising hes not even in the same vicinity as Eddie. Eddies saying you think youve got me, but you have no idea what I see. Im 50 moves ahead of everybody. So, thats so powerful. Theres a real moral dilemma with that.OWF: Also, Eddie cant achieve what he wants without going to the gangster for money.
BC: Well, initially to get the $250,000. Well to me, quite honestly I thought, well if hes winning at poker so much, you know what I mean, just spend three weeks in Vegas! I mean sure, hell get kicked out of every casino for counting cards butOWF: But what he goes after isnt wealth, its just extreme wealth.
BC: Yeah, but this is part of the reason I loved playing the character, you dont know what his goal is and nor does the audience. He comes out from the water in Mexico and says, this is all fun and good but it isnt really what I wanted theres something much bigger and it would take money to get there. Not money, money is not the bigger thing. When he gets out of Carls car and goes for that walk, he says Carl would provide my nest egg, my war chest, but what could I achieve. And then he gets his pills at the end and says theres still hope and you know that being Senator is not the end. He gets away from the financial world, so money is, unfortunately, the only way hed have enough influence to do what he wanted to do to get to this next place.OWF: What does he want to do though, whats his plan? Is it good or evil?
BC: First of all what I think doesnt matter, because its a movie. What you think is just as valid as what I think. I did my job, the movie exists.OWF: Yes, but you must have an insight.
BC: For me, I think it was for good. Its complicated, but I dont think theres this Megamind mentality (laughs). He doesnt want to steal the moon.OWF: Can I just ask you about The Hangover 2? I read in the production notes that the success of The Hangover convinced the casting directors on this movie that theyd found the right man. Did the success of the movie change anything for you at all?
BC: I dont think relativity would put the character of Eddie Morra in my hands if it wasnt for my participation in such a lucrative product as the Hangover.OWF: Was that a pivotal moment in your career, where you felt a shift up to the next level?
BC: Its hard to say it was a vertical shift but it was a shift. Certainly it was vertical financially. For Hangover Part II, I never thought Id get paid that much money in my whole life! Relatively its not unbelievable for me it was just insane. But its also tricky. There is a scenario in which this movie doesnt do well, Hangover Part II is a huge success and its like, you can make buddy comedies for the rest of your career. So everything is tricky.OWF: Finally Bradley, we earlier talked about this being a superhero movie of sorts. Have you been approached to do a bona fide superhero film?
BC: Well, I auditioned to play The Green Lantern and I didnt get it, and I havent had the balls to put the cape on again. (Laughs)OWF: Perhaps if you took NZT?
BC: (Laughs)OWF: Bradley Cooper, thank you very much. Limitless is released in the U.K. on Wednesday.