Interview: Bradley Cooper Talks LIMITLESS

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 Cooper€™s character wasn€™t 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 €œexposure€ 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. Morra€™s 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 you€™ve gained access to that stockpile of material you have the potential to become the ultimate version of yourself. Director Neil Burger depicts Morra€™s higher state of consciousness as iridescent, creating the world€™s first Technicolor polymath. When I meet the man who plays him in a West London hotel room, he€™s full of clever Eddie€™s confidence and easy charm. He also shares those cobalt blue eyes. I wonder if he€™s related to the late Paul Newman. Following a warm handshake we€™re getting comfortable while I position my recorder at a favourable angle to my subject on the table that separates us. €œWorking 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 I€™m reminded that it€™s an important part of why he€™s popular with audiences. His matinee mush may be unobtainable for most of us, cursed as we are with Matalan genes, but there€™s a sincere, everyman quality to the guy. He€™s friendly and good humoured. Best I don€™t 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, let€™s 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 it€™s the reason I wanted to do the movie. I came across that scene in the script and I thought €˜ah, I€™d love to see that on film and I€™d love to be the one that does it.€™ I really did. It€™s the moment in the movie in the movie, thematically, where you realise just where this character is. If the movie works, or doesn€™t work, you€™ll be able to tell in that moment, because if the theatre is laughing at the actor, pretending to drink blood in the scene, we€™ve completely failed. But if you€™re with Eddie at the moment and you€™re watching a guy at his lowest and what he€™ll do to survive and the idea that he€™s drinking blood and whatever that creates in you, as a reaction, then we€™ve succeeded up and to that point. So, did you laugh?
OWF: I might have laughed.
BC: (Laughs)
OWF: You€™ve had massive success with The Hangover and The A-Team but this is the first time you€™ve carried a film on your own. Was there added pressure, attached to that?
BC: There didn€™t feel like there was any added pressure whatsoever. I would have felt tremendous pressure if I€™d 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 I€™d probably have had a panic attack and needed to be put into a hospital, because there wasn€™t 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 couldn€™t let down. There€™s something about that, even in an ensemble€I mean, making a movie is like running a race, a marathon of sorts, y€™know with The Hangover and then The A-Team, well, I was on the starting line with Rampage and Sharlto and Liam and we€™re all running and we pass these towns, y€™know, it€™s like the Tour De France and in this town Jessica Biel€™s here, and then you pass through here€ It€™s the same thing with The Hangover. There€™s Zacky , me and Ed , and we€™re running, and there€™s Justin Bartha and, well€ But in this movie I€™m by myself running this race. I pass a town where Robert De Niro is and, well y€™know. So that was much different. It€™s also an opportunity to really bond with your director. You and the director are in the trenches together, which I love. I just can€™t get enough of that.
OWF: Was the thought of working with De Niro scary as well?
BC: No, it wasn€™t. That could be because my relation to De Niro, my connection, predates the movie€at 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 Grandfather€™s€™ and I didn€™t even know he was Irish and Italian, I mean, I€™m 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 who€™d make me cry when I€™d 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, y€™know, I€™d 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 Boy€™s Life?€™ and I said €˜No, I€™d have been twelve€™, and I thought, he has no idea who the fuck I am. So that€™s a beautiful Hollywood story (laughs). But the story continues a year later, I€™m in his hotel room, another hotel, pitching him an idea to play a character in a movie I€™m doing, so that was very odd; an odd turn of events.
OWF: Sounds like you€™re 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 I€™ve had acting, ever. He€™s a wonderful human being and very generous. He€™s 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! It€™s 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. Morra€™s there, trying to be on the same as him and Van Loon€™s reply is €˜I€™ve been there, I€™ve done all the work, I€™ve gone the grind, you€™ve got the smarts but not the experience€€
BC: It€™s 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 he€™s basically saying I haven€™t earned anything, and I€™m thinking €˜have I not earned this?€™ (Laughs) I really did think that, I thought €˜God, he€™s looking at me€™, and I don€™t think he really says €œEddie€ in that, y€™know, 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 haven€™t really earned anything. I thought, €˜God, he€™s such a fucking good actor€™, because he made me feel that way and that€™s how I should feel €“ that€™s the scene.
OWF: You talked about having to get up to speed for that movie and that€™s literally true isn€™t it, because you have to speak very fast in this movie, there€™s 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 he€™d be running and say his lines as he€™d 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 I€™d 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 y€™know, 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 y€™know 25 times like that (snaps fingers). It wasn€™t like we€™ll do it a few times and use the best one, it was like we€™ve got to this 25 times and every time has to be perfect because there€™s a lot of moving parts that aren€™t working, y€™know, so €“ because I€™d do it and maybe someone was standing in the light or, y€™know, or the camera hit the guy and we had to do it again, so. Thank God I€™d 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 I€™ve had a direction from a director saying, €˜okay, just slow down.€™ So when I read the script, I was like, €˜Oh, I don€™t 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 can€™t just speak it, you€™ve got to inhabit it, it€™s 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, so€
OWF: Do you feel invested in this slightly differently, I mean we€™ve 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, that€™s a line from the movie (laughs), there are moments in one€™s life where there are consequences as to whether something€™s successful or not. I remember doing this play on Broadway and thinking, €˜y€™know if this doesn€™t go well, it really will make a difference.€™ I was brought up being told, €˜try your best, it€™s okay€™, but it€™s like, it€™d be okay but there would be ramifications.€™ I think this is one of those times, unfortunately. If it doesn€™t do well and it isn€™t 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 actor€™s shoulders and feel that he can compelling enough for a viewer to watch for two plus hours€™, because it€™s a different kind of thing y€™know? It€™s 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: It€™s a really good question because I was really faced with a dilemma, namely, how do I make this real for myself? So that I€™m not acting it. So that I€™m not effecting it, on the day, because that would be brutal to do and very brutal to watch. There€™s nothing like bad theatre, it€™s the worst thing in the world, when you€™re watching somebody €œact€, and certainly if you€™re 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 wouldn€™t give me any kind of meaty material which I could then turn into an organic expression that would make you believe that I€™d 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 I€™d taken that drug. That€™s my way in. Other things that I€™ve done in my life, that brings a result that appears as if, that if you said this guy was on NZT, you€™d go, €œoh yeah€. So for me it made it easy because I know this. That€™s what I did. Without saying was it was, because that€™s personal, it was just a very specific thing, but it was definitely a huge awakening for me, and it was organic. Y€™know, 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, €˜I€™m bored, and I€™ve just watched half a scene!€™ Not that cyborgs are boring, I don€™t know, but he€™s on the drug and he€™s smart enough to know that he doesn€™t 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, that€™s 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 we€™re ever discussing what genre it is, is a good thing. It€™s a unique movie. In a world today, and you can attest to this more than I can, where there€™s a sort of generic code to what€™s been put out there, siphoning it through three or four categories, the prevailing one being remake, as I€™m 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 aren€™t movies like this. It€™s 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: That€™s a great question.
OWF: I ask because there€™s a bit of ambiguity there, isn€™t there? The girl he meets in the hotel room, a question mark over whether he murdered her. Do you think it€™s 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 didn€™t have a supply. When the gangster comes to his apartment toward the end, he€™s full of fear €“ he thinks the guy€™s going to kill him. He thinks of killing himself, throwing himself off the ledge because he doesn€™t want to go through whatever horrible death is about to occur.
OWF: But I€™m talking in terms of doing things you wouldn€™t normally do €“ your interactions with people, having that confidence and lack of timidity in all things.
BC: Ah, you mean like when he says, €œAll fear, all gone?€
OWF: Exactly.
BC: Well yeah, if I€™m sitting opposite you and I can figure out what you€™re thinking and what you want and what you€™re going to do next, that€™s a very powerful position I€™m in. That€™s where he is. There€™s no level playing field. There€™s the playing field and there€™s where he is. It€™s all there in the last scene in the movie where Carl Van Loon, who€™s worked his arse off to be above everybody, realising he€™s not even in the same vicinity as Eddie. Eddie€™s saying €œyou think you€™ve got me, but you have no idea what I see. I€™m 50 moves ahead of everybody.€ So, that€™s so powerful. There€™s a real moral dilemma with that.
OWF: Also, Eddie can€™t 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 he€™s winning at poker so much, you know what I mean, just spend three weeks in Vegas! I mean sure, he€™ll get kicked out of every casino for counting cards but€
OWF: But what he goes after isn€™t wealth, it€™s just extreme wealth.
BC: Yeah, but this is part of the reason I loved playing the character, you don€™t 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 isn€™t really what I wanted €“ there€™s something much bigger and it would take money to get there.€™ Not money, money is not the bigger thing. When he gets out of Carl€™s 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 €˜there€™s 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 he€™d have enough influence to do what he wanted to do to get to this next place.
OWF: What does he want to do though, what€™s his plan? Is it good or evil?
BC: First of all what I think doesn€™t matter, because it€™s 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. It€™s complicated, but I don€™t think there€™s this Megamind mentality (laughs). He doesn€™t 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 they€™d found the right man. Did the success of the movie change anything for you at all?
BC: I don€™t think relativity would put the character of Eddie Morra in my hands if it wasn€™t 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: It€™s 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 I€™d get paid that much money in my whole life! Relatively it€™s not unbelievable for me it was just insane. But it€™s also tricky. There is a scenario in which this movie doesn€™t do well, Hangover Part II is a huge success and it€™s 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 didn€™t get it, and I haven€™t 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.
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