Bradley Cooper has taken a carpe diem approach to his supernova moment. As he nears the final stretch in the Best Actor Oscar race for his show-stopping turn in “Silver Linings Playbook,” he’s made sure to line up a series of esoteric and challenging projects that would likely languish in development oblivion were it not for the current high exchange rate on his leading man currency.
After the recent flurry of rumors circulated about him taking on the title role in J. J. Abrams’ Lance Armstrong biopic, Cooper has instead down-shifted into dark and twisty metaphysical terrain with the news that Cooper plans to produce and star in an adaptation of James Renner’s sci-fi crime thriller, The Man From Primrose Lane. The novel experiments with the formulas of the genre, playing with traditional notions of time and space in a story about a true-crime writer (Cooper) who investigates the strange death of the title character – an old mitten-obsessed recluse – while grieving his wife’s suicide. Any time you combine a mitten fetish with paranormal criminal activity, you know you're in for something supremely weird and potentially very interesting. Cooper deserves credit for not pouncing on the opportunity to headline a high-profile project about one of the most sensational fallen icons of our time to follow his instincts toward more offbeat material.
Three years ago, offbeat was not a term anyone might have used to describe Bradley Cooper, whose name had become synonymous with "the good-looking guy from 'The Hangover.'" He was that, guy – the one everyone thought they knew: the insouciant hunk with an errant oddball strain that kept him just to the left of the superstars destined for a life of wealth, ease, and a gnawing sense of emptiness. Cooper, on the other hand, was the handsome goofball. That was his epithet and he seemed to embrace it. He didn’t put on airs or wear chunky-framed glasses to premieres to signify he was more than just a pretty boy actor who had shimmied his way up the Hollywood totem pole courtesy of his well-toned physique and solid bone structure.
Then he gradually and subtly shifted the paradigm. Hollywood had tried to squeeze him into its bunker full of rent-a-hunks, with roles in dismal rom-coms like “Valentine’s Day” and “All About Steve.” But he wasn't having it. Step one in his image make-under: Cooper signed on to play Lucifer in Alex Proyas’ adaptation of John Milton’s Paradise Lost (a project that fell apart when its financier pulled out). Step two: Convince David O. Russell that he had the emotional firepower to play the bipolar powder keg recovering from a stint in a mental institution in “Silver Linings Playbook.” Step three: Score an Oscar nomination for turning the character into the most skinless regular guy to grace the big screen since Randle McMurphy.
Cooper is far from the first headliner to engineer a transformation from swoon-worthy to serious artist. Pretty boy actors have always been out to prove they’re smuggling untold depths. Call it the Johnny Depp effect. Or the Ryan Gosling effect. Or the George Clooney effect. Or even the Robert Redford effect.
It remains the great paradox of Hollywood’s pecking order that beauty is often the hurdle standing between movie stars and the most interesting, Oscar-worthy roles. Lately, a pack of male stars have been dodging and weaving their way around the eye candy parts they’ve been typically offered. This year, Matthew McConaughey managed to (mostly) keep his shirt on in a series of well-received roles in “Killer Joe,” “The Paperboy,” and “Magic Mike” – each of which highlights his acting muscles as opposed to the ones he’s often flaunted on screen. The same could be said of McConaughey’s “Magic Mike” costar, Channing Tatum, who turned in a breakthrough performance that earned him a starring role in Bennett Miller’s next film, “Foxcatcher,” about an Olympic wrestler killed by a paranoid schizophrenic. We’d also add Ryan Reynolds to this herd of beefcake actors looking to make a break from matinee idol holding pen.
Now, if only the same rules applied to actresses who opt for eccentricity over beauty.
What are your thoughts on Cooper's career transformation and which under-rated actors do you hope follow his lead?