“The Words” is a film divided between three stories, each one offering a possible reality to a situation that may or may not be the actual story and wrapped up in a tale about an author who steals another writer’s work and gains fame. Writer/directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal didn’t need to lift their material from anyone else, and spent the last ten years with their script trying to get it made until their longtime pal, Bradley Cooper, worked his way up the ladder in his career to help them get it in front of cameras. It’s exactly the kind journey that makes for a Sundance success story.
The Playlist caught up with Cooper and Klugman in Park City to talk about the film, their working relationship and Cooper’s plans to one day direct.
When did you first decide to take on “The Words”?
Bradley Cooper: Eightyears old. No, it was the opposite, I was hoping to play any role. When I came out to L.A., I slept on [Brian]’s couch and I got hired to do “Alias” and do the pilot. There was no way they could make the movie with me, Bradley Cooper playing Rory. He hadn’t even thought of it. It wasn’t until two years ago where Brian and I start talking about trying to get it going if I played Rory. Obviously we needed more people and then it went away a little bit, then it really started to happen and we committed to a date and then to see if we could get people around that.
Brian Klugman: That’s a big thing when making a movie. You’ve got to circle a date and then fill everything.
Bradley: I was nervous, too. But then I was like, “What am I nervous about? This is why I’m an actor, to help my friends.” So it was perfect.
It’s ambitious with it almost being three different films in one, with overlapping details and a traditional book structure laid out, with Dennis Quaid saying “This is part one.”
Brian: Yeah, there’s supposed to be a lot of little easter eggs that connect all the stories aesthetically. We were nervous because we shot different aesthetics for the different sections and they’d blend together.
Bradley: We talked about the music being the thread to which we link all those stories. The music was a huge in [to linking] the story.
Looking at some of your previous roles and I’m wondering if the characters you’re playing tend to fall into a certain design and if that’s intentional. Both here and in “Limitless,” your characters take an easy out in order to taste success.
Bradley: You know, I gotta tell you, I don’t see either one of those characters as their primary motivation in life to get ahead. Eddie, who we meet in “Limitless,” is the opposite of this because he’s like, “You know what, I’m content with never doing anything beyond this.” It’s the “Fuck It” mentality that then propels him into this drug. Rory, I don’t see that at all with him. I do know what you’re saying though about them, in some terms, stealing something, but in Rory’s case it’s not that he wants to get ahead in life but he wants a purpose based on outside ideas of what he thinks a successful human being could be. In terms of me, I love playing characters that are extremely flawed and that’s what I, as a movie goer, want to see. The ’70s and ’80s you see these characters in auteur cinema they’re very dark and ambiguous and scary to relatable.
Ben [Barnes] said he was shown Jeremy Irons’ role with Bradley as a five-minute monologue. Was there a different version intended?
Brian: There was a part that was a lot longer without being cut. We wanted to show a story that Ben and Nora are having in Paris without having to cut away from it.We wanted to also shoot the entire sequence so we had the freedom…to shoot and come back. We let Jeremy and Bradley roll on it. You can really feel the tension between the two of them.
Bradley, what is the driving mentality behind playing these young, creative characters?
Me, personally? I’m absolutely in love with film. Since we were kids all we did was talk about movies. We just didn’t have people we could talk to aside from each other, except for his father and my father. What drives me is that I’m thankful I get to do this…and I just want to get better, work with great people and tell great stories.
Do you think of expanding to directing?
Bradley: Oh yeah. Absolutely. All I really want to do is direct, but I’m too scared.
Brian: He’s going to be the most spectacular director. His analysis of people, film, character? It’s unbelievable.
Was it a conscious choice to shoot on film?
Brian: Absolutely. We had a lot of classic elements: rain, trains, Paris after the war, New York, the park. All these things that are part of classic cinema that we wanted shot on film. The Dennis Quaid sequence we shot on an Alexa, which is a digital camera, [because] we wanted a cleaner, colder kind of feel.
I noticed a lot of Hemingway being referenced, was than an important element to you?
Brian: There’s a few in there. In the original inception we talked about the loss of stories. That was that conversation that initially started—Hemingway’s wife came to meet him. I think he went to go interview Mussolini, but she left all of his manuscripts on the train. So that was the inception of the idea, so we pay homage to that with the Paris [sequence].