Bradley Cooper Says Paul Thomas Anderson Is ‘the Reason I Didn’t Give Up Acting’

Director Cooper was ready to give up on acting, until "Licorice Pizza" changed his tune.
Bradley Cooper, Paul Thomas Anderson
Paul Thomas Anderson, Bradley Cooper

[Editor’s Note January 26: The story below initially contained some errors that have since been corrected.]

Bradley Cooper almost was the star who dimmed his shine.

The Oscar-nominated “A Star Is Born” actor/director credits Paul Thomas Anderson for still being in Hollywood. “The reason that I didn’t give up acting is Paul Thomas Anderson,” Cooper explained during Variety’s Actors on Actors panel with Mahershala Ali on January 25. Cooper was referring to how inspirational he found Anderson’s work, such as “Punch-Drunk Love,” in the early 2000s, when his career was first developing.

Thus the opportunity to be in “Licorice Pizza” was a full-circle moment for the actor: “When he called me to maybe be in his movie [‘Licorice Pizza’], I mean really, I think I’d open up a door in his movie. I’d do anything.” He instantly said yes, then wondered if he could indeed play the character.

“I spent three and a half weeks with Paul. I watched all the camera tests,” Cooper said, of his time after he accepted the role. “He was teaching me all about lenses, things I never knew. He’s incredible.”

In contrast, del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley” proved to be “an interesting example” of how “insecure” Cooper is, per the actor’s own admission.

“I was like, ‘Oh, I guess I still am the guy that wants to be in the group,’ because I had no intention of acting in anything other than I’ve been writing,” Cooper explained. “Leonardo DiCaprio fell out, and Guillermo del Toro came to me. I still remember thinking, ‘Oh wow, the guys that don’t hire me, they want to hire me?’ And then it was like, ‘Of course I have to do it just because I’ve never been allowed into that group.’ It was insecurity and ego.”

Cooper added, “Thankfully, it wound up being an incredible experience. And that was very interesting to me to play a character, Stanton Carlisle, who has clearly been traumatized as a kid, has no parental foundation, has no foundation for love, intimacy, real connection, and he just is surviving off of a gratification and a desperate need to find out who he is.”

“A Star Is Born” was part of Cooper’s pivot to behind-the-scenes roles, but that was born out of necessity, according to Cooper.

“The directors I admired weren’t hiring me and because they have already made a decision in their mind whether you’re right or not for something,” Cooper said.

Steven Spielberg did, however, try to cast Cooper in biopic “Maestro” about Broadway composer Leonard Bernstein.

“I had just been working on ‘A Star Is Born’ and I said, ‘Listen, all I want to do is write and direct movies. I always felt like I could play a conductor, but may I research the material and see if I can write it and direct it? Would you let me do that?'” Cooper recalled.

Now, “Maestro” will be Cooper’s directorial follow-up to “A Star Is Born,” with himself also starring as Bernstein opposite with Carey Mulligan, who plays Bernstein’s wife, Felicia Montealegre.

“[Spielberg] was kind enough to hand it off to me, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last four and a half years, and we start shooting in May,” Cooper said. “Steven has a lot of interests — he’ll just choose one thing and all of the other things will be on hold. I think he knew he wasn’t going to make that movie for a while.”

And Cooper also has his eye on writing and directing an adaptation of Milton’s poem “Paradise Lost,” after the 2012 project in which Cooper was cast as Satan fell through.

“The thing that I just cannot live with myself is if I didn’t use that time to work as hard as I could to get it to the best place it could be,” Cooper said. “I grew up with this idea that we do what we do for a living; I dreamt it. I don’t know if I ever dreamt this big. I don’t even know if I allowed myself to. Shame on me if I don’t work hard, and I’m here now. I’m not going to squander this. No way, man. No way. It all comes from love.”

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