“He is ridiculously different in real life,” The Hangover director Todd Phillips shared, referring to the laid-back presentation that actor Bradley Cooper is known for. “People think he is just playing a version of himself, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Describing the 44-year-old as “vulnerable,” Phillips, speaking to The Hollywood Reporter in 2012, was keen to dispel Cooper’s thoroughly false, frat boy-esque reputation. “There’s a warmth to him you would never know.”
Cooper grew up just outside Philadelphia with his parents and sister. His father was a stockbroker and his mother, of Italian heritage, was a homemaker. His Irish father instilled solid, Catholic morals, which stuck like glue through his early years and adolescence. Cooper always remained close to his father, even abandoning Hollywood for Philadelphia when his father fell ill with cancer, and eventually passed away in January of 2011.
“I’m Catholic in my bones,” Cooper shared, claiming that he still prays daily.
Cooper’s conviction has been tested over the years, however. Most notably, the actor has been sober since the age of 29, when substance abuse reached a terrifying apex. “I was so concerned what you thought of me,” Cooper opened up at eight years sober. “I always felt like an outsider,” he continued. “I realized I wasn’t going to live up to my potential. I thought, ‘Wow, I’m actually gonna ruin my life; I’m really gonna ruin it.'”
An ultimately successful battle to achieve sobriety turned Cooper’s life around. As did an unlikely character who cropped up with increasing regularity.
At the age of 12, Cooper watched David Lynch’s 1980 movie adaptation of The Elephant Man on television. “The film haunted me,” Cooper revealed. “I could not stop crying.” The young boy felt a profound identification with Joseph Merrick, the deformed 19th-century Englishman who wore the moniker of “the Elephant Man” throughout his life. Cooper later journeyed to London to see Merrick’s personal possessions, and knew that Merrick would inform his creative direction in the future.
Director, Bradley Cooper on the red carpet at the #VeniceFilmFestival for #AStarIsBorn.
As a Georgetown graduate, Cooper borrowed US$70,000 in student loans to join the Actors Studio Drama School at The New School in New York. The ambitious student tackled The Elephant Man for his master’s thesis. Dean James Lipton gushed to Cooper’s parents at the time: “Your son will go all the way.”
And go all the way he did. “I hit 39 and I stopped and I said, ‘What do I really want to do?'” Cooper shared in an interview with National Public Radio in 2018. “I want to tell Joseph Merrick’s story in The Elephant Man,” he continued. “So I did.”
Merrick isn’t the only figure that has kept Cooper’s heart brimming with faith and ambition, however. “Having a child, and having a family of my own,” the hardworking actor revealed, “which is a miracle and something I’ve always dreamt of, has opened me up even more, I guess, to the day, and to be present.” Cooper’s baby daughter Lea De Seine was born in 2017, and fatherhood brings back fond memories.
“My dad works his way into my life every day,” the actor shared, wistfully. “Luckily, thank God, I still dream about him.”
“He comes into my dreams.”