(NEW YORK) — Odds are you know Bradley Cooper from his work in comedies like Wedding Crashers and The Hangover movies, but it was a long time coming before Cooper became a household Hollywood name.
“For me, Hangover was a huge shift in terms of being recognized more and having more opportunity,” he said. “But the truth is, that it has been such a slow, incremental growth for me in this business.”
While you can see Cooper now on magazine covers, or squiring stunning actresses in the tabloids, or promoting his movies in Paris while speaking French, this son of a stockbroker was raised with his sister outside of Philadelphia and didn’t start acting until he attended Georgetown University. And he wasn’t ticketed for the celebrity A-list.
“I never walked through my life being like, having to deal with ‘Oh, he’s just too good looking,'” Cooper said. “Sack Lodge [his character in Wedding Crashers] was not the handsome a–hole. A lot of the feedback was ‘Bradley, you’re such a nice guy. No edge. You’ve got no edge.’ I was really bummed out by that.”
In fact, Cooper’s first reoccurring Hollywood role was alongside Jennifer Garner as Sydney in the hit TV drama Alias, in 2002. He was Will Tippin, a reporter who investigates Sydney’s fiancé’s death.
Back then, Cooper said he would read online comments on Alias fan message boards and even now, he hasn’t forgotten what they said.
“‘Who is this guy? He needs to take a shower,’ and ‘God, please don’t let Sydney wind up with him,’ and I was like, ‘Oh my God,'” Cooper said. “Next thing you know, the New York Times does an article about the impact of message boards and cites my character as being a hated character, and I literally thought the world is going to end. It was incredible.”
Now a decade later, 37-year-old Cooper is going deep, starring alongside Jennifer Lawrence of Hunger Games fame, in what could be career-altering roles for both of them, in David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook. Cooper plays Pat Solitano, a former teacher who moves back in with his parents after an eight-month stint in a mental institution. It’s a part Cooper said he nearly spurned.
“I am from Philly. I’m Italian and Irish. I’m a huge Eagles fan, and [my character’s] parents are like my parents in many ways, but I thought, ‘I’m not right for this,'” he said. “I just got terrified. I never really had to cry on film, I’ve never had to do that.”
Cooper does that, and a lot more, as Pat Solitano tries to win back his wife and jousts with his father, played by Robert DeNiro, who wanted to bring this story even closer to home for Cooper.
“[DeNiro] goes, ‘What do you think about, maybe your mom should play your mom. I’m going to talk to David,'” Cooper said. “Which was literally, would have literally halted the movie. I’m sorry mom, but it was intense.”
The film is being buzzed about for end-of-the-year awards and such, but to some, Cooper is already enjoying the ultimate acclaim: While shooting the movie, he was named People magazine’s “Sexist Man Alive” for 2011. His crowning spawned outrage from devastated Ryan Gosling fans, and protesters even picketed the magazine’s offices in New York City.
“It was brutal,” Cooper said. “I really did think it was joke. I thought Dax Shepard [Cooper’s friend and star of the TV series, Parenthood] did it. Then I thought, ‘People aren’t going to like that.’ I really thought that. I thought, ‘This isn’t a good thing,’ and I went, ‘Do I have to do it? Can I say no?’ They’re like, yeah, you could, but be thankful,’ and I said OK, OK.”
Despite the controversy it raised, Cooper joked he petitioned to make the “Sexiest Man Alive” title a two-year reign.
“That’s what I was hoping for,” he said. “Like Bloomberg. I just feel like, why not? I think honestly it makes everyone feel better that, ‘If this guy is the sexiest, then I am doing well.'”
Cooper’s unexpected stature in this unlikely career has even more improbable origin. When Cooper saw that a student from his private high school in Philadelphia had gotten into Georgetown, he decided to follow her there.
“It was a pipe dream,” he said.
He was rejected at first, but a year later, he tried again, and got in.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” Cooper said. “It was a huge thing. It was a huge lesson of don’t give up.”
His time at Georgetown would lead him to his life’s ambition, acting, and to a blessing of sorts from his once-skeptical father, who died last year.
“When he saw my thesis, which was The Elephant Man, afterwards, he sort of hugged me and was crying, and he was like, ‘You got to do this for your living,'” Cooper said. “I saw this switch happen… it was awesome. It was amazing, yeah, it was incredible.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Henry Hanks, CNN Newswire
Brian Stelter, CNN Newswire