By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Bradley Cooper may not be the first person you think of when casting a mentally unstable and emotionally vulnerable individual forced to move in with his elderly parents (played by Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver) after completing a court-ordered institutionalization. But the Philadelphia native was exactly who David O. Russell (“Three Kings,” “The Fighter”) wanted for the role of Pat, the cockeyed bi-polar optimist trying to get his life back together at the center of “Silver Linings Playbook.”
Based on the Matthew Quick novel, this dramedy is Russell’s first screen adaptation. (His previous films were original works, either written by him or other writers.) It tells the story of Pat, a troubled man from blue-collar Italian-American Philadelphia family, who returns home to try and rebuild his life and mend his marriage, and ends up befriending a beautiful but fellow broken soul named Tiffany (“Hunger Games’” Jennifer Lawrence), who shows him another path.
Cooper, 37, was uncertain initially he could handle the complex and manic Pat, but he left himself in the hands of Russell, who had previously guided Christian Bale to an Academy Award winning performance in “The Fighter,” a 2010 drama set in close-knit blue-collar town.
“What David cares about is telling an authentic story about a specific group of people and a family in a specific house on a specific block,” Cooper says. “All he really cares about is making it as authentic as possible. Any actor involved in that experience is going to have a rewarding result. All of David’s characters in all of his movies are very dynamic. They’re dealing with emotions we can all relate to, but just a little bit heightened. And that was very fun and scary to play because you can’t fake it. And when you’re in a scene with Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker or Robert De Niro, they’re not going to let you fake it either.”
The handsome Cooper says he also was excited to be working with De Niro again, with whom he’d previously co-starred in last year’s “Limitless.”
“I fell in love with that guy,” the blue-eyed actor says, sitting next to his movie idol during a press conference. “Growing up and seeing his movies and being a massive fan, getting a chance to work with him for a second time and to play his son was just incredible.”
Russell says he couldn’t think of anyone better than Cooper for the role.
“I found that Bradley had, as we spoke, so much of the perceptive directness, fierceness and vulnerability the Pat Solitano character had,” he says. “He was very hungry to play an intense, unexpected character, which is the best timing for a director.”
As for Lawrence, she was chosen from dozens of established actresses who were dying to grab the juicy role as Tiffany.
“She possesses many qualities of the character,” he says of the blonde beauty, who currently is filming “The Hunger Games” sequel. “She has a great maturity, emotionally. She also has a great confidence but also a great vulnerability. She was an exciting presence for everybody. When you have somebody there with a lot of charisma and emotion coming off of them, it just helps the whole process.”
“Plus, she was taking off like a rocket ship while the film was being shot,” he continues. “At the beginning of the film, she was asking Bradley what it’s like for people to be photographing you on the street and by the end of filming she had some idea about that.”
Russell discovered the Quick story about five years ago, when his friend, the late filmmaker Sidney Pollack gave him the novel, which he owned the rights to along with filmmaker Anthony Minghella (who also since has passed away), and studio mogul Harvey Weinstein.
“If it were not for my son, who’s had some of these struggles with bi-polarity and other matters, the book would not have grabbed me,” explains Russell. “But it did grab me and I was pleased to write (the screenplay). The characters were fantastic, complicated and powerful.”
The project, however, was shelved until Russell completed “The Fighter.” That delay was a blessing in disguise, he says.
“I was able to really focus my energy on this kind of world, which I’ve come to really appreciate as a filmmaker, and to try and do the best as I can,” he says.
After wrapping “The Fighter,” Russell dove back into “Silver Linings Playbook,” and began to cast it with Cooper, Weaver (“Animal Kingdom”) and De Niro “(Goodfellas”). Lawrence, 22, came late to the casting, but Russell knew as soon as he saw her Skype audition, that she was Tiffany, a young and recent police widow with a bad reputation in town.
“I had the privilege of getting to know Mr. De Niro over the years and we were able to have a personal dialogue about members of our family who had faced various challenges,” recalls the filmmaker. “It’s nice when you can have that emotional gateway into the material. It makes it very specific and personal to you and you care about it.”
Of Cooper, he says, “When I saw him in ‘The Wedding Crashers,’ he seemed like a very angry person to me, and when I got to know him, he was only more interesting. As the character (in ‘Silver Linings Playbook’) is reintroducing himself to his community, so is Bradley when we meet him in the picture, as an actor. I don’t think people have seen that face of him in cinema before.”
Cooper hails Jenkinsville, a Philadelphia suburb near where the film was shot over a 33-day period, so the tone and feel of the film was familiar to him.
To prepare for his role, the actor watched several documentaries and read about depression and people with bipolar disorders. Plus, he relied on his own upbringing to establish the character as uniquely Philadelphian.
“It really helped that I’m Italian-Irish,” he says. “Everything smelled and looked and felt real because that’s how I grew up. So I was very lucky in that I had 37 years of preparation for the role. And then it was just David guiding me. He said that bipolar people are like snowflakes—no two are the same. There’s not a general wash of bipolarity that one can play. It’s very specific to this guy. Traumatic events trigger something in him that puts him in a manic state. He doesn’t have a filter. It’s about finding those moments and inserting them into the scene and being able to modulate it so that it’s not overbearing.”
The Australian Weaver, who plays Pat’s caring and put-upon mom, says she took her dialect cue from Cooper to master the local accent.
Russell didn’t stop with Cooper for unexpected casting. He tapped Chris Tucker, best known for his “Rush Hour” comedies, as Pat’s best friend from the asylum.
“He was another great revelation for us,” he says of Tucker. “You have a guy that we haven’t seen enough of since “Rush Hour.” That lends to the reality of a fellow that’s been in a (mental) hospital.”
Tucker says he is grateful to Russell for believing in him.
“It was a small role but there was so much depth to the character,” he says of playing Pat’s best friend Danny. “David brought so many things out of me. He was right there with me along the way, especially with the dialogue. It made me look smart, actually. This is one of the most important roles I’ve ever done because a lot of people haven’t seen me play a dramatic role and I had a good time doing it.”
Russell says he rehearsed the actors but encouraged spontaneity during shooting.
“Mr. De Niro’s a director and (Cooper) is probably going to one day be a director, so we had very smart people putting their brains on the script helping me while I was shaping the scene,” he generously explains. “By the time we got to (shooting a scene) everyone understood the rhythm. Once people get the rhythm, it’s almost like a song and they dive right into it. The intensity of emotion (is important to me). As a filmmaker, I like to grab people by the throat with a sustained intensity of emotion that doesn’t really stop. Every actor has their moments as a result of that. To see Mr. De Niro cry (as he does during a climatic part of the movie) surprised us all.”
As Pat, Cooper agrees to enter a dance competition with Tiffany so she will agree to deliver a message to his estranged wife, whom he still holds a torch. Pat and Tiffany’s relationship evolves through the course of the movie and eventually they start to have feelings for one another. Dancing and acting with the much younger but equally talented Lawrence was both scary and exciting for the actor.
“It’s a hell of a way to meet somebody,” he says with a chuckle. “I didn’t know Jennifer before I met her at (a dance studio). The next thing I knew we were sweating and she has her hands under my armpits. It was very embarrassing. But she was wonderful. The dance came to life the same way the rest of the movie came to life. It was a very collaborative experience that was very organic.”
“The dance actually reflects the relationship (between Pat and Tiffany) in many ways,” he adds. “There’s almost a bipolar aspect to it. And I like to dance, so it was fun to do that. But I feel bad that Bob (De Niro) and Chris (Tucker) had to watch us dance for 16 hours a day for three days.”
Getting the family dynamic was a little trickier for Cooper but he had help from his co-stars.
“Bob (De Niro) really championed me to get the role,” he recalls fondly. “I confided in him early on that I didn’t know if I could do it. He was like, ‘You’re from Philly. You’re going to be fine.’ I knew I could look at him and say “dad,” and that would come from a real place. That was built in. Jacki was just like a miracle. She’s the same height as my mother. She was able to command her spirit, and it all just sort of clicked.”
Working on location contributed to the family atmosphere for cast and crew alike.
“The house was very much a part of that magic that occurred,” Cooper says. “It also helped that we had somebody cooking in the kitchen so it smelled like homemades (Italian dishes). There’s nothing like walking in one of those houses and smelling Italian food being cooked. It felt authentic.”
“I’m Italian-American and Jewish-Russian-American, and I felt like I knew these people,” he says of his cast and the local extras. “When you have that warm feeling, everybody on set feels it.”
Weaver says she felt maternal towards Cooper after a while.
“To know Bradley is to love him,” she says in her scratchy Aussie accent. “I’ve got a son about the same age as him so it wasn’t hard to conjure up the feelings I have for him. In fact, I got so involved in one scene that was very emotional, that I was supposed to scream “Pat!” and (instead) I screamed “Brad!” And Brad said, “who the f*** is Brad?” But I was in the moment.”
As the superstitious Eagles fanatic, De Niro plays a familiar offbeat character but in a unique way. The Oscar winning actor, who doesn’t like to discuss his acting process, says it was all-intuitive.
“You use part of you that’s applicable to the situation and the circumstances,” he says. “Also, I have personal understandings of the situation—different—but you can apply that. It’s whatever works, as long as you don’t hurt anybody or yourself.”
Cooper says he hopes to one day direct a movie and will use many of the tricks he learned from Russell while making “Silver Linings Playbook.”
“One of the best things that happened in my life was being able to do this movie with him,” he praises. “There are some practical things I learned from him that I will steal completely when I direct. In fact, the two movies I’ve done since this, I’ve gone up to the director and said, ‘I think we should put the camera there.’”
“More than as a filmmaker, he’s taught me many things as a man and human being,” he continues. “When you show up on a David O. Russell set, you have to let go of what you think your character is going to be and allow yourself to take that plunge into the abyss and just know that he’ll be down there to say, ‘it’s OK, just come with me.’ I had the luxury (of working with Russell) for 33 days.”