He's been in a string of popular films, including "Wedding Crashers," "Limitless" and "The A-Team," but it was his role as Phil in 2009's "The Hangover" that put him squarely in the limelight. Actor Bradley Cooper, a Philadelphia native and Georgetown University graduate, is now seeing his personal life become tabloid fodder. The 36-year-old dated Renee Zellweger and has been linked to Jennifer Aniston. He reprises his role as Phil in "The Hangover Part II," which opens in theaters Thursday.
Excerpts from an interview:
Q: Your character Phil in both "Hangover" movies is the alpha male, the leader. In your pre-fame life, were you an instigator, a leader?
A: I think I sort of have all elements in me. I can easily not be and also have been, it sort of depends. It depends on the situation.
Q: What's the worst real-life trouble you've ever gotten into?
A: Oh boy, I can't answer that. (Laughs) I mean, I was arrested when I was 15 for underage drinking. That was pretty bad. I couldn't get my license for a year. So that was a big deal not to get your license until you are 17! That was a huge deal.
Q: Did that straighten you out?
A: You know what, it did actually -- um, ish -- (Laughs). It wasn't like I was always getting in trouble, at all. One thing, I was always honest with my parents, for the most part. I wasn't somebody who lived a double life.
Q: When you revisit a character as you did in "The Hangover Part II," is it easier?
A: I had never done it before, so for me I found it to be immensely pleasurable. I'd gone through so much since the first "Hangover," making "A-Team," "Limitless" and just personally and just growing as a man, as a human being. It was so interesting to play Phil again, because Phil changes, because I'm the one playing Phil. I think Phil is more grounded. I found it to be effortless.
The imaginary world that I'm living as Phil is inhabited by Zach (Galifianakis) and Ed (Helms) and (director) Todd Phillips, who all just make it effortless. I saw the movie and to me I can't see anybody acting. There's a real, like, effortlessness to it. I'm really proud of this movie and I love playing Phil and I love Phil in this movie. He seems really mad there isn't going to be a bachelor party. A little mad in general -- he's a little agro. (Laughs) I thought it was better than the first one. It's a very strong movie. It's dark. It's comedy. It's this weird wonderful relationship these three guys have. It's a much more ambitious movie.
Q: Do you have to become comfortable with failure to succeed as an actor?
A: No question about it. It has definitely gotten easier to deal -- to receive rejection, to be rejected about something you have invested in. I wouldn't say I don't take it personally because it is such a personal thing that I do, but I'm just able to let it run its course through me in a less damaging way.
Q: It's kind of ironic that you don't drink anymore and both "Hangover" movies are about overdoing it.
A: Right. (Laughs) Well, I did a lot of research.
Q: You've played a lot of unlovable self-centered characters, and I understand you are up for the part of Lucifer in "Paradise Lost." This must be a dream come true for an English major.
A: I have a long history with that project. I took a Milton class in college and we spent half of the semester on "Paradise Lost." I was completely infatuated with Lucifer, because I'd never seen him portrayed in such a way. He was the most charismatic character in the poem and made a very, very compelling argument as to why God was wrong.
I remember actually inquiring if anybody had the rights to "Paradise Lost" and, ironically, Legendary Pictures always had it. Legendary Pictures made "The Hangover." So I met with (producer) Thomas Tull. This is 2-1/2, 3 years ago. I said, "Just so you know, I know you guys have that in your back pocket and I'd love to throw my hat in the ring. I'd love to play Lucifer. I love the poem and here's my take on it." He was, like, "Thank you." (Laughs). The guy from "The Hangover" wanting to play Lucifer. But Thomas Tull is such a great guy and he really believed in me. You know, it's been a process, but I put myself on tape for it (recently) and it looks like we're going to make it. Hopefully, we do make the movie, and if we do make the movie I will be Lucifer. Honestly, it's like a dream. I am over the moon about it.
Q: Speaking of evil, what is your reaction, if any, to tabloid stories about your love life, and is it difficult?
A: You know, it's interesting that you bring that up just because lately I've had to deal with that more, like the paparazzi in the very beginning. When I say "very beginning," literally the first month. It took me at least a month to learn what template I would have to use to deal with this idea in my life. You want to hit them, you know? But that's exactly what they want. I have completely come to terms with the paparazzi -- the tabloid stuff. I've not yet become Zen about it, because they can write very hurtful things that are completely false. I mean, it's incredible when they say "A source says ... or somebody close to the actor says ..." I don't care so much honestly about me, but when it hurts people that I know, that really, really upsets me. I've definitely looked into ways of legally already trying to do stuff.