- The Washington Times - Friday, June 5, 2009

Bradley Cooper is not just a pretty face.

The 34-year-old actor can talk intelligently about how Hollywood is faring in the new economy. He can wax rhapsodic about films from Iran and Finland he saw as a juror for this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. He not only can list the usual suspects with whom he’d like to work (everyone says Martin Scorsese) but launch into his love for 73-year-old British actress Glenda Jackson. He even can discuss the work of Vladimir Nabokov — and pronounce the Russian novelist’s name correctly.

But let’s face it — it’s primarily that pretty face that’s going to make him a star.

Mr. Cooper hasn’t yet carried a hit on his own. But if his smoldering performance earlier this year as a strangely sympathetic cad in “He’s Just Not That Into You” is any indication, it’s just a matter of time until he does

“The Hangover,” his latest film, gives him his best chance yet to shine. He plays the best man who, along with the two groomsmen, must find the groom after a Las Vegas bachelor party goes very much awry. He’s the cool and confident alpha male of the ragtag group that has to reconstruct what happened before they blacked out. Warner Bros. liked it so much, it commissioned a sequel before it even opened.

Mr. Cooper, visiting the District last month, doesn’t answer immediately when asked what it’s like being an actor on the verge of becoming a major star.

“That’s all sort of conjecture,” he says after a pause. When told he has quite a presence on-screen, he starts laughing and jokes, “Not in person, but on-screen.”

The chuckles give him a chance to compose a more serious response. “That would be wonderful, because that would mean I’d be able to do what I love,” he says. “My problem is, I can’t afford to have any grandiose thoughts because I’m only going to be disappointed. So I try to just stay present. Because the truth is, who knows?”

That’s not to say he hasn’t given any thought to what it takes to get to the top — but he hasn’t overthought it, either.

“Basically, it’s a pretty simple strategy of work with great directors and great actors,” he says. There’s one exception. He was memorable as the preppie sleazeball in “Wedding Crashers,” but he just turned down a “really great character” who was a villain, not wanting to get typecast.

The Philadelphia-born actor didn’t pursue his dream until he attended the Actors Studio Drama School in New York after leaving Georgetown University with a degree in Honors English. “My father was a literature major; I loved to read,” he recalls. “I knew I wanted to be an actor, but I wanted to go to Georgetown, but there was no theater program. I couldn’t imagine majoring in anything else, really.”

Instead, he combined his love of literature and film at Georgetown. “I did my thesis on Vladimir Nabokov and Alfred Appel, who just died [a few] days ago, who was a great scholar of Nabokov; I loved him,” he reports. His thesis, “Adapting to Lolita,” looked “at the integrity of her character through different media,” including the films made by Stanley Kubrick and Adrian Lyne. He thinks the two combined make the perfect film: “Because Adrian Lyne caught the visuals from the books and the characters and the feeling and had zero comedy, which the book is chock-full of, and Kubrick had tons of comedy.”

The actor reminisces fondly about his years in the District. “I love D.C.,” he says. “It’s so nice to come back.” He still can remember many favorite haunts. “I used to get the Sunday brunch at Filomena’s. We’d go downstairs, all you can eat,” he recalls. He also frequented Booeymonger and the Peacock Cafe, “which is now a huge place. It used to be a small little place on the corner.”

He was a waiter at a now-closed pizza joint managed by Laurent Menoud, who now manages Cafe Milano. He has less kind words for another D.C. hot spot, though. “My girlfriend used to work at Sequoia, and all the waiters used to hit on her — hated that place.”

Perhaps a legacy of his undergraduate years in the nation’s capital, Mr. Cooper is “fascinated” by politics. He was back here in early May to attend his second White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, as a guest of CNN. “I would basically go with anybody that would have me,” he says. “I campaigned for Obama. I was in Missouri two days before the election and watched him give a speech in Springfield in the back of a high school in a football field. It was unbelievable.”

Although he has wide interests and range as an actor, Mr. Cooper mostly has made a name for himself in comedies. He says it’s a little surprising — when he was in grad school, everyone saw him doing period dramas, playing a soldier in a World War II drama or starring in a Western.

The actor will be trodding the boards this summer, starring in Sam Shepard’s “True West” at the Williamstown Theater Festival.

Everyone wants to know, however, if he’s about to take on a very different project — the Internet is abuzz with rumors he’s set to star in comic-book adaptation, “The Green Lantern.”

“I haven’t been on the Internet in three weeks, because I don’t have my computer, but my mom told me that,” he says with a laugh. “That’s news to me. I don’t know anything about it.”

He would love to take the role, though. “I’ve always wanted to do something with action. I love sports, and I love physicality,” says the actor, who was a medalist on Georgetown’s heavyweight crew team.

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