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In "The Place Beyond the Pines," Cooper plays Avery Cross, an ambitious young police officer who crosses paths with a motorcycle-riding bank robber motivated by familial responsibilities (Ryan Gosling). While interviewing Cooper to promote today's home entertainment release of the film, Cooper told us Avery is "by far the most complicated character I've played on film." That's saying something, considering Solitano's issues.
Writer/director Derek Cianfrance's film is quite complex in its own right, which makes it challenging to properly discuss the intricacies of Cooper's stirring performance without doing some serious plot spoiling. So, for the good of the art, we went there. You've been properly warned.
That said, the interview below is a can't-miss – just like the film itself.
"The Place Beyond the Pines" blew my mind.
Bradley Cooper: It's something else, isn't it? Yeah. I agree with you, dude. I am so proud to be a part of that movie. I think he's an incredible director.
How do you describe this movie?
BC: That's a good question. I think it's a generational story about fathers and sons. I think is how I would describe it. Does that sound accurate? What it is to be a man – dealing with the idea of what it is to be a man.
Yeah. I didn't get that in the marketing.
I think that's a really good tag line. I was kind of surprised by what I did see on the screen. Pleasantly surprised, but there was something in the marketing I would have liked to have known more about.
BC: Yeah. It's a hard movie to market, man, because you don't want to give away the fact that your hero gets killed, because you want people to go to the movie. You also want to bring people in, so I think maybe you play up the violence. I'm just not sure. I don't envy those who had to market the movie.
Well, I think it will hold up and I definitely think it will do really well in home entertainment, because it's so interesting.
BC: Yes. I do too. I hope it gets out there because he's a director that should be reckoned with for many, many, many years. It was such an ambitious movie.
The only reason why I even did the movie was to work with Ryan Gosling, who I just think is incredible, and Derek, after meeting Derek.
But after doing the movie, man, I fell in love with that character. I think it's the most complicated character I've ever played. For sure.
How do you describe him?
BC: A man who is in quiet desperation to discover who he is. I think where Luke, Ryan's character, is sort of outwardly, animalistically expressing who he is as man, Avery is torn by the emotional dilemmas that he has in his life.
He is the son of a judge, growing up in the very blue-collar town of Schenectady. So he becomes a cop instead. But at the same time, he can't shy away from what it is that he's good at, which is being a leader. But in what sense? Because the world that he wants to lead is gray, it's not black and white. And even he is a part of that, a part of the shooting. Did he pull the trigger first? So he deals with the shame of that – the consequences of violence.
We watch our hero die in real time. He chooses to tell the story in a linear way. When you don't do that and you flashback, you give the audience some candy, where we could see Ryan in the flashback later in the movie.
But that's not the way life works. You know, I don't see flashbacks of my father. He's gone. And it's like Luke is gone. You see him in a photograph that Avery holds on to, but outside of that, that's it. I felt that that was a really bold thing that Derek did, that you don't really see, ever, in movies.
Was it written that way? Was the structure written in the script like that?
BC: Oh yeah, man. Oh yeah.
I was mesmerized.
BC: Because like all of a sudden he's shot, in a way that you never see, usually there will be like a slow motion thing or something, and he's gone and then the next thing you know the other guy is waking up in the hospital, and you're like, "What just happened?"
It's really, really effective. So, you didn't film many scenes with Ryan Gosling, but he was the reason you wanted to do the project?
BC: Yeah, I thought: I don't know if I'll ever get the opportunity again and I've got to take this one.
How many days did you guys work together?
BC: We just overlapped. It was two days, I think. But it felt very much like I was making the movie with him, because they shot all his stuff first and then I came on, and you could just feel – like his character – his presence there. The whole crew did "Blue Valentine" together, so I was definitely coming into a very family-like situation that I was coming and killing the chosen son. I mean it was pretty brutal.
It was intense man. It was intense. And I was very reluctant to do the movie because of that. And I hated the character that I was playing. But Derek and I really worked on Avery and we made him more complicated, more human, and more ambiguous. And it wound up being, I think, by far the most complicated character I've played on film. No question about it.
Even more complex than Phil [from "The Hangover"]?
BC: Well, yeah. I meant Pat, but yeah, Phil too. But there's something about Avery. And doing the age thing, meeting him at 29 and then having him be 40. I actually enjoyed playing the young guy with the flattop.
But you didn't have a mustache. What's going on?
BC: We talked about that, the early '90s wasn't mustache heavy, and we thought I would have looked very old if we'd have done that.
You said you hated the role, right? You hated Avery's character. So how did you choose to sign on for it? What was the part that made you say, "You know what, I hate this character, but I have to play him?"
BC: I have to say, it was Derek. He was relentless. And he was good to his word, too. He said, "Look, we're going to change him. We're going to make him more human and less stock." And he did that. I said, "Okay, I trust you." So we did it.
And how did you do that?
BC: Well, we took a lot of things out and made him more interesting, basically. Before, he was just sort of this ambitious guy who would do anything. It wasn't very intriguing. But I don't think Derek wanted to do that anyway, ever. That was just the incarnation that I read. He always said, "But that's not the guy. We're going to make him… you know." Which he does with everybody. He really is rewriting all the time and crafting it to how it should be with the character and with the actors that he chooses. He just said, "Look, this is going to a profound experience, just trust me." And he was more than right.
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See Bradley Cooper in "The Place Beyond the Pines" theatrical trailer: