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Always the Groomsman . . .

Supporting player Bradley Cooper finally gets a comedy lead in The Hangover

By Wendy Ward | Posted 6/3/2009

It was a bright, warm Friday afternoon in early May when a bleached-blond Matthew Modine was sighted in the lobby of the Ritz Carlton in Georgetown. "I took the train with him and he had a seersucker suit on," Bradley Cooper leans over and whispers. He's sitting, much more casually attired in a white jersey tee and chambray flat front trousers, in the hotel's small but tall round conference room--it used to be a grain silo--and messing around with City Paper's cell-phone-sized Flip video camcorder.

Besides doing press interviews for his upcoming movie The Hangover, Cooper is in Washington for the White House Press Dinner--and maybe that's why Modine is here, too. "He looks like a character out of some sort of Tuck Everlasting or something--you know that book?" He rubs his eyes--it's late in the afternoon. "I don't know where to put this," he says about the Flip. "It'd be great to get a wide shot." Actors are always aware of the camera and Cooper never forgets it's there even though he seems like just a normal guy.

A ruggedly handsome man with blondish hair long enough to tuck behind his ears and blue eyes framed by smile-created crows feet appropriate for his mid-30s, Cooper has all the refined features--if he kept his hair short--to play a moneyed snob in Wedding Crashers or a metrosexual drama counselor in Wet Hot American Summer. Somehow he played Anthony Bourdain in television's short-lived Kitchen Confidential--maybe because he charms you before you even think about it--and played bit parts in last year's Yes Man and this year's He's Just Not That Into You. He's been around the block.

But The Hangover, a sort of mystery comedy directed by Old School's Todd Phillips, gives Cooper his first leading role in a major motion picture. Although the cast operates as an ensemble--he is joined by Zach Galifianakis and Ed Helms on the hunt for missing bridegroom Justin Bartha after a bachelor party--it's Cooper's naughtily smooth, sexy, and slightly sweet Phil who holds the reins of this wild mustang of an adventure through Las Vegas. If it sounds like a certain 1980s comedy with Tom Hanks, it's more like the day after. "Luckily we don't have the gall to think we're going up against Bachelor Party," Cooper says. "Why try and take down a Goliath?"

Why not? Cooper performed on stage as John Merrick in The Elephant Man for his master's thesis at the Actors Studio in New York almost 10 years ago--which he still calls "the best experience I ever had in my life as an actor"--and looks up to Daniel Day-Lewis.

"He's the best, but I think that sort of . . . everybody says that, don't they?" Cooper admits. "I could watch him forever. He's the goal, the ultimate goal."

Hard to see where such sober acting turned down the comedy path Cooper's been on, but that doesn't mean he wants to dissect it. "Yeah, I don't know, man," Cooper says. "It's weird. People have a weird time talking about comedy. Jerry Seinfeld's great at talking about comedy. He talks about it sorta in a mathematical way. But me? I know what I think is funny. I mean, I know people I think are funny and I try and work with them and then I sort of hide behind them. And then they're like, 'You were so funny in that movie.' And when you look back on it, I really wasn't very funny. I was just in the movie."

He's being modest, because he's really good in The Hangover--which is a separate thing from the players having a good time while working on it (see costars Zach Galifianakis and Ed Helms). "I remember watching Maverick--remember that movie with Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster?" Cooper says. "I remember them saying they had the best time in the world. That movie was awful.

"This movie . . . ," he continues, "I saw it--and I think I have a pretty objective eye, even with stuff I'm in--and I'd be the first to say that it's not good, you know, but it's really good. I think it's a really good movie. If you're asking me what I think, I think it's a great movie."

He's being cheeky, but it is a good funny movie. The nudity helped: Four different men's butts are featured in it. "And none of them were mine," Cooper says. "My butt is hilarious. I gave a good audition, I don't know what happened. They said it was down to you and a few other butts. And for a second there we thought . . . the business affairs [office] had called and checked our quotes, our butt quotes--you know how much we'd get for a day--and then all of a sudden they called and said, 'Thank you and we'll keep you in our thoughts, but we're going to go with another butt.'"

Fortunately, Cooper isn't giving up on baring all--or at least some. "I'm up for this butt trilogy that I think I'm going to get: Untitled Butt Picture," he quips. After all, Daniel Day-Lewis was nude in 1988's Stars and Bars.

But all kidding aside, maybe after The Hangover, Cooper will be offered the kind of leading roles he hasn't yet. "I really have to go after everything," he says. "I put myself on tape at home in my house. I did the other day when I was home in New York, I put myself on tape for a role the director won't even see me for. I think people's perception [of my range] maybe is different than what the truth is. But, that's the truth, as unsexy as that is, that's the truth."

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