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Bradley Cooper on ‘Maestro,’ How Will Arnett Helped Him Get Sober and Being Snubbed Twice at CAA’s Oscar Party


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Will Arnett kicked off the 100th episode of SmartLess in characteristic fashion by teasing co-hosts Jason Bateman and Sean Hayes with details about their guest — noting multihyphenate talents proven by armfuls of accolades and Oscar nominations — before he revealed a name.

“And above all, this is a person that we all adore,” Arnett continued. “This is a person who’s been part of our lives for a long time, that we’ve been on a journey with for a long time. He’s just an incredible guy.”

The guest: Bradley Cooper.

Presumably due to close ties and long showbiz roots — Cooper shared an apartment building with Arnett early in their Hollywood careers and praised relationships with Bateman and Hayes that date back 20 years — Cooper was in rare form. He revealed a lot during a wide-ranging, hourlong conversation that covered everything from his battles with substance abuse, how fatherhood has changed his life and perspective, the benefits of therapy, and his passion for filmmaking, specifically writing, directing, producing and starring in A Star Is Born and Maestro, the latter of which is currently shooting. He even said how wiping his daughter’s backside the other day while she was sitting on the toilet delivered “the fucking best moment of my life right now.”

There’s never a shortage of laugh-out-loud moments on SmartLess, and that remained true for Cooper’s episode. Beyond the jokes, there were plenty of earnest moments of sincere reflection, especially when Cooper shared specific anecdotes about his battle with substance abuse and eventual recovery. He praised Arnett for being a voice of reason in helping him understand that he had a problem and calling him “an Eskimo,” a term popular in 12-step programs referring to the person who helps get you sober.

Cooper said when he was coming up in the industry, a group of very popular comedians at the time were known for mean humor. Being “an insecure person,” he tried to mimic their behavior as a way to get people to like him, something he did while working on a TV show and at a particular dinner party. Shortly after, Arnett dropped by his apartment.

“Will was like, ‘Hey man, do you remember we had dinner the other night? How do you think that went?’ I was like, ‘I remember being at the dinner thinking I was so funny, and I thought these two guys who were my heroes thought that I was so funny.’ I thought it was great. I thought I was killing,” Cooper recalled. “Will’s like, ‘You were a real asshole, man. You were a real asshole.’”

Arnett then asked if he had yet taken his dogs out but he had not — and it was 4 p.m. “That was the first time I ever realized I had a problem with drugs and alcohol. … The guy that I think is doing mean humor is telling me the truth, and it changed my entire life.”

Cooper said that at the time he suffered from having “zero self-esteem” and as a result, he wasn’t aware he was hurting others because “how could I if I’m worthless?” He continued: “I was so lost, and I was addicted to cocaine.”

Though he didn’t specify how the injury happened, around the same time he “got fired/quit” a job on Alias, Cooper severed his Achilles tendon. “Will took that risk of having that hard conversation with me in, like, July of 2000, and that put me on a path of deciding to change my life. It truly was Will Arnett — he is the reason.”

Arnett, who has been open about his own recovery, then on the verge of tears, praised Cooper for getting to a place now where he’s truly comfortable and confident in his own skin. “It has been awesome seeing you in this place and seeing you comfortable, nothing has made me happier,” Arnett said, something he noticed after they spent time together recently in New York. “It’s made me happy to see you so happy with who you are.”

Cooper, who has played alcoholics in A Star Is Born and Nightmare Alley, chalked up the changes to therapy and being a dad to daughter Lea with ex Irina Shayk. “Fatherhood … everything changed,” he said. “Every single thing is absolutely shaded by or brought out in glorious colors by the fact that I get to be a father to a wonderful human being. It’s just the absolute greatest thing.”

He also perked up while talking about his new film project, Maestro, for Netflix. Cooper is playing legendary conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein and is directing from a script he wrote with Josh Singer. “I always wanted to be a conductor since I was a kid [watching] Bugs Bunny, Tom & Jerry,” he said. “Spending hundreds of hours by myself as a kid pretending I could conduct, like an air guitar.”

In the film, he stars opposite Carey Mulligan, Matt Bomer, Jeremy Strong, Sarah Silverman and Maya Hawke, and Cooper was quick to say that the film is not a biopic but rather a love story about marriage and a story about family. He revealed that he also cast acclaimed film, TV and theater director Scott Ellis in an undisclosed role. (“He’s perfect for this role. I asked him to do it and he said yes. I’m so excited.”)

“It’s been four and a half years in the making and I feel very grateful,” he said. “I just did all this research about this incredible family, the Bernsteins, and Felicia Montealegre, [Leonard’s] wife. Their relationship — fascinating — and the kids. They’re so articulate about their feelings. There’s the movie; a movie about marriage, a movie about family. That’s it. Why is it nuclear? Because it’s this fucking music. Music is nuclear. I had a secret weapon in A Star Is Born. It was Lady Gaga. The secret weapon I have in this movie is fucking Leonard Bernstein and Gustav Mahler. The music!”

The dishiest part of the podcast came when Cooper opened up about some awkward encounters he had with unnamed stars at two separate Oscar parties thrown by his agency, CAA. Four years ago, he was there and, at the time, he had seven Oscar nominations, “which is crazy — it’s nuts.” He found himself in conversation with an actress and a director.

The director quizzed them both on how many nominations they had and the actress reported that she had three, to which the filmmaker said, “What world are we living in where you have seven nominations and she’s only got three?’ I’m like, ‘Bro, why are you such an asshole.’ I would never fucking forget that. Fuck yourself.”

Years earlier, in 2011, he had a similarly awkward exchange with a fellow actor at the same party. Cooper had scored his first nomination, for Silver Linings Playbook, in a category that included Daniel Day-Lewis, Hugh Jackman, Joaquin Phoenix and Denzel Washington. “I’m, like, levitating,” he said about being recognized in that category. “This hero female actress that I didn’t know at all comes up to me. She’s like, ‘I saw your movie. You deserve the nom. I was like, ‘What? I’m sorry, what?’ ‘The nom.’ Then like 10 or 20 minutes later — I’m not kidding — I passed her going to the bathroom and she mouths it, ‘The nom.’ I remember [thinking], what the fuck is this town?’”

It was her way of offering a backhanded compliment that meant he was good enough to be nominated but not good enough to win. Not everyone is so unkind. Arnett closed the episode the same way he started it, with a series of effusive compliments for his longtime friend. “We love you, man. Just keep fucking doing it. I don’t think I’d ever say this earnestly to anybody, but keep fucking reaching for the stars and hitting it outside of the park and taking big swings. It’s fucking awesome and inspiring. Just love you, dude.”

Listen to the full SmartLess episode here, from Amazon Music and Wondery.

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