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…but then there was this group called the Nomadic Theatre troupe, and I kind of felt like okay, I can jive with these guys, so I auditioned for some plays and I played Azolan, the servant in Dangerous Liaisons, was the first thing I had done…

—Bradley Cooper, NPR’s Fresh Air, May 25, 2011

 

 

 

I discovered Bradley Cooper.

Really, I did.

I cast him (or rather we cast him—my friend and co-director Brian Rath and I) in the first play he ever did, a Nomadic Theatre production of Christopher Hampton’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses, staged in the spring of 1995 at our mutual alma mater, Georgetown University.

I’ve been loath to disclose this piece of Greg Olear trivia because a) discovering the actor who played Face in the A-Team movie is not in quite the same strata as discovering a new planet or the cure for cancer; b) unlike Jessica Anya Blau’s full-frontal encounter with Smurf-schlonged Hollywood Leading Man X (who had, at the time, about the same Q rating Cooper does right now), there’s not much to the story; and c) as Ouisa so eloquently puts it in Six Degrees of Separation (written, incidentally, by John Guare, another Georgetown alumnus), “Let’s not be starfuckers.”

But the situation has changed. Bradley Cooper’s sudden and unavoidable ubiquity has forced my hand. I can’t seem to escape him. Consider:

>> Last weekend, The Hangover II established a new box office record for live-action comedy, and has now grossed some $200 million—or about $200 million more than our play grossed.

>> My father-in-law’s therapeutic herbal remedy company, Herbasway Laboratories, wrangled a tie-in with the aforementioned film to promote one of its signature products, the “hangover helper” Last Round (it really works, by the way; if your ambition is to be a literary lush, I recommend you give it a whirl), so even he has been singing the praises of said bohunk.

>> Cooper has once again dished about his formative experience in our play, this time to NPR, and thus his celebrated name has been a constant in my Facebook feed.

>> I found, while packing up the old house two weeks ago, photographic evidence of our association (see below).

The time has come to tell the tale. Starfucker I must be.

 

* * *

 

Let me set the stage.

Georgetown is known for producing politicians (Bill Clinton) and NBA centers (Patrick Ewing). But my alma mater is, and always has been, a sneaky arts school. Among its notable alumni are The Exorcist author William Peter Blatty, Guare, Arrested Development creator Mitchell Hurwitz, Fugazi guitarist Guy Picciotto, and acting legend John Barrymore.

Overlapping my time on campus were the Memento screenwriter Jonathan Nolan; the Emmy-winning director Michael Sucsy; my friend Dave Berman, who plays the assistant coroner on CSI (and who would have been in the play if he weren’t studying abroad that semester); comedian Mike Birbiglia; Vertical Horizon’s Matt Scannell; and the playwright/TV writer/comic book writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, my friend and sometime mentor, who was hired a few months ago to re-work the script of Spiderman: The Musical.

For a school of nascent lawyers and diplomats, not too shabby.

In 1995, there were two drama companies on campus: the venerable and stuffy Mask & Bauble, and Nomadic Theatre, the young upstart known for breezy comedies like Dracula: The Musical (in which I played Van Helsing my freshman year). The two enjoyed a friendly rivalry, and it was our ambition crush M&B and establish Nomadic as top dog. To do this, we needed to stage an ambitious play, and stage it well.

Les Liaisons Dangereuses fit the bill. A demanding and difficult play, it is three solid hours of precise dialogue, ornate costumes (which we avoided by setting the action in the 1920s; men in tuxedos, women in gowns), and swordplay. The lead, Valmont—John Malkovich in the movie—is on stage for most of those three hours, almost never stops talking, and dies after an extensively choreographed swordfight. It’s not an easy part to pull off.

But we had the man for the job: our friend Bandar al-Hejin, a gifted actor who was also stunningly handsome. He’d smoldered his way through a production of Rope the year before, establishing his bona fides theatrical and heartthrob. We selected the play with Bandar in mind.

Madame de Merteuil, the Glenn Close part, is critical to the success of the show; for the play to succeed, we had to find someone who could go toe to toe with Bandar. Fortunately, we did: despite having to audition with a talentless schmuck in leather pants who handed out headshots, and who made it clear that he was the son of some Hollywood director we’d never heard of and therefore the Second Coming of Brad Pitt—as soon as he left the room, Brian tore up his headshot and screamed, “Fuck him!”—Lucy Ellenbogen dazzled in her try-out, and only got better as the play went along.

Rounding out the talented and attractive cast were Lucy Barzun Donnelly (who won an Emmy and a Golden Globe last year for producing Grey Gardens), Noelle Coates, Destiny Lopez, Maggie Kemper, Alexia Paul, Roman Kindrachuk, and Brady Richards, one of my best friends (who, among his many other talents, fashions Beer Buckles).

Azolan, a secondary part, is Valmont’s valet: his servant, but also his confidante, his comic straight man, his partner in crime. A fin de siècle DSK like Valmont, we decided, would employ someone young and handsome as a wingman. That’s what we were looking for at the audition.

We narrowed it down to two actors: Oliver, a Mask & Bauble veteran who delivered the lines with saucy aplomb; and a sophomore transfer student who’d never been on stage before in his life. He was a bit wooden, the newcomer, a bit stiff, but we liked that; we didn’t want Azolan upstaging—or, worse, trying unsuccessfully to upstage—Valmont. We felt a guy this raw would deliver the lines, many of them jokes, without acting like a stand-up comic.

Plus, he was a good complement to our lead. Bandar was dark and handsome, slender and on the short side. The new guy was tall, more filled in, and blonde. And he was good-looking. Fantabulously, jaw-droppingly, pinch-yourself, hot-as-all-get-out good-looking. So we went with him.

Our decision proved prudent. The new guy was the perfect Azolan. He did indeed deliver his lines well, never attempted to upstage Bandar, and remained as fantabulously, jaw-droppingly, pinch-yourself, hot-as-all-get-out good-looking as he’d been at the audition.

The new guy’s name, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, was Bradley Cooper.

 

* * *

 

The spring of 1995 was only Cooper’s second semester at Georgetown. A sophomore, he’d transferred from a school in Pennsylvania with his girlfriend, who was just as comely as he was (in my recollection, she looked a lot like a young Courteney Cox—curious, given his recent not-so-dangerous liaison with Jennifer Aniston), and, it seemed to me, more worldly.  They reminded me of the Bulgarian couple in Casablanca: attractive, optimistic, decidedly un-jaded.

As for me, I graduated in December of 1994, a semester early, and was only hanging around to direct the play, forestall gainful employment, and prepare my liver for the graduation week of drunken debauchery known as Senior Disorientation. So I did not know Cooper well.

He struck me as pleasant, quiet, polite, and shy (I realize this is not unlike how neighbors describe serial killers). He had a certain wide-eyed quality that was endearing, but he was also a bit aloof, perhaps because I was older and, as a director, something of an authority figure (one who threw good parties and made rehearsals fun, but an authority figure just the same).

In his recent NPR interview, he hinted at another reason for his aloofness:

“I also didn’t feel at all comfortable with the theater crowd when I was in high school. I never felt any connection to those students and so too was it true at Georgetown,” Cooper said. “I had nothing in common with them. Maybe I was intimidated by them.”

So we’ll go with that. He was intimidated by me (and probably by Brian even more, Brian being the “bad cop” of our directorial duo).  Because, you know, I’m so intimidating.

I saw him only once after that semester, at a theatre event for students and alumni a year or two later. He showed up with Eric Chase Anderson, Wes’s kid brother (Bottle Rocket was out by then) and eventual art director, who had cast him in a student film called, if memory serves, The Ant Colony, and coaxed a nuanced performance out of him that hinted at what was to come. Cooper wore a purple-and-blue pinstriped three-piece suit, and his hair was slicked back like Pat Riley’s. Gone was the wooden gait that had gotten him cast in Les Liaisons Dangereuses; now he strutted like John Travolta, not arrogantly but confidently. In other words, like a movie star.

He’d gone as Hollywood as it was possible to go within the collegial confines of the Healy Gates. He would wind up going all the way there.

We watched with interest as he guested on Sex in the City and was sodomized in Wet Hot American Summer. We shook our heads every time Alias came on.

When he nabbed the “Ralph Bellamy” part in Wedding Crashers, we were astonished. A guy we actually knew—a guy Brady still traded emails with; a guy I once implored to project—was in a major role in a major comedy!

But it didn’t stop there: The Hangover, Renée Zellweger, He’s Just Not That into You, Jennifer Aniston, The Hangover II.

It hasn’t stopped yet. It just keeps on going.

The A-Team? Try the A-list.

It’s kind of amazing.

 

* * *

 

Would Bradley Cooper have made it this far if we’d opted for Oliver as Azolan—if, in other words, we were lesser casting agents and directors? Of course. Much as we’d like to believe otherwise, he does not owe his success to us, his intimidators. We’re not like the guy from the Human League song.

Would he make a good Asher Krug? Absolutely (although it must be said: Bandar would, too).

Would it kill him to note that the play responsible for exciting his acting bug was co-directed by a novelist who has a new book out in the fall? Evidently. Or, more likely, this pesky detail has escaped his matinee idol’s attention. Can’t say I blame him.

Nevertheless, it’s refreshing to hear that, unlike that fateful night in Vegas—and now, one night in Bangkok—Cooper hasn’t forgotten his time in our play.

 

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Greg Olear GREG OLEAR is the Los Angeles Times bestselling author of the novels Totally Killer and Fathermucker and founding editor of The Weeklings.

52 Responses to “I Discovered You, Bradley Cooper”

  1. SAA says:

    Well at least I know he’s real now, for the longest time I thought someone made him on the computer.

  2. James D. Irwin says:

    That’s pretty cool… I always tend to think of Bradley Cooper as a more talented Matthew McConaughey. Certainly more likeable.

    I’m glad I postponed posting my post about directing a play now, because it doesn’t hold anywhere near as much curiosity as this (although it will do if any of my cast go on to fame and fortune…)

    It’s weird to imagine Cooper acting in a proper play though, rather than a cinematic raping of ’80s nostalgia or not-as-funny-as-everyone-seems-to-think Hollywood comedies.

    What would be awesome is a film version of Totally Killer starring Cooper and a DVD extra in which he talks about his first and latest acting roles with the man who gave them to him… or an Oscar ceremony in which said star thanks said author for getting him in to acting and then writing an Oscar-winning role for him etc etc

    OR if Cooper follows Reagan’s path, becomes President and makes you Vice President…

    • Greg Olear says:

      Vice president. Oh, shudder to think. What a lousy job that’d be. Attending funerals for lesser heads of state. No thanks! I’d sign up for the TK film, though.

      Directing a play is great, innit? DL was one of the most fun and artistically satisfying experiences of my life. That Brad went on to fame and fortune is sort of like discovering an unopened bottle of absinthe in the basement of a house where you threw a really great party 16 years ago.

      • James D. Irwin says:

        I woke up the day after the performance terribly, terribly sad it was over. Although we’re performing it again in November, which should be less shambolic than saturday’s show.

        I wrote it, spent five months working on it, and it was credited to the fictional character it was about! It was still a fantastically brilliant experience. One of the actors went on too soon and inadvertently cut the final scene, but it still worked. You couldn’t tell.

        It was an honour to work with some fantastic actors who put my own cameo role in the shade. I wouldn’t be surprised if my leads made names for themselves. It’s the weirdest thing seeing characters come to life, and they were so, so good. They made me look better than I am…

        I totally fell in love with the whole thing though. We had a behind-the-scenes visit to a theatre and it was the strangest feeling…

        I like that analogy… although if I go and see The Hangover II I might end up simply picturing a green bottle all the way through…

        • Greg Olear says:

          You were doing your OWN play, which is a notch higher. Although Hampton is pretty amazing, and it was great.

          You should totally check out that Last Round stuff, BTW. Well worth it.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          you say that, but you haven’t seen the script!

        • James D. Irwin says:

          you say that, but you haven’t seen the script!

        • Greg Olear says:

          A notch higher in terms of both stress and satisfaction. Even if it’s a mediocre script, which is unlikely, it’s great experience to have actors read it.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I don’t know… I think a three hour classic might be more stressful… although I went through long periods where it seemed it might be easier to kill myself than get the cast in the same place at the same time to rehearse.

          It was at the high end of mediocre, I think. I’m re-writing it because we’re doing it again and it should be just above mediocre for that.

          It was the weirdest thing at the audition having people act out words I’d written on my own in a cold room drinking tea… Even after a few months it’s still so thrilling…

  3. Matt says:

    I’m happy enough for Cooper’s success, I suppose, but the only movie of his I’ve seen is The Hangover, and I really didn’t get what the all the subsequent fuss about him is. I’m way more excited that a novelist of my acquiantence has a new book coming out this fall.

  4. Quenby Moone says:

    I love these tales! Your backstory growing up and out of the story of BC’s budding flirtation with the stage; I’m thrilled to glean insight to your history through the strange refraction of the BC lens!

    Awesome.

  5. Gloria says:

    Greg Olear! Is that you down there in the corner on the right? Wow. Young Us Photos are awesome. I just found the one I linked to a few days ago. It was my junior prom, 1993. \

    Bradley Cooper really is fantabulously, jaw-droppingly, pinch-yourself, hot-as-all-get-out good-looking. He also seems ridiculously affable.

    • Greg Olear says:

      OMG, you look AWESOME. The gown, the up-do…stunning.

      That is indeed me. It was during my semester of contact lenses. Everyone else is wearing makeup except for me and Brian, so we look more lively.

      • Gloria says:

        We were all so…young! once.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I don’t like to run it in, but I still am…

        • Gloria says:

          Yes, well, hold on to all the photos you have now, then pull them out in twelve years. Then sob. Then giggle. Then shrug and move on.

        • Greg Olear says:

          Is Jedi even 20 yet? He’s like the guy from “Almost Famous.”

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I’m nearly 22! TWENTY-TWO!

          Yesterday we had a door-to-door salesman knock on my door of the house I rent for university. He asked if ‘mum or dad’ were in. This wouldn’t happen if I wasn’t short and thin.

          I was tempted to go upstairs and send my nineteen year old housemate to the door…

  6. Richard Cox says:

    I hated Cooper in Wedding Crashers, which obviously means he did a great job, and then he played a far different character in The Hangover. I haven’t seen the sequel, but I liked the first one quite a bit.

    Interesting celebrity connection, Mr. Olear. And I like your Young Professionals look in the second photo. :-)

  7. So… the last time I moved I found some stale goldfish crackers, assorted felt tip pens without caps, 17 pennies and an expired tube of something I think might have been birth control when the movers took apart my bed and dresser. What’s that you say? No photos of Bradley Cooper languishing in my memory box? No. No indeed.
    Just another interesting facet to the Olear past…. perhaps Bradley could play the lead in a certain book I know soon to hit stores in October? Wow … now there’s a SAHD guaranteed to liven up those mommy and me play groups….. ;-)

  8. Zara Potts says:

    Bloody Bradley Cooper better bloody thank you if he ever gets an Oscar nod.

    Cannot wait for ‘FatherMucker’ -much more exciting than ‘The Hangover..’ in my book.
    :-)

    • Greg Olear says:

      Thanks, Z. I don’t need an Oscar shout-out. I’d much prefer a pic of him and Jen on a beach somewhere with my book prominently placed that runs in Us Weekly.

  9. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    I’m trying to work an angle here but Bradley Cooper doesn’t really do it for me. I mean, I like him alright I guess. It’s too bad you didn’t discover Johnny Depp.

    • Greg Olear says:

      Johnny Depp was on “21 Jump Street” when I was still in junior high. Might have even been earlier than that. So I’d have to be pretty precocious to find that dude. I will say that the whole pirate thing is getting a bit tired.

  10. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    (Also, I now know I need to read Jessica’s book. Thanks for the tip.)

  11. I bet at some point he’s cadged the line ‘It’s beyond my control.’

    Sweetest get-out-of-jail-free card ever.

  12. Jessica Blau says:

    1. You look ADORABLE in that picture! 2. That girl on his arm looks strangely like Rene Zellwigger (I’m too lazy to look up proper spelling of her name here, also I’m at VCCA and I’m supposed to be writing–this might be my last visit to the internet for three weeks!) 3. Smurf-Schlonged is one of the best terms I’ve ever heard–you are brilliant!

    • Greg Olear says:

      Thanks, JAB. I like the photo because, unlike 98% of photos taken of me, I look decent. Plus, everyone else has makeup on, so I stand out.

      Glad you liked “Smurf-schlonged.” I actually did have to think long and hard on that one…to describe something short and limp.

      Happy writing time!

  13. Dana says:

    I like that I can identify ONE of the people in that photo. Very cute pic Mr. Olear!
    I love any celebrity connection stories though. Somehow, it’s just fun to see people before the magic happened! And the little people whose shoulders they rode upon… ;)

  14. jmblaine says:

    I don’t see many movies
    but I was very interested in the father-in-law
    herbal remedy company –
    maybe some day in the future
    you could write a insider post on that?
    I’ve heard crazy things about
    that industry.

    • Greg Olear says:

      Hmmm, that’s a good idea, JMB.

      Herbal concentrates. Green tea concentrate mostly. Tastes great, and really works. Lowered my cholesterol, made some pains go away, cured by father-in-law’s arthritis. Battles toxins. Helps fight cancer. It does amazing stuff they’re not allowed to say because of FDA guidelines, although the FDA is totally fine with Nutra Sweet.

  15. Joe Daly says:

    G-

    This piece is Totally Killer. Love hearing your Origins piece and I can’t help but wonder what other celebs are staggering around the red carpet as a direct result of your guidance and inspiration. What zesty pop goddess can thank you for her acne cream endorsement? Whose sails are propelled by your winds as they now move into hallowed harbors of greatness? I anxiously await your next piece to find out.

    This is a seriously fun essay and as I sit on this couch on my little Spanish island, it has been the perfect complement to my coffee. Thanks for starting my day off so well.

    Rock on, brother.

    • Greg Olear says:

      Thanks, Joe.

      I don’t think I have any other revelations along these lines, however (and alas).

      Enjoy your vacay! I always loved the “Origins” comics…

  16. Rick Sincere says:

    Granted, Mask & Bauble had been around for nearly 150 years in 1995, which certainly makes it “venerable.” (“Stuffy” is an arguable description; I just spent a reunion weekend with a couple dozen M&Bers from the 1980s and even the Jesuits among them are far from “stuffy.”)

    But does “upstart” accurately describe Nomadic Theatre in 1995? It had been established for at least a decade by then, and its roots go back a few more years, to about 1982 or earlier. Maybe in comparison to a troupe started in 1852, but still …

    Great story, however. When I heard Bradley Cooper mention both Nomadic and M&B on Fresh Air, I immediately Tweeted about it. Hoya Theatre Alumni pride, I guess.

    • Greg Olear says:

      Rick,

      Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

      You’re probably right about “upstart” and “stuffy.” If I were writing an exhaustive history of theater on campus, I wouldn’t pick the same terms. But to a communicate to a primarily non-Hoya audience the difference between the two groups, I don’t think those words are mischaracterizations.

      I joined Nomadic in ’91. We didn’t have a theater. We didn’t have real rehearsal space. We had jack squat. We were upstarts.

      The truth is, both groups have a lot of overlap, and they are both dominated by a small group of personalities which fluctuate from season to season, not unlike the cast of SNL.

      Thanks again for reading.

  17. I always had a feeling you were the one behind Bradley Cooper. He may be behind you in the picture, but we know the truth, don’t we? (:

  18. I like that I can identify ONE of the people in that photo.

  19. hangover says:

    I do not even know the way I ended up here, but I thought this put up was once great. I don’t understand who you are however certainly you are going to a well-known blogger should you are not already ;) Cheers!

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