Chris Cooper, actor
Awards: 2003 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in "Adaptation"; 2003 Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in "Adaptation"; 2000 SAG Award for Outstanding Cast in "American Beauty" Current credit: Robert Hanssen, the real-life FBI agent who was convicted of selling intelligence secrets to the Soviet Union after decades of service, in Universal's "Breach," which was released earlier this year; special agent Grant Sykes, a member of an elite government team sent to fight terrorism in Saudi Arabia in the studio's action thriller "The Kingdom," due Sept. 28 Memberships: Screen Actors Guild; Academy member since: 2000
The Hollywood Reporter: You won rave reviews for your performance earlier this year as FBI agent Robert Hanssen in Universal's "Breach." What drew you to this role?
Chris Cooper: I was very aware of Hanssen when he was nabbed, and I immediately knew that this was a good, strong script. It was a real standout -- very tight, not much wasted space or material. Reading up on the five or six books that came out shortly after he was apprehended just pointed up what a good script this was.
THR: As an actor, do you rely on research and rehearsal? How much of your performances are instinctual?
Cooper: I think it's a lot of both. I certainly try to do as much research as I can. You get all the research you can, and then you just sort of throw it away and incorporate it into what I call floor work -- rehearsal work, trying to create a character physically. And you just intuit a whole lot of your work, and then the only thing left is you bring into your work your own life experience.
THR: You often tend to play government officials, military men. Is that a coincidence, or are you drawn to those kinds of figures?
Cooper: I'm really putting a moratorium on FBI guys, military guys, mean fathers and the like. It's odd. You do a film like I did, say (1999's) "October Sky." After that film came out, practically all I got were hard-edged fathers. Even going back further with (1996's) "Lone Star," then I'd get deputies or sheriffs. The scripts that come my way are the scripts that come my way. If they interest me, fine. It just so happens that I've gotten a lot of military men and FBI agents, and I suppose a lot of actors my age get that. But I've about reached my limit with those guys. It gets to the point where some of it becomes a little repetitive. I'd like to move on.
THR: What was it like to win best supporting actor Oscar for (2002's) "Adaptation?"
Cooper: It was terrific. I was a presenter the day before at the Independent Spirit Awards on the beach, and right after that, I got two masseuses to come to the Chateau Marmont, and my wife and I had a great massage. Then, the day of the awards, we had some very close friends for brunch. We just avoided all the nonsense. I've watched years and years of Academy Awards and how the actors afterwards say, 'It just went by so fast -- I couldn't remember it.' I'll be frank, I thought I had a chance to win, so I wanted to really remember it. I didn't drink too much and was nervous as could be, but I got to say what I wanted to, and it was all very memorable.
THR: Would you say that your years working in theater impacted the choices you make as an actor?
Cooper: Absolutely. I think 15 years of working on and reading plays gave me a good sense of what to look for in any script. Technically it gave me a good sense of how to work on a film script. It's not unique to film. You'll go to a play rehearsal, and you'll work on Act 2, Scene 3, first thing. Doing that, for years before I did any film work, I think that gave me a good sense in film work for the rhythm of a play and the highs and lows. I think it was very, very helpful.
THR: Would you say that you work best in a collaborative environment, one where there is an open dialogue about the direction a character should take?
Cooper: I'm going to come to the set prepared with a character, and I'm going to come prepared with different options. I think any director will say that casting is 80% of the work as far as his working with actors. Of course, there are going to be moments in a scene where maybe the director has a different idea or a different take, and I'm always completely open to that. I always thought the director was the person who had the complete concept. I'm fine if a director casts me and if he leaves me alone, that's fine. If I need help, I will certainly go to him. One of John Sayles' quotes when he's interviewed as far as he and I working together -- we've done four films together -- his one-sentence summary for me is that I'm an easy date.
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