Q&A: Scott Cooper

A newbie director's 'Crazy' awards run

Scott Cooper grew up in Virginia's Blue Ridge mountains listening to country music legends Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley and Doc Watson. Then in 2006, the working actor ("Get Low") and part-time musician decided to write a script, "Crazy Heart." The project drew the attention of Jeff Bridges and Robert Duvall, prompting Viacom to finance the $7 million budget through its MTV Films and CMT labels. But once the film was finished, distributor Paramount Vantage was shuttered, prompting Cooper's agent Jeff Berg to take the film to Fox Searchlight, which bought it for $3 million. Cooper now sits squarely in the awards race.

The Hollywood Reporter: How did this project come together?

Scott Cooper: The genesis was Merle Haggard. As the poet laureate of country music, this is a man whose life was ripe for a cinematic telling. But his life rights were a mess, in terms of entanglements. So I felt like this book (by Thomas Cobb) would give me the opportunity not only to tell Merle's story but also two of my other radio heroes, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings.

THR: How did you get Bridges and Duvall on board?

Cooper: I had worked with Robert Duvall as an actor. He's a very close friend and a mentor. I hesitantly sent him the script. He called and said, "I love it. Let's do it. I want to produce it. You direct it. Who do you need?"

THR: How did you and T-Bone Burnett settle on the music?

Cooper: I had a playlist in my head when I was writing this: Kris. Waylon. Cash. Townes Van Zandt. Billy Joe Shaver. Then I put together a list of 10 songs for T-Bone and I said, "This is how I envision the music."

THR: Bridges was already a musician. How much did you work with him on the details of the character?

Cooper: Everything from the aviator sunglasses down to the slant in his boot, I knew exactly what I wanted. The great thing about Jeff Bridges is, unlike a lot of movie stars, you don't know a lot about his private life. So you can believe what you see onscreen.