Chris Cooper: An Actor's Actor
BY DENNIS KING
NEW YORK – Chris Cooper certainly didn’t build an impressive resume of 57 films and an Academy Award, plus television and Broadway work, by being a prima donna.
The hard-working, plain-spoken actor takes a down-to-earth approach to his craft, one that’s not surprising for a guy who studied both acting and agriculture at the University of Missouri and got his start in community theater pounding nails as a set builder. Stardom doesn’t interest him; acting does.
Through an amazing run of movies ranging from John Sayles’ gritty, low-budget “Matewan” to the inspirational “October Sky” to the controversial Oscar-winning “American Beauty” to the reality-bending “Adaptation” (for which he won an Academy Award as best supporting actor), Cooper has proven himself to be as durable as he is versatile.
His latest film is “Remember Me,” in which he plays a hard-nosed New York cop from Queens who clashes violently with his college-student daughter’s rebellious boyfriend (who happens to be played by that handsome young star of the moment, Robert Pattinson).
Cooper, who is openly critical of young actors who seem to relish red-hot celebrity more than the precise, demanding work of acting, had a lot to say about his co-star Pattinson during a recent press junket for the film.
Mainly, that Pattinson is no prima donna.
“Robert is learning the ropes,” said Cooper, whose squinty gaze and no-nonsense manner could certainly intimidate any young actor. “He’s relatively new in the business. What he’s doing is making some good choices, I think. I think he wants to be a serious actor, and he’s a lovely guy. So realizing what he has to deal with, all the demands of the `Twilight’ popularity and the distractions, I think he’s handling it amazingly well.”
With paparazzi and groupies descending on the shooting locations in New York every day, Cooper admitted to being occasionally aggravated by the distractions that came with Pattinson’s presence.
“But Robert was a consummate professional,” Cooper said. “He always did his homework and came to the set prepared.”
One of Cooper’s pet peeves is with young actors coming to the set looking like they’ve just rolled out of bed without having done their homework, without having all their lines memorized.
“I let them know I’m not pleased. I confront them with it,” he said bluntly, while declining to name names. “There’s this theory that I’m hearing time and time again with young actors that, `well, if I don’t learn my lines to the word it looks good on camera if I’m thinking about those words, trying to pull them.’
“Well, nine times out of ten that’ll kill a scene because the director’s saying, `what are you doing?’” Cooper said. “Get in the scene, get involved in the scene, get involved with the other actor you’re working with. And you just can’t do that if you don’t know your lines. It’s just happened to me too many times.
“I don’t care if they resent it (when he confronts them),” he said. “They’re working with me. Time is money in a production – we never have enough rehearsal time when we’re shooting a film – actors should come prepared. To his credit, Robert always did.”
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