Bradley Cooper knows something about American culture's fast track. The "Hangover" star has been on it for a couple of years.
But any connection between his own sudden rise and his new movie, "The Words," about a young novelist who swipes somebody else's book and rides that to fame, is circumstantial. And neither you nor Dr. Freud has any business suggesting that his roles in "The Words" or in "Limitless," in which he plays a young slacker who takes a pill to give him the edge over the rest of the world, come out of some sense of "success guilt" he might harbor.
"Whoa," Cooper says, taken aback. At 37, he's paid some dues and earned his breaks. And if he's playing these characters caught up in glory not entirely of their own making, that's just because he's in a position to make interesting choices now, and have those choices become star vehicles.
"The guy in 'Limitless' was able to actually accomplish the things he accomplishes himself -- after he's taken the pill," Cooper says, trying to separate the characters. "He kind of deserved it, right?" Rory in "The Words" "didn't do anything to deserve the acclaim he won."
Cooper was drawn to "The Words," he says, because of the murky moral ground Rory stands on. Like generations of aspiring writers, he's taken something he admires and copied it as a way of absorbing the writer's style.
"For me, him copying the manuscript was like a pianist playing a great piece of music," says writer/director Brian Klugman. "He wants to hear it, to feel it."
But that copying leads to a misunderstanding, to publication, to awards and limos and wealth.
Rory's chief sin, according to Cooper, is, "He's impatient. He's not willing to wait to get his break. Really, what he does is rob himself of the bliss of creating something really wonderful. He'll never know if he could have made it on his own merits. No matter what great works he could write in the future that will get published, he will never know if he's any good."
Klugman and co-screenwriter Lee Sternthal, who also shared directing duties on "The Words," saw the film as a chance to ruminate on the notion of guilt as punishment. Rory's punishment, says Sternthal, is that "not knowing" if he had what it takes to become a literary star.
"We talked about the idea of living with guilt, and whether or not you can alleviate that or ever truly escape it," Klugman says. "Guilt is a tough emotion to carry with you. It doesn't help you with anything, near as I can tell."
"We're used to seeing movies and books where somebody faces terrible punishments for their crimes," Sternthal says. "It's almost like guilt has gone out of the conversation. We wanted to reintroduce 'guilt' into the culture, the idea that it can be a punishment in and of itself."
Reviewers are praising Cooper and "The Words" for having literary ambition, but are panning its actual execution.
Cooper should be able to shrug those notices off. He's in the film adaptation of "The Silver Linings Playbook" later this fall. And if nothing else, "The Words" gave him the chance to add Jeremy Irons to a list of "screen legends" he's gotten to work with, from Christopher Walken ("Wedding Crashers") to Liam Neeson ("The A-Team") and Robert De Niro ("Limitless").
—'Limitless' provided me with the ability to make more interesting choices, to take a bigger, more creative role in the collaboration," Cooper says. He used that to produce and help cast "The Words."
"You want to learn from the really great actors you work with. ... And what I'm learning is that the great ones share one thing, this sort of integrity about the work. They're easy to get along with, generous."