Bradley Cooper, Brian Klugman, and Lee Sternthal were on Chestnut Street Monday night, navigating the red carpet that had been rolled out in front of the Prince Music Theater. The fans were squealing - well, they were squealing for Cooper - but inside their heads, these three Philly boys were squealing a little, too. The Words, an elaborate, old-style romantic melodrama that Cooper stars in (and executive-produced), and that Klugman and Sternthal wrote and directed, was having its premiere.
This was the fantasy they shared back when they were gawky teens, planted late at night in front of the TV at Cooper's or "Kluggy's" or Sternthal's house, watching James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor in Giant, Julie Christie in Dr. Zhivago, Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris.
"We would talk incessantly about films until we would fall asleep," remembers Cooper, the Rydal native. And they would dare to imagine that some day they could be living in that same Hollywood world, too.
And here they are.
Cooper, of course, has a little franchise going called The Hangover. He starred in the Philly-made sleeper Limitless, and has a pair of high-profile enterprises debuting next week at the Toronto International Film Festival: Silver Linings Playbook, with Jennifer Lawrence (another project with serious Philly connections) and The Place Beyond the Pines, with Ryan Gosling.
In The Words, opening Friday, Cooper is Rory Jansen, a struggling writer who, by a fateful turn of events and a manuscript of awesome artistry, becomes a best-selling, prize-winning sensation. Zoe Saldana is his wife, and Jeremy Irons a mysterious old man who has the goods on the author. Dennis Quaid, Olivia Wilde, and Ben Barnes also star. The movie is set in New York and Paris (and a little bit in Philadelphia), just after World War II and up to the present day.
Klugman and Sternthal had finished the multilayered screenplay back in 2000, long before they made names for themselves as a writing duo (they share story credit on the 2010 box office monster Tron: Legacy, and have several screenplays in development now). In fact, they invited Cooper, just landed in L.A., to a table reading of The Words (it was called The Unknown) way back when. Klugman's uncle, the famous Jack, did the part of the old man.
"I got a call from Brian asking if I wanted to come to a reading of a script he and Lee had written," Cooper says. "And I remember I was just blown away. But never in my wildest dreams at that point did I think that I would be a part of it."
It took a decade, an intensive session at the Sundance Screenwriters Lab, and the ascension of Cooper - yup, People's Sexiest Man Alive, 2011 edition - to get The Words made. But here it is - shot last summer in a breakneck 25 days in Montreal.
And it turns out to have been a truly transformative experience for the actor. Affable and unguarded, he and his boyhood buds are in the Four Seasons Hotel the day after their red-carpet bow, discussing a wrenching - and pivotal - scene in which Cooper's character returns, drunk and destroyed, to the Brooklyn loft he shares with Saldana, and confesses that the novel with his name on it isn't his.
"Honestly, I have to say, something switched in this movie for me as an actor," Cooper says. "I felt like I had gotten to that place on stage" - Cooper just finished starring in The Elephant Man at the Williamstown Theatre Festival - "but never in film. And it gave me such confidence to then do Place Beyond the Pines and then Silver Linings Playbook, which are demanding roles.
"And it really was because of the places that I was able to go in this movie. . . . Like, here's this gift I'm going to give you so that you can walk into these other movies with strangers. Because I feel at home with Brian and Lee, it was like creating in your living room. . . .
"It was the best prep to do the other movies."
Like creating in the same living room where Cooper, Klugman, and Sternthal stayed up late all those nights, all those years, all those classic David Lean movies ago.
Opens Friday at area theaters.