Bradley Cooper Lights Up Santa Barbara Film Festival With A Little Help From Brad Pitt; Plus ‘Oscars For Geeks’ Honor Alexander Payne, Jeffrey Wright – Notes On The Season

A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.

It was a very big night for 12-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Thursday night.

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That’s where the Maestro star received the Outstanding Performer Of The Year award from presenter Brad Pitt. But for two hours before that, he sat down with me for an in-depth look at his career with a wide variety of clips we chose to highlight his many talents, plus a killer sizzle reel to kick things off before I brought him up on stage to a massive standing ovation from the completely sold out crowd of 2,000 at the Arlington Theatre.

Cooper’s co-star in Maestro, Carey Mulligan, also appeared on stage to sing her co-star/director/writer/producer’s praises before we showed a scene from their film towards the end of the evening. It was a night in which Cooper was in great form, particularly in showing off his unique talents as a mimic when it came time to talk about his American Sniper director Clint Eastwood or Silver Linings Playbook co-star Robert De Niro.

We covered the waterfront, as it were. He revealed his original Star Is Born co-star was going to be Beyonce. Then, for a brief time, he was thinking Adele, before fate intervened and he saw Lady Gaga performing “La Vie En Rose” and knew it had to be her.

Some of the highlights in our conversation:

I asked about his first paying job in front of a camera: “I auditioned for it [Sex and the City]. At that time, I didn’t even realize you could get the job. I remember when I got the call to do it, I was terrified. What do you mean, I have to do it?”, he said.

(Photo by Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images for SBIFF)
(Photo by Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images for SBIFF)

On his desire to be an actor from a young age: “Always, since I was like 11. There was a movie theater, my backyard was train tracks and a movie theater. I watched movies like The Godfather, Popeye, and I just knew then. And television. I always knew I wanted to do it, but I was terrified. I was shy. But I knew I wanted to do it.”

On his breakout, star-making role in the first Hangover: “We didn’t know what we were making, and weren’t even sure if it was a comedy. We were staying at Caesars Palace in Vegas. I had tiger claws on my neck and no one even looked at us,” he laughed ,while saying he would be up for a fourth Hangover, but doesn’t think director Todd Phillips would ever do it.

(Photo by Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for SBIFF)
(Photo by Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for SBIFF)

On directing, which he has now done twice, the first time being A Star Is Born. “Good things, you gotta hold onto them, because there’s so much rejection in this business…I really do love being in the field as an Actor/Director. It’s what’s intoxicating about it. I would also do the other, but I love acting so much. Absolutely, I would just direct. It’s like you said, just something I love so much.”

I asked about his memorable Oscars performance singing “Shallow” with Lady Gaga: “I had no desire to sing live on network television. But I knew if I didn’t sing, they would be like ‘Well, that guy obviously can’t sing, because he isn’t doing it.’ But it was awesome.”

Carey Mulligan said: “This is so nice. I am just having the loveliest evening. It makes me want to watch all of your films again. What might be too easily taken for granted is your innate gift as an actor.”

(Photo by Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images for SBIFF)
(Photo by Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images for SBIFF)

Brad Pitt’s presentation brought the house down: “The first time I saw Bradley, I said to myself, ‘One day, I’m going to milk this guy for a free trip to Santa Barbara’. I want to note for the record, I was thisclose to getting A Star Is Born. But in the end, the director went with Bradley.”

When accepting his award, Cooper stated: “People made movies, I watched them, they changed me, inspired me, kept me alive. Now that I get to do these things, the thing I benefit from is the doing. Seeing these projects that I’ve been a part of, these memories, magical made-up stories, it’s such a privilege. In life, I’ve been so privileged, so blessed.”

I have to say the whole night was a blast. SBIFF’s Roger Durling (who, by the way, brilliantly selected the Oscar Peterson Trio’s jazz tribute to Leonard Bernstein to underscore that sizzle reel of Cooper’s career), calculated that I have been coming up to Santa Barbara and doing these tributes since 2003, when I did my first one for Charlize Theron, who would go on to win an Oscar for Monster.

There were about 300 people there, but now, it has grown to seven times that number and become a must-stop during the lead-up to final voting for the Oscars. And Pitt is certainly rooting the 12-time nominee on to finally win. “I do hope that this is his year, because it’s well-deserved. But if it’s not, it’s OK. Everyone knows it’s just a matter of time. And truly, Bradley is OK. He’s fine. He’s used to it. He’s a Philadelphia Eagles fan.”

Pitt, in fact, was in rare form, and the crowd ate it all up. He told me in the green room that the Formula One racing movie he has been making with director Joseph Kosinski that had to halt for several months due to the actor’s strike is back on the track. But it will be shooting until December as it follows the circuit and has to wait for the actual races. Pitt said he is having a great time shooting it.

There was so much in this Deadline-sponsored tribute, it just can’t all be put down here in this column. Here is the complete show below:


“This is our favorite awards show so far,”  Alexander Payne said about what he and his Harold Lloyd Award presenter Paul Giamatti thought of today’s Advanced Imaging Society’s Annual Lumiere Awards at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

I sat with Payne, Giamatti, screenwriter David Hemingson, Film Editor Kevin Tent, and Producer Mark Johnson at The Holdovers table Focus Features had put together for the show, which has come to be known as “Oscars For Geeks”. It is all about technical achievement in film and television, with categories like Best Use Of High Dynamic Range -Episodic, and Best 2D to 3D conversion, among other in geeky prizes. It is indeed a laid-back, fun luncheon with outstanding clips showing off these remarkable feats of the industry’s top artisans.

Big winner for Best Feature Film – Live Action was Oppenheimer accepted by the film’s star Cillian Murphy. For Feature Film Animation it was Spider-Man: Across The Universe, the handsome statuette being picked up producer/writers Chris Miller and Phil Lord. Best International Feature went to the surprise hit, Godzilla Minus One, accepted by its Japanese director, Takashi Yamazaki.

HBO’s high-end zombie show, The Last Of Us, swept the TV honors, or at least three of them. Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning took the Best Theatrical Scene Or Sequence for its incredible train wreck scene. At that point, Payne leaned over and offered that that Tom Cruise film and Spider-Man: Across The Universe were his two favorite films of the year. BTW right in the middle of Payne’s witty and intelligent acceptance speech a 4.7 earthquake hit, and clearly was felt in the room, but in tribute to Payne no one went running hysterically for the exits. I asked him later if he knew it was an earthquake. “I thought people were just moved by my speech, ” he joked. And in addition to that fimmaker award, just to prove not everything at this awards show was for geeks, they gave the Distinguished Artist Award to American Fiction Oscar nominee Jeffrey Wright, which meant three of the five Best Actor nominees were on hand for the AIS Lumieres. Not bad.

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