© MGM/Everett Collection Bradley Cooper in Licorice Pizza
"The reason that I didn't give up acting is Paul Thomas Anderson," said Cooper, 47. "When he called me to maybe be in his movie, Mahershala, I mean really, I think I'd open up a door in his movie. I'd do anything."
"We broke from Nightmare Alley, I was able to grow a beard and Searchlight was praying that I didn't get COVID, because we had to go back and continue Nightmare Alley," he recalled, "but I was like, 'There's no way I'm not doing it.' "
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MGM Bradley Cooper and Cooper Hoffman in Licorice Pizza
In Licorice Pizza — which was "the first movie back from COVID," according to Cooper — he plays film producer Jon Peters, who in real life was in a relationship with Barbra Streisand for nearly a decade.
"Jon Peters was the beginning of the movie, so I started with everybody else, which was wonderful, rather than coming in when everybody's already downriver," Cooper told his The Place Beyond the Pines costar Ali, 47.
The eight-time Oscar nominee said he "spent three and a half weeks" with Anderson, 51, who wrote, produced and directed the film that also stars Alana Haim, Sean Penn, Tom Waits and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman's son Cooper, in the latter's big-screen debut.
"I watched all the camera tests. [Paul] was teaching me all about lenses, things I never knew," Cooper, who earned praise for directing A Star Is Born, shared. "He's incredible."
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As for Nightmare Alley, which is in theaters now, Cooper told Ali that the Guillermo del Toro-directed psychological thriller "was an interesting example of how insecure I am" as an actor.
Specifically, he was surprised to learn that del Toro, 57, "came to" him to play the lead after Leonardo DiCaprio exited the project.
"I still remember thinking, 'Oh wow, the guys that don't hire me, they want to hire me?' " Cooper said. "Then it was like, 'Of course I have to do it just because I've never been allowed into that group.' It was insecurity and ego."
"Thankfully, it wound up being an incredible experience," he added. "And that was very interesting to me to play a character, Stanton Carlisle, who has clearly been traumatized as a kid, has no parental foundation, has no foundation for love, intimacy, real connection, and he just is surviving off of a gratification and a desperate need to find out who he is."