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Feb 13 2015

Stage Door: Bradley Cooper in 'The Elephant Man'

Jose here for a special weekend edition of Stage Door,starring one of our Best Actor nominees...

The stage directions for Bernard Pomerance'sThe Elephant Manstrictly call for "no prosthetic makeup"to be worn by the actor playing the severely deformed character of Joseph Merrick.It's only during a scene in which surgeon Frederick Treves explains to the audience what his deformities consisted of,that we get to see the actor playing Merrick become "the Elephant Man".

Seeing Bradley Cooper play the part of Merrick,it's tough to believe it's as same actor you've just seen in his Oscar nominated role as Chris Kyle inAmerican Sniper.[More...]

InSniperhe's all about the inner life of Kyle (as much of a cypher as he has ever played),whereas inThe Elephant Manhe is all about the exterior.Seeing him go from the buff Cooper that has graced the cover of more than one fitness magazine,to the notorious Merrick,by merely twisting his body and altering the pitch of his voice,is one of the most miraculous transformations you can witness onstage.

Just last week,Cooper appeared onFresh Air with Terry Grossand discussed playing Kyle and Merrick.The host proposed that he was doing completely different things with both characters,but Cooper says otherwise: he's doing the same in terms of physicality.To play Kyle he gained over forty pounds of muscle and had to live in "costume"during the length of the shoot.To play Merrick,he shrinks on a nightly basis (twice on Wednesdays and Saturdays) and explains that he can only enter Merrick's mind once he has adapted his body to play him.

Regardless of the technique he's using in these two very different roles,Cooper is at the very top of his game.While it's difficult to compare stage performances to film work,it's also almost impossible not to contrast them and be amazed by how much he is able to change without obviously altering his face.Chris Kyle often tries to hide what he feels,perhaps because he's unaware of the conflicting thoughts battling inside him,perhaps because he's become a vessel for the extreme patriotism he has been asked to represent.Conversely,Cooper's Merrick finds it almost impossible not to wear his heart on his sleeve.

While inSniper,Cooper often seems to be able to turn Kyle into a zombie-like being (the scene with Jonathan Groff is particularly disturbing),inThe Elephant Manhe is always present.His Joseph Merrick seems almost too aware of who he is and how limited his time on earth is.There is also so much kindness in his performance,that Cooper not only seems to be toning down his "star appeal"to allow his co-stars to shine along with him (Patricia Clarkson in particular,is exceptionally luminous) but there is also a sense of him playing Merrick as a man constantly being surprised by the realization that there is indeed endless kindness in the world,even when he has been told otherwise.

Cooper's performance as Merrick is of course less controversial than his Oscar-nominated turn inSniper,but voters who see him onstage will feel the urge to vote for him for theBest Actor Oscaras well,if only because he is proving how exceptionally versatile he's become.

Have you seen Cooper on Broadway yet?
Are you as surprised at the new depths he keeps revealing as an actor?

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Reader Comments (5)

Nat,darling."Cinderella"premiered in Berlin today and the reviews are actually good :D

February 13,2015 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

Saw the play last month.Cooper is an actor of tremendous range!

February 13,2015 | Unregistered CommenterMike

I'd love to see he performing at Broadway,he's been revealing what a incredible actor he is!He deserved the nomination for American Sniper and I think he'll become one of the top 5 actors in Hollywood in the next few years (if he's not already).

February 14,2015 | Unregistered CommenterNathanael

I heard his Fresh Air interview last week,and I just came away so impressed by his eloquence and the tremendous amount of thought he's put into both performances.Seems like a classy guy.

February 14,2015 | Unregistered CommenterHannah

Has anyone given any reason why Cooper needed to shave his chest for this performance?I've seen the 1980 movie with John Hurt,and I really don't remember him being narcissistic.

I am thinking he might sneak into Best Actor.

February 15,2015 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

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