The Words is a three-tiered story about three plots that intersect. Bradley Cooper plays Rory, a struggling author who finds a manuscript, takes credit for it and catapults him to success. The manuscript itself is another story, and a third thread has Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) reflect on the other events. We got to speak with a trio of collaborators in The Words – Cooper and his directors, Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal – while plagiarism was fresh in the news again a few weeks ago. The film opens September 7.
CraveOnline: It’s interesting thinking about The Words the same week as Fareed Zakaria’s plagiarism issue broke.
Bradley Cooper: Yeah, we were just talking about that.
Did that get you thinking about the themes of the movie again?
Bradley Cooper: It definitely got us thinking about what a thing to bring up at the press junket. How relevant this movie is.
What sort of ethical discussions would you have on the set?
Lee Sternthal: I think our discussions were more about we’ve got to make our day. When you’re shooting a movie in 25 days, they were much more about the characters. I don't know if we were having ethical discussions. It was much more about characters.
Brian Klugman: You know what was really nice is that we really I think stayed away from a lot of judgment on any of the characters and let them interact without saying one was bad or not. I think that was a big goal for Lee and I in writing this story was Rory’s character, hopefully at the end you’re not going, “Oh, that’s a bad person.” Instead you understand and empathize with the choices that he made and why he made them. And we truly didn’t have much time for ethical discussions. We made this movie in 25 days for $6 million. So it was really about just getting our days. We were just moving like crazy when we were on the set.
Would the three of you talk about your collaboration, and Bradley, how do you like to be directed?
Bradley Cooper: Confidently is always the best thing. The best directors I work with are confident in their vision and open to collaboration because you don’t see the ego and these guys did exactly that.
Brian Klugman: Lee and I have been working together, Lee, Bradley and I have all been friends since we were 10 years old. So Lee and I have been working together professionally since 1999 so we’re into collaboration. We like working together. We like a collaborative effort. Having Bradley there, having all the actors there that are so wonderful and letting them put their input into the film, letting Antonio Calvache the amazing cinematographer put his stamp onto the film. Collaboration is the best part of making a movie I think. You have all these different artists coming together. What a great luxury to have. It’s like everyone’s working on the same art project. It’s really fun.
Bradley, you’ve played several characters who are writers. Why is that something you’re drawn to?
Bradley Cooper: It really was just happenstance. Nothing more than that is the honest answer.
Is there something inherently dramatic about a writer character?
Bradley Cooper: Well, I feel like Eddie from Limitless and Rory from The Words are different.
I was actually going all the way back to Will Tippin the reporter on “Alias.”
Bradley Cooper: And even Will Tippin. Will Tippin did not suffer from the need to be successful and [wouldn’t] go to any lengths to achieve it. He was unyieldingly driven to find the truth and that sort of got him in trouble along with his unrequited love of Sidney Bristow. I love talking about something that happened 20 years ago. I love Will Tippin but really all three projects were well written. I think maybe that’s why they were interesting.
Paying your dues is one of the themes in The Words too. How do each of you feel about the phases in your careers where you paid your dues?
Brian Klugman: I still feel like I’m paying them.
Lee Sternthal: We’ve paid them and we continue to pay them. I think you’re always paying your dues.
Are you each getting to do the work you want to do now? You’ve gotten your first feature made and Bradley, you get these diverse roles in big movies and indies.
Bradley Cooper: 100%. I feel like it’s a dream to be able to work with your best friends, number one. And then also to be able to work with your heroes as filmmakers and actors. It is not lost on me that I am in a place right now where I’m fulfilling dreams on a daily basis.
Brian Klugman: That is the greatest reward. Hopefully getting to move forward and make some more movies that we really believe in and can attack with the same venom that we got to bring to this, and gusto that we got to bring to this, that would be incredible. I mean, this movie coming out has been such a great reward. The fact that we made this movie and we never expected it to come out in this kind of way and have this kind of show of support from a studio and be in theaters all over the world. You just don’t expect that, especially not with a small movie with $6 million in this kind of climate. You just don’t expect a movie like that to come out. The way people have rallied behind this movie and supported it, we feel really lucky and happy about that.
Lee Sternthal: I think that we were hoping maybe if we got into three theaters, when we were shooting it, we would be happy. This is completely unexpected and we are very, very grateful to be able to take this ride.
Since it’s a multi-tiered story, when you’re working on the Rory story, do you think about the other tiers in the story too?
Bradley Cooper: As an actor, when I’m acting the part of Rory, I’m playing him as a real person. But as a story collaborator in the telling of this story of the movie The Words, I definitely think about everything in context of the story that they’re all trying to tell.
Brian and Lee do you keep each segment separate or treat everything as part of the whole?
Lee Sternthal: Yes, you are constantly thinking about how all of the different elements, the many tiers of the story, the technical elements are playing into each other and against each other. I guess one of the interesting challenges and something that was very gratifying was it was almost like in a way putting a mosaic together, where each section and the way the schedule was broken up, you’d shoot each section, and each section was so different in a lot of ways. The look, the feel, the way we shot it with Antonio Calvache, the production design, the actors coming in and what they were bringing to it. In your mind, you have this idea of how they were all going to fit together, but then when you got into the editing room, that was where you really put these many tiers together and start to see them come together. Yes, you are thinking about all these things.
Bradley, a quick Hangover III question, do you feel the plot has to be a different structure than another blackout?
Bradley Cooper: Well, we talked about it with the second one. It was a conscious choice to adhere to the structure of the first one, and the third one is going to have a life of its own.
Is there a chance you’d be in Wet Hot American Summer 2?
Bradley Cooper: Oh, I’d love to.
What are each of your favorite movies?
Bradley Cooper: Right now? Of all time?
Brian Klugman: That’s a hard question to answer. I always feel like when I answer that question, I’m going to regret what I say in five minutes because there are so many movies I love.
It’s not a matter of declaring it on record, but for getting a sense of your inspirations.
Brian Klugman: I personally love Manhattan, I love Harold and Maude, I love The Godfather, just three American films that come to me that I love.
Lee Sternthal: I think I would say the movie that made me think, “Wow, being a film director would be really amazing” was Fanny and Alexander. I saw it at the New Beverly Cinema in L.A. and I’d never seen any movies by Ingmar Bergman before. It’s a three hour-long movie and I went back the next night to watch it again because I was so blown away by it. If I had to pick one, that would be it.
Bradley Cooper: I like all different types of movies, honestly. I love Hudson Hawk.
Oh my God, I love that too! Were you on board right away or did it grow on you?
Bradley Cooper: You know, I have to say, it was from the first time I saw it. I came to it late after it had gotten bushwhacked and I was always sort of like, “Wow, I thought it was great.” I’m a big Danny Aiello fan, too.
Yeah, “I’m not as fat as that guard, am I?”
Bradley Cooper: Ha!
Lee Sternthal: Wait, I want to change my answer. Hudson Hawk.
Bradley, are you underway on your producing deal with Warner Brothers and what sort of projects would you develop through that?
Bradley Cooper: Yeah, I’m so happy to have a home there, I gotta tell you. It’s very exciting. Greg Silverman and Jeff Robinov have been tremendous. We acquired the rights to American Sniper, the Chris Kyle autobiography. We’re writing a script now and that’s something we want to get made. We’re just looking at other projects.
Things that you might appear in? Are you interested in directing at some point?
Bradley Cooper: Both.