Oscar-winning actor Chris Cooper has the careful enunciation of an actor with a theatrical background, and a slight Southern lilt that becomes more pronounced in his performance as Charles Aiken in "August: Osage County." Since beginning his movie career at the age of 35, Cooper's worked steadily as a solid supporting actor with a certain seriousness about him that grounds whatever he's in. Whether he's playing a homophobic ex-Marine in "American Beauty" or an obsessive orchid collector minus a few front teeth in "Adaptation," Cooper always bolsters the actors around him.
"August: Osage County" is an ensemble piece that stars some of the most illustrious stars in Hollywood, the most prominent being his "Adaptation" co-star (and onscreen lover) Meryl Streep. In this adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tracy Letts, Cooper's role is that of the placating husband, father, and uncle who seems ignorant of the secrets swirling around the Weston home. He's the one who seems to be most affected by the loss of the Weston patriarch Beverly (Sam Shepard), who earnestly protects his fumbling son, Little Charlie (Benedict Cumberbatch), from his bullying wife Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale), and who is forced to step up and become the man of the clan even as he's verbally castigated by Violet (Streep). Cooper has a number of outstanding moments, by turns funny, tender, and angry, in what's already a crowded house.
Cooper can't quite be pinned down, though. He voiced one of the creatures in "Where the Wild Things Are," played a big baddie in "The Muppets," and will soon be seen in "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" as Norman Osborn. Although he couldn't divulge too much information about what we can expect from Norm, we heard just enough to tantalize us.
Moviefone: So, this is very different than the last time you worked with Meryl Streep in "Adaptation." Did that make it easier when she was yelling at you to "blow it out your a**"?
Chris Cooper: Yes, it did. Yes, it did. I would make no bones about it. I was terribly intimidated for the first few days working on "Adaptation," but she made me very, very comfortable in a short while. I can't believe more than a decade has passed, but how wonderful it is -- you know, it's an honor, in this business, to be cast again with her because she's a monster talent.
It's interesting that you use that word, because it is a word that comes up with the Westons. You play one of the most sympathetic characters in the movie. They kind of are monsters, right?
In this day and age, they're seen as monsters, but when you consider the hard, hard life that they endured to make a living, you know, just to remind us -- Beverly, as a young boy, lived in a car for years, and Aunt Mattie Fae and Violet have their family histories. They deserve a little hardness. And that generation of girl moving forward, I've observed it. Children are, to my mind, compared to previous generations, terribly pampered. Terribly pampered. Almost in as destructive a way. So, not that there's a balance... but they have their side of the story.
Fair enough. Well, being from Dallas myself, I could only imagine how hot and cigarette smoke-filled and awful the set was! How did you all deal with that?
Well, I think we had a little bit of luck on our side. We started work in the late summer, and we did have some hot, hot, hot days, but you know, it started to cool down. You could even see -- we had to dress some of those trees with greenery because we were going into fall. The leaves were turning, and the weather became much more comfortable, to the point where, near the end of the shoot, you'd grab a sweater between breaks. But I'm impressed because I remember the little bus scene when I go to pick up Little Charles, in the background on some drive-in bank, there's a flashing of the date and the temperature, and it's amazing how a 108 temperature, to an audience, gives the idea that, "Oh God, it must be unbearable."
You have the most scenes with Little Charlie [Benedict Cumberbatch], except for Juliette Nicholson. Were you just like, who's this guy?! Are you familiar with "Sherlock"?
What, Benedict?! Absolutely! Sure, we follow "Sherlock" and "War Horse" and this beautiful job he did with this piece, this BBC piece he did with Rebecca Hall -- yes, I know [his work]. He's a very talented, rising young actor.
It's such an amazing cast. When you sign on for a project like this, you're aware, right, that you're positioned for an Oscar run? For the season? You've got the placement and the Weinsteins...
Yeah, when you start with a Pulitzer Prize-winning play and you read that and -- I mean, I had started out in theater, started rather late in film, didn't do a film until I was 35, but I had 15 years of theater behind me. So I've read many of the great writers, and it's undeniable -- you get bits of O'Neill, Edward Albee, Tennessee Williams, a little Arthur Miller, but it's undeniable, and I think Tracy [Letts] would tell you he can see the hints of that as well. So here you have a Pulitzer Prize-winning play; a very successful, imaginative, creative director in John Wells; and who does he first approach but Meryl and Julia [Roberts]? And looking at those two characters as a match-up, that's a pretty good start.
But it doesn't mean that [with] any lesser scripts, you don't work as hard, come to work as hard, but granted, it is a wonderful cast and nobody was a slouch. Everybody came prepared, came really prepared, because Meryl sets a wonderful standard, she sets a very high bar, and she gives everything, on or off camera, so you want to give her and the rest of the cast your best work.
Was it a bit of a relief to shift gears and then do "Amazing Spider-Man 2"? Something a little lighter and more fun?
Um, well, when you see [laughs], when you see "Spider-Man 2," you'll realize this is the introduction to Norman Osborn, and apparently it's going to lead to other things down the road. But an actor has to do these big tent pole productions something like once every five years. It just keeps the name alive, as some of these smaller films that may not make it around the world tend not to do.
Does your character embrace his full villainy, his full Green Goblin side in this sequel?
All I can is this is a very strange introduction for Norman Osborn. I just can't reveal why it's that way, but this is not the beginning of Norman. It is the introduction, but it's not the beginning, and I think that's as far as I can go.
So, can you reveal if you did any green screen?
I did not.
So no tips from Benedict on how to do the stuff he was doing with Smaug? I don't know if you saw that, but there's this amazing footage of him for "The Hobbit" sort of rolling around.
I did just one green-screen piece in "The Kingdom," and that was only because the green screen was going to be a desert background, you know, but yeah, the green screen work is yet to come. And maybe in the "Spider-Man 3" that'll be, that'll be a big part.
So, are you already... Is that part of the arc? Are you signed on?
I'm under the impression that this is going to carry on.
"August: Osage County" opens Christmas Day.