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by Brad Balfour
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Actor Chris Cooper didnít need a crystal ball to figure out
how to make his character in Silver City ó the bumbling local
politician running for governor of Colorado ó resonate in this hard-hitting
reflection of our times. His campaign becomes the backdrop for investigator
Danny [Huston] to solve a murder that involves pollution and illegal
immigrants. Loaded with an incredible cast that includes Maria Bello, Thora
Birch, Richard Dreyfuss and Kris Kristofferson, the film offers parallels
with a certain Presidential candidate and illustrates how smoothly this
Oscar winner (for Adaptation) can slip into a role. A consummate
character actor, Cooper has risen through the ranks to become an A-list
actor who has starred such hits as The Bourne Identity, Seabiscuit
and American Beauty. Now he joins his old friend John Sayles in this
timely, provocative tale of crime and politics.
ITíS NO SECRET THAT THE CHARACTER YOU PLAY IN SILVER CITY DICKIE PILAGER, IS
MODELED AFTER GEORGE W. BUSH - HEíS ALSO PROBABLY THE DUMBEST CHARACTER
YOUíVE EVER PLAYED.
I just think heís a strong believer in what heís doing. Heís got this whole
born-again thing. Pretty obviously heís stumbling along in politics but
first and foremost he believes. John said that Dickie Pilager was a man who
doesnít have the imagination to consider his beliefs seriously and what that
entails. That said a whole lot to me. He can be passionate and really not
know what he is talking about.
DID YOU DO ANY RESEARCH TO GET THE CHARACTER DOWN?
Iím a bit of a news junkie and watch too much news, so these politicians are
in my face everyday. This was one of those situations where I didnít have to
beat myself up with the research. Itís there in your face everyday.
DID YOU WATCH ANY OLDER BUSH FOOTAGE?
No I didnít do that because itís not an impersonation. If it were I would
have done a better job. There is no doubt there will be some recognizable
bits in this character. It was a lot of fun with a character I can relate
THEREíS A LOT OF GREAT MALE ROLES IN SILVER CITY. WHAT MADE YOU PICK THIS
John originally came to me with the intention of playing Kris
Kristoffersonís character of [billionaire] Wes Benteen. That was fine with
me. If John requests my services and I can then I will be there at anytime.
A good month or so later he got Richard Dreyfuss as the manager which was a
big relief which gave him a good age range of the other characters.
YOU AND THE REST OF THE CAST MUST HAVE HAD SOME INTERESTING POLITICAL
Getting picked up from the hotel in the van there was Kris and Richard who
are two guys that are politically active going back to the 60ís. I wish I
could remember specifics of it but it was always political talk. We were
busy during shooting so our heads and hearts were in the movie.
ITíS BEEN SEVEN YEARS SINCE YOU LAST WORKED WITH JOHN (ON THE SUCCESSFUL
1997 FILM LONE STAR.) WAS THIS ONE A DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE ESPECIALLY
SINCE YOU WON YOUR OSCAR?
I think it averages out to one movie every five years. Itís not different at
all. We have a great working relationship. John depends primarily on his
casting so his actors come to set with strong ideas. There is no rehearsal
time in a Sayles film other than the blocking rehearsal. If you want to talk
about a particular point that bothers then he will talk about it for a few
minutes but time is money. The Oscar has changed nothing. Itís always what
is in the script.
HAS YOUR LIFE CHANGED AFTER WINNING THE OSCAR?
It has not changed one bit. I flew home to Massachusetts after that
delightful and surreal evening but thank God life went right back to normal.
I think the nice thing is that I donít live in Los Angeles; the business is
not part of my everyday conversation and my friends are carpenters,
historians and teachers. We have a lot of other things to talk about besides
the film business.
WHAT DO YOU ATTRIBUTE TO YOUR RECENT SUCCESS?
Iím very happy with my choices but frankly I take my workÖ maybe,
"seriously" isnít the right word, but I have a great respect for this
business. There are things I hate about it and things I love about it. If I
am given the responsibility of playing a character Iím constantly working on
that script to help better develop the character. I take the work seriously
but itís a thorough utter joy in what I do. The only thing that keeps me
interested and keeps my respect about the business is my work ethic.
WHEN YOU WORK ON A HUGE HOLLYWOOD MOVIE LIKE THE PATRIOT OR THE BOURNE
IDENTITY THERE ARE SCRIPT CHANGES ALL THE TIME. IS IT DIFFICULT FOR YOU?
One of the most frustrating jobs was The Bourne Identity. The script
was unfinished and we would get to the end of a 16-hour day and we didnít
know whether we were going to shoot the next day because the scenes hadnít
been written. That was consistent from day to day. But then itís very
interesting that you find a way to work into that. The actors really find
another way of working together because this material is coming at the last
minute and help each other just to memorize the lines. It was a nightmare.
But itís just something you have to deal with.
WERE YOU SURPRISED AT THE RESULT?
It came across very well. I think it was a little more of an intelligent
film for that genre. I was pleased but it was [producer] Frank Marshall that
saved the day for that film. They were more prepared for the second film.
Iíve been approached to do films that I knew were going to be huge box
office hits and they were. I would be rolling in money today because of them
but I said no. Down the road someday I may be some superhero figure.
HOW DO YOU PICK YOUR SCRIPTS?
Something just strikes me. Iím pretty much open to any film. It always
begins and ends with whatís on the page. I donít know if itís the Oscar or
what but right now the approach is "We have this script and if youíre
interested but have some problems then weíll develop and rewrite it." Iím
not a writer and I donít know the first
thing about improving a script. If
itís a finished script and itís interesting then Iím interested. I donít
understand all this development business. I have been talked to like that a
lot of times and all I can picture is that Iím being forced into a corner.
Theyíll give me this ethereal thing if I commit and Iím not about to do
that. If Iím not familiar with the director or the writer I will look them
up on the IMDB to see what theyíve done before that can tell you a lot. I
think itís essential to see what youíre getting into. Also I want to know
what other actors are attached and do I respect their work. There are a few
things I like to consider.
OBVIOUSLY JOHN SETS THE BAR FOR YOU IN TERMS OF QUALITY SCREENPLAYS, SO
HOW DOES A CHARLIE KAUFMAN SCREENPLAY COMPARE?
Charlie Kaufman is kind of a shadow figure. He was at the initial reading
and he was lurking around occasionally during the shoot day. Itís also
unusual that a writer is invited onto set as Charlie was. Other than hello
how are you, that was about all that was said. I respect him but heís a very
shy individual. Heís done his work on the script so I think he knew his
place once the cameras started to roll.
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