'Burnt' star Bradley Cooper on playing a chef in the kitchen: 'It's all me'
Cooper and the other actors in the food film all trained with chefs in order to believably portray the employees of a top restaurant. 'There was no stunt double,' Cooper said of scenes in which he's working in the kitchen. 'There was no insert of another person's hands... for better or worse.'
Alex Bailey/The Weinstein Company/AP
Bradley Cooper wasn't a novice to the kitchen when he decided to take on the role of the fictional Michelin star chef Adam Jones in "Burnt."
He grew up in a food-loving home near Philadelphia – some of his favorite memories are of his grandmother making pizza, cheesecakes, and homemade raviolis. He was a bus boy at a Greek restaurant there, a waiter at a fancy establishment near Georgetown University, and a prep cook at an Italian and seafood place in Somers Point, New Jersey.
One day, he said, he cut and cleaned 620 chickens and nine boxes of peppers in addition to making the dough and sauces.
But he didn't tell anyone that when he started rubbing elbows with the Michelin caliber cooks he needed to learn from for this role.
"They wouldn't have cared," said Cooper, laughing. Besides, he needed to get down to work if he was going to believably portray this top chef seeking a third Michelin star. Whatever knife proficiency he thought he had wasn't exactly going to cut it under the scrutiny of professionals.
In "Burnt," not only is Adam Jones a savant in the kitchen; he's also got a drug habit that's left him an exile in the world of haute cuisine. While the drugs are under control for the moment, his temper is another story. Who better to learn from than the stormy Gordon Ramsay?
Cooper trained alongside Claire Smythe, executive chef of London's Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, which has three Michelin stars, for "many, many services," said director John Wells. "All the actors had to spend the time to get fluent in the craft – not fluent enough to serve 100 meals, but fluent enough where someone else who knows how to do it wouldn't think they look ridiculous."
When it got down to shooting, they chose the authentic over the artificial, shooting in a real, functioning kitchen and making real dishes. Everyone who wasn't a named actor in the room was actually a cook in a Michelin-rated restaurant, and BBC TV Master Chef presenter Marcus Wareing was behind the camera, both designing the menus and keeping an eye on everyone's technique.
The actors felt the stress and the pain of working in a real kitchen too – sometimes literally, with cuts and burns.
"That's real sweat. My eyes were bloodshot for half the movie. It was all real. For an actor, that was amazing. There was no stunt double. There was no insert of another person's hands," said Cooper. "It's all me, for better or worse."
Being No. 1 on the call sheet isn't unlike being the head of a kitchen, too. Cooper needed to set the tone of the operation.
"He did exactly what any director would want him to do. He was fully prepared, had done all of his research, knew all of his lines and showed up ready to work and was as demanding as Adam," said Wells. "He was the first person on the set and the last person off."
The seriousness with which Cooper approached the role reminded Wells of another actor he'd worked with recently: Meryl Streep.
He remembers showing up for a read through of "August: Osage County" and Streep was already off book.
"Everyone else was like, 'oh, uh-oh, it's going to be like that, is it?' And that was the same with Bradley," he said. "Bradley, because he's so... good-looking, people don't realize that he's really smart – fiercely intelligent. He questions things and you and everyone else had better be prepared."
Cooper has been going non-stop lately. He shot "Burnt" right after wrapping "American Sniper," for which he earned a third Oscar nomination for acting (two lead, one supporting), and just before his Tony-nominated turn in "The Elephant Man." He can been seen next in his third collaboration with director David O. Russell, "Joy," out on Christmas and expected to be a major player in the awards scene.
"I've seen 'Joy.' It's unbelievable," said Cooper. "I wasn't a big part of it. But I love the role that he asked me to play. We created a guy who I've never played before – different rhythms. David's all about rhythms. It's a beautiful thing."
With directing ambitions on the horizon, Cooper also has been using his recent projects as an opportunity to learn as he decides what his directorial debut might be. There were talks earlier this year of a remake of "A Star Is Born."
He's been producing most of his projects of late, too, including "Limitless," ''American Sniper," and both "American Hustle" and "Silver Linings Playbook," which has given him access and insight into every aspect of production. But it's Russell who has taken him under his wing.
"It's been like going to film school," he said. "I hope to get the opportunity."