Brad Pitt and Carey Mulligan Present the Award
The first of the 39th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) Tributes took place on Thursday night: the Outstanding Performer of the Year Award. It was deservedly given to the multi-talented Bradley Cooper his critically acclaimed portrayal of Leonard Bernstein in Maestro from Netflix, and celebrated his 25 years in film.
Like other tributes, we took a walk through Cooper’s career via stories and clips from many performances. Before getting to those, however, he talked about wanting to be an actor since he was a child, even though he was shy, and that he was lucky to have parents who supported him (at least publicly – he was pretty sure they fretted about his career choice in private).
“There was a movie theater, my backyard was train tracks and a movie theater. I watched movies like The Godfather, Popeye, and I just knew then. and television. I always knew I wanted to do it, but I was terrified, I was shy. But I knew I wanted to do it,” said Cooper.
He did a Master’s of Fine Arts degree at the Actors Studio in New York. There was a famous clip from the weekly Actors Studio TV show where Robert DeNiro was the guest, and young Bradley Cooper stood up and asked him a question (about preparing for his role in Awakenings). Some years later he auditioned for DeNiro, who told him he didn’t get the part but said, “I see it,” meaning Cooper’s talent. Of course they later worked together in The Silver Linings Playbook.
In another example of the strange ways that Hollywood relationships and interactions happen, he recalled that Jon Peters owned the rights to A Star is Born and Cooper met with him several times to negotiate for them. And then, in 2022, Cooper played Jon Peters in Licorice Pizza.
Cooper’s first screen role was on Sex and the City, in 1999, which he remembered with great fondness. Unfortunately, we weren’t treated to a clip from that, but did see many others, including The Hangover, The Place Beyond the Pines, Silver Linings Playbook, American Sniper, and A Star is Born.
“I don’t know if you need to have empathy [to play a character], and I can only speak for myself, but you have to get to a place where it doesn’t feel like acting. You have to believe what you’re saying. I don’t know if it’s empathy, or that you have to love your character,” said Cooper.
He shared great anecdotes about working with some film legends, and often referenced their voices (he’s a great mimic). He recalled that Clint Eastwood had been planning to remake A Star is Born for years, and wanted Beyonce for the female lead. After working together on American Sniper, Cooper brought up the project to say he was very interested in working on it, and Eastwood said, “Why don’t you make it?” (said in Eastwood’s low growly voice). He openly admitted to imitating Sam Elliott’s voice for his part in A Star is Born (where Elliott played his brother), and hoped Elliott wouldn’t find it creepy.
Before the last two clips, for Nightmare Alley and Maestro, his Maestro co-star Carey Mulligan came out to speak about working with Cooper. She spoke glowingly of his focus, and integrity to omit any scenes which do not serve the film even if they were created with great love and care (and expense).
“What might be too easily taken for granted is your innate gift as an actor. I don’t think acting is a 10,000 hour skill. I don’t think you can prep or practice, that’s something else,” said Mulligan.
But that wasn’t all! The evening culminated with the award presentation by…. Brad Pitt!
“The first time I saw Bradley, I said to myself, one day I’m going to milk this guy for a free trip to Santa Barbara. I want to note for the record, I was this close to getting A Star is Born, but in the end the director went with Bradley,” said Pitt.
Apparently the two Brads are great friends, and clearly have a wonderful rapport. Pitt again referenced Cooper’s talents, and said his greatest gift was his appreciation for the human experience.
Pitt ended his otherwise glowing tribute with a dig that only a good friend could give. He noted that Cooper has been nominated 9 times for Academy Awards and never won – pause for sad effect, then – a zinger: “But he should be used to it as he’s a Philadelphia Eagles fan!”
The tribute was moderated by a very genial Pete Hammond, of Indiewire. Both Cooper and Mulligan made a point of saying that he is a truly generous and genuine individual, with an honest love of film. It was a fun night, full of great insider stories, and many laughs.
“Nine-time Oscar® nominee Bradley Cooper has proven to be an actor of incredible range and versatility. What has impressed me the most is that he has grown to be one of the most indelible directing voices . He’s a renaissance man – an outstanding performer indeed!” SBIFF’s Executive Director Roger Durling noted.
SBIFF’s Outstanding Performer of the Year Award recognizes select individuals who have distinguished themselves with exceptional performances in film. Past recipients of the award include Cate Blanchett, Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Margot Robbie and Allison Janney, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Penelope Cruz, Angelina Jolie, Helen Mirren, Heath Ledger, Kate Winslet and Charlize Theron.
The Santa Barbara International Film Festival is a 501(c)(3) non-profit arts and educational organization dedicated to discovering and showcasing the best in independent and international cinema. Learn more at sbiff.org