I am republishing this post, which was first published on October 10th, 2011.
The other day I watched an interesting interview of the actor Bradley Cooper on Inside The Actor’s Studio.
What I learned from watching this is that it’s important to become a student of the craft and dedicate everything we have to the process of learning and improving, because in the end, dedication will take us farther than talent.
He wasn’t a child prodigy destined to star on the big screen, though. He wasn’t a Christian Bale type with movie-star-aura at 13 years old. The story of Cooper’s acting success is one of humble beginnings and a serious dedication to his craft.
In 1977, Cooper graduated from Georgetown University with honours in English. His initial plan was to take a year off and intern at the Shubert Theatre in Philadelphia and build up his acting skills before applying to grad school. As a test run, he decided it wouldn’t hurt to apply to a graduate program right away. Astonishingly, without any real prior acting experience, he was accepted to the MFA program at the Actors Studio Drama School in New York.
Coming Back to Where He Started
Years later—after Cooper graduated, went out into the world and found success—he returned to the acting school for this interview, which makes it so special. Cooper once sat in that same audience, and watched the greatest actors on the planet go through the same interview process that he goes through here. You can see him asking a question to Sean Penn in his second year here.
Emotional? You bet.
What I learned is that Bradley Cooper is the real deal. He had the mindset of a real artist early in his career. His level of commitment is extraordinary. It’s amazing and inspiring to see the young, budding Bradley Cooper watch, learn, and absorb the knowledge of those that came before him. That’s what pros do.
In part 2 of this interview, one of Cooper’s teachers had a few things to say about his amazing work ethic as a student:
It was something that had happened many years prior to [teaching Bradley], and I had learned a great lesson from a mentor, Elia Kazan, who said “you know I only want to work with people who give everything they have to give and make their work the most important thing to them in their life.
And that was what struck me about Bradley. That every day he was there, he gave more than I think he even thought was humanly possible to give. And it wouldn’t stop, he was always leaving a piece of himself right there in the room. Every day. And not looking back.
Cooper Was a Pro
Even as a young student, Cooper was a pro. He showed up to work everyday and dedicated himself to getting better at every opportunity. He was passionate about acting for it’s own sake, not for the fame and glory it might him. And that’s why he made it so far—he was in the game for the right reasons.
All we can really do in life is give everything we have to our work. Sign up for the long haul, show up everyday, and at the end of each day we’ll feel fulfilled, regardless of the success we get or don’t get.
Cooper embodied a professional attitude towards a craft that can be intimidating, daunting, and downright scary. Drama teachers evaluate every unnecessary movement, out of place tick, or rigidly acted scene that you botch. Professional actors embrace this process—they need this refreshing dose of reality in order to improve. Amateurs are terrified by it.
At the end of the interview a student asked what challenges him the most as an actor:
…I just want to get better. That’s basically what it is. I really just want to keep getting better and better and better and better and work harder and learn and just constantly [improve]. There is literally no difference in my mindset from when I was a student. Zero.
…Because the money or the fact that more people know who I am doesn’t do anything, doesn’t give you anything. Zero. If anything it’s something you sort of have to grapple with and come to terms with afterwards. But the only thing that really matters is the joy of picking up a cup in a scene and doing it authentically.
Talent is overrated
Bradley Cooper teaches us that talent is overrated; dedication to improving is everything. Being humble takes us farther than being proud—it keeps us grounded in reality and focused on the details of the work. Doing what we love is the only way to discover what we’re truly made of. And finally, he teaches us that putting in the hours of drudge-work and becoming a student of the craft is the essence of what it means to be a professional artist.
Do you find Bradley Cooper’s story inspiring? Do you agree that having a professional attitude towards your work will take you farther than simply being talented? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
***You can also share this post with your friends, or anyone who might find it useful, by using the buttons below: