Bradley Cooper Talks Working with Friends on ‘The Words’

Lee Sternthal, Brian Klugman and Bradley Cooper (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Making a movie is never easy. Making a movie with two of your closest friends? Could be a recipe for disaster.

Luckily for Bradley Cooper, it wasn’t.

Cooper’s latest flick, “The Words,” was written and directed by two of his oldest pals, Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal.

The trio grew up together in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Cooper, who affectionately refers to Klugman as “Klugy,” attended Germantown Academy with the director. Klugman and Sternthal went to summer camp together.

The film, which took nearly a decade to produce from script to screen, was shot in Montreal, Canada in just 25 days with a modest budget of $6 million.

The layered drama intertwines the stories of three writers: Rory Jansen (Cooper), Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) and an author referred to as “the young man” (Ben Barnes).

Rory Jansen is a struggling author whose latest novel hits the top of every best seller list.  The problem? He didn’t write it. Clay Hammond is a successful novelist forced to look at his life and career through the eyes of a student. The “young man” is a war vet living in 1940s Paris who pens a novel in the wake of a terrible family tragedy.

Cooper, Klugman, and Sternthal returned to Philadelphia in late August to premiere the movie to their family and friends. Pals from high school cheered as the credits rolled, their middle school teacher sat in the front row. It was a true homecoming.

I recently sat down with the three to discuss the film.

Laura Hibbs: How did it feel to premiere “The Words” in Philadelphia?

Lee Sternthal: It was a dream.
Brian Klugman: It was truly really a dream come true.
Bradley Cooper: It was great to just sort of be experiencing the whole thing, turning right and left and having your best buddies right there.

Hibbs: I sat between Lee’s parents and your high school friends. Everyone was really excited for you.

Klugman: It felt very special, very special.
Sternthal: You look out there and there are people that you haven’t seen in, maybe, 20 years. You’re so close, but you just talk and text. To see them and share that with them is just absolutely amazing.

Cooper and Saldana in 'The Words' (Photo: CBS Films)

Hibbs: Bradley’s character Rory constantly questions his decision to steal another man’s book. What questions did you ask yourselves during the writing of “The Words”?

Sternthal: I think we were so young and so precocious. After we wrote the script, Brian said, “We are going to be in production by January.” At that point it was only September. We just had so much gusto and the questions didn’t come until after as we matured.
Klugman: The questions during the writing of the script that we were asking each other were about the actual characters and whatnot. I think the big one for us was about… we talked a lot about, like, redemption, and could someone put guilt aside.
Sternthal: We talked about, kind of, understanding why Rory, Bradley’s character, makes his choice as opposed to judging him. It was really important to us that the audience wasn’t walking out being like “What an a**hole.”

Hibbs: If you had the chance, whose story would you steal?

Cooper: I think the one thing that all of us feel, and the tragedy of this movie, is that Rory robbed himself of ever experiencing the ecstasy of creation. That drives all three of us, the joy in that. That is why, I think, we get along so well. It’s in our DNA to do that. It’s not really in our nature to rob each other. That’s what drives us actually. It’s not the result, it’s the doing.

Cooper in 'The Words' (Photo: CBS Films)

Hibbs: Bradley, what was it like taking directions from your friends?

Cooper: Great, it was easy. It really was because I trust them and [Klugman] really knows how to talk to me.

Hibbs: Did you get into any fights on set?

Cooper: No, we didn’t. We had never created anything together before. We really didn’t. Lee and I were friends for years, but not close friends. Just by proxy through [Klugman]. Brian and I never did any collaborative artistic thing, ever. We never had any arguments. It wasn’t like we had a relationship where, you know, it wasn’t like a brother relationship. There was always a politeness and a respect. There was never like, “Well, I’m so close that I could just unleash on you.” It’s never been like that.
Klugman: I really felt this total collaborative vibe on the set. Everyone was like “Hey, let’s try this.”
Cooper: You know what it was, also? It was not lost on any of us the opportunity we had. I think because of that, there was no bulls*** of, like, pontificating about whatever… or, like, egos. It was like we had this sick cast, a finite amount of days. Just 25 days. Very little money, only $6 million. It was like, let’s just do it. It’s like if you were in war… not that this is like being in war, this is a bad example, but there’s no time. It’s all real-time as it is happening, and you’ve got to fix it now. There’s no room for casualty.
Sternthal: When you do it in 25 days, $6 million and no overtime. I mean…

Hibbs: The movie also co-stars Zoe Saldana and Jeremy Irons. How did you compile the cast ?

Klugman: Well, Bradley was the first one on, and him being on, I think, gave a legitimacy to it. And then Jeremy [Irons] signed on. He was phenomenal. Once we had the two of them, it was there.

Cooper and Irons in 'The Words' (Photo: CBS Films)

Hibbs: What was it like working with Jeremy? 

Cooper: It felt like, you know, very comfortable. That’s what such great actors do. When you work with them, they make you feel very comfortable.
Klugman: There was kindness and playfulness in there. He’s a clown. He’s always going to have somebody laughing. He is sharp and witty and willing to play a fool, too.
Sternthal: The first time we went out to dinner with him it was like, “Okay. I’m here with Jeremy Irons. This is kind of weird.” And then you’re five minutes into dinner and he’s got like a wine cork sticking out of his ear and he’s smiling at you. Right there you’re just like, “This guy’s down.”
Cooper: He’s ripped from the same rug as these guys. You knew right away they were kindred spirits.

Hibbs: If you were watching “The Words” with an audience and could pause to point something out, what would it be?

Klugman: It is very picturesque — you’d be stopping on frames to look at something. I think I’d stop it to appreciate some of [cinematographer’s] work. Some of the framing and stuff.
Sternthal: Any of the stuff in Paris. Actually, one of the shots of Nora. There is a shot of Nora Arnezeder, who plays the French girl, where she is staring down at Ben Barnes. We didn’t have that in the first cut. It’s her head and it’s against this church and it’s just so beautiful. It’s my favorite. She’s just so beautiful in the shot.
Klugman: How about you, Coop?
Cooper: Um, maybe I’d pause it right after Dennis [Quaid] breaks away from the kiss. When he kisses Olivia [Wilde].

Hibbs: Are you working on anything else right now?

Klugman: We have a couple of scripts…
Cooper: They’re very prolific. They have tons of scripts.

Hibbs: Any that you are really proud of?

Sternthal: It is whatever you are working on at the time.
Cooper: How many scripts do you think you guys have? 30?
Klugman: About 20 scripts. Some of them are a real mess.
Sternthal: I wouldn’t call some of them scripts.

Hibbs: Bradley, which of your movies are you especially proud of?

Cooper: This movie.
Klugman: Good answer.

Don’t miss Bradley Cooper in “The Words,”  in theaters September 7.


The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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