Since then, he’s earned terrific notices as a naive rookie cop who goes on to become a self-serving politician in “The Place Beyond the Pines.” He also played “The Elephant Man” last year at the Williamstown, Mass., Theatre Forum, and hopes to repeat the role on Broadway.
Even before director David O. Russell wrapped production on “Silver Linings Playbook,” he recruited Cooper to star in “American Hustle,” his follow-up film, which opens Dec. 20.
Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Christian Bale and Robert De Niro play schemers double-crossing their way through a back-stabby scheme inspired by the Abscam scandal. In that 1978 sting operation, federal agents busted politicians who accepted bribes from an actor playing a Mideast sheik.
Cooper’s character is an FBI operative who cons two con artists into working for him. The gullible lawman soon finds himself in over his head strategically, ethically and romantically. Cooper and Russell made it their main goal to demolish the stock character of the FBI antagonist in their delirious crime story.
“We wanted to reinvent that archetype completely,” Cooper said. “We wanted Richie to be almost as colorful as the Irving character” — a whiny, tubby swindler played by Christian Bale, wearing a Donald Trump comb-over and packing a Santa Claus paunch. Irving’s scams include keeping a fake-English mistress (Adams) under the radar of his wife (Lawrence). For a while, anyway. The film morphs into a screwball love story, with the conniving players switching sides faster than a flipped coin.
Cooper calls Russell, who co-wrote the script, an “idiosyncratic,” hard-charging filmmaker who treats his projects like all-in sports contests. Every aspect of the characters was thought out in detail, down to the point that the boyish Richie is never seen with his tie properly tied until a smoother character gives him a makeover.
“It was very fun to dive into these characters and see who could they be,” Cooper said. “My heart goes out to all of them, especially Richie. There’s nothing like watching somebody lose their innocence. It’s my job as an actor to make that fresh and personal.”