Bradley Cooper: A Philly boy through and through

(CBS News) Bradley Cooper has starred in some of Hollywood's biggest box-office winners. And with his latest role some say he might be up for an Oscar. Serena Altschul now with a Sunday Profile:

Bradley Cooper is one of Hollywood's biggest stars. He's played the leader of the Wolfpack in "The Hangover" movies, the jerk in "Wedding Crashers," and the heartthrob in "He's Just Not That Into You."

As if that's not enough, he just finished his reign as People magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive."

When asked what his mother thought of the honor, Cooper replied, "She was excited. That was interesting!" he laughed.

It's his role in the new film, "Silver Linings Playbook," that has people talking these days. It's made Cooper a serious Oscar contender, after being nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award and a Golden Globe.

Cooper plays Pat Solitano, a bipolar former teacher who's released from a mental hospital and returns home to his parents' house in Philadelphia with a plan to put his life back together. He finds a kindred spirit in Jennifer Lawrence's character, Tiffany, who has emotional issues of her own.

Was he scared to take the part? "Yeah, I was scared. I couldn't see myself in the role. And I think I was wrong because I've never felt more comfortable than as Pat."

Just like his character in the film, coming home to Philadelphia is comforting for Cooper. We met him at the Hiway Theatre near his boyhood home in the Philly suburb of Jenkintown, where - much to his surprise - the only movie playing is his. "Wow, that's pretty nice," he told Altschul.

He described Philadelphia as a "very idiosyncratic" city. "I have a tremendous amount of pride because my family's roots are imbedded in Philly."

His Italian mother, Gloria, stayed home with Bradley and his sister, Holly, while his Irish father, Charles, traded stocks. After work, he would teach his son about movies.

"It was 'The Elephant Man' and 'Apocalypse Now' and 'Deer Hunter,' 'Taxi Driver' and 'Raging Bull.' I was mainly excited because I saw how much he was excited, and I idolized him."

"So when you sat here in this theater as a kid, did you think at all, 'I'd love to be an actor'?"

"Oh, 100 percent, yeah. It was a joke for people around me that this little kid was saying he's going to be an actor. But I did. When I saw 'The Elephant Man,' I knew it. It crystallized and I said, 'That's what I want to do with my life,' and I never swayed from that."

Soon, he was rehearsing in his backyard.

"I would just come out of my house and just walk, which my mother hated, 'cause she thought it was so dangerous" on the nearby railroad tracks. "And movies like 'Platoon,' or especially 'Stand by Me,' 'cause 'Stand by Me' was all about train tracks with these kids. And so me and my friends would pretend we were in 'Stand by Me.'"

Bradley Cooper shows Serena Altschul where he played as a young boy, in Jenkintown, Pa.
CBS News

But before he could become an actor, there was one thing Cooper knew he had to do: Go to college.

"I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself knowing that my father basically is an example of the American dream. So I had to go to college."

He applied to Georgetown University but didn't get in.

"It was a major thing. And it was a major bonding between me and my father, actually. The one thing that he always really instilled in me was a belief in me."

Cooper reapplied and was accepted a year later, studying English and French. He graduated with honors.

In 1998, he moved to New York to get his graduate degree - and went to auditions on the side. It wasn't long before "Sex and the City" came calling.

"We were shooting on 14th street at 2 a.m. with Sarah Jessica Parker. And it was just surreal. And I loved it. And then, back to school the next day."

Cooper worked steadily in movies and TV, including a part on "Alias." But while his career grew, so did Hollywood's temptations, like drugs and alcohol.

"Just watching myself peer into the abyss. And I thought, 'Wow, I'm actually going sabotage my whole life. I didn't really recognize myself. I was lost."

Friends helped him get back on track, just in time to star in 2005's "Wedding Crashers," alongside Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson.

"Wedding Crashers" made him a star, but Cooper would cement his place on Hollywood's A-list with 2009's blockbuster comedy, "The Hangover."

"Did the success of 'The Hangover' surprise you?" Altschul asked.

"The level of success 'The Hangover' had was absolutely astronomical," Cooper said. "In no way did I ever think that it would do that, ever."

"The Hangover" and its sequel made more than a billion dollars worldwide. The third installment comes out next May.

"The truth is, I couldn't believe that I got cast in 'The Hangover,'" he said, "so I sort of gave up trying to rationalize my life a long time ago. The fact that I'm here with you on this show that I grew up watching with my grandparents with Charles Kuralt, that's surreal."

Maybe so, but it seems all of Cooper's Hollywood success has given him a new perspective.

"The older you get, you start to appreciate where you came from. And when I was living here I thought, I didn't feel the way I do now. Now I just love it. I kind of don't want to let it go."

And so he doesn't.

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