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Bradley Cooper on 60 Minutes

Three consecutive Oscar nominations put Cooper in the company of actors like Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson, but five years ago you may not have recognized his name

The following script is from "Bradley Cooper" which aired on Feb. 15, 2015. Steve Kroft is the correspondent. Michael Karzis, producer.

As recently as five years ago you would have been forgiven for not knowing exactly who Bradley Cooper was despite the fact that he had been in roughly 20 movies and four television series. Today, you have no excuse. He's had quite a year, winning acclaim for two roles that couldn't be more different: one on stage portraying a sensitive soul with a horrible affliction and the other on film as a stoic, solitary Navy SEAL in Clint Eastwood's "American Sniper."

The latter earned Cooper his third Academy Award nomination in as many years, something only 10 male actors have ever done before. It puts him on a list with names like Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Spencer Tracy and Gregory Peck and it announces his arrival not just as a major movie star, but as a committed, talented and versatile actor.

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Bradley Cooper and Steve Kroft
CBS News

Steve Kroft: A friend of yours said, I think there's part of Bradley that doesn't quite believe this has happened to him?

Bradley Cooper: Well, believe it in as much as I believe I'm sitting here, talking to you. But the thrill's still there. Don't get me wrong. The thrill is still massive, you know? I mean, I wake up very happy every day, I'll tell ya that.

It's where Bradley Cooper wakes up these days that is more problematic. For the past few weeks he's been parachuting into LA for 24-hour binges of the obligatory pre-Oscar hoopla. This year it's "American Sniper," which we'll get to later. The rest of the week he wakes up 2,700 miles away in New York. That's him with the backpack. He is currently the toast of Broadway, locked into one sometimes two performances a day of "The Elephant Man."

Bradley Cooper: You know I always sort of talk about-- to myself at least, or to my friends, about wanting to just keep life very simple. I've found it most simple here in New York. You know, it's basically I have a, in a way, a 9-to-5 job, you know? I do eight shows a week. I live in New York City. I get to walk everywhere, and you know, just be one of the people of the city. And it's actually wonderful.

Steve Kroft: You can move around all right?

Bradley Cooper: There's nobody with me. I just came here, you know? I do everything on my own. So it's great.

Steve Kroft: And no paparazzi? People don't bug you--

Bradley Cooper: No, they get me on the way from where I live to the subway station. But for some reason, they don't wanna spend the $2.50 and ride the subway with me. And so--I lose 'em in the subway.

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Bradley Cooper waves to fans outside "The Elephant Man" in New York City
CBS News

"The Elephant Man" has been a huge success, smashing attendance records and winning Cooper excellent reviews from Broadway's toughest critics for a role that's been part of his consciousness for nearly 30 years. At age 12, he decided he wanted to be an actor after watching the movie version. It tells the story of John Merrick, a horribly deformed British man with a saintly soul who's rescued from a 19th century freak show and given sanctuary at a London hospital. Twenty-eight years later, he's produced, cast, and arranged the financing for the current Broadway production.

Steve Kroft: You play John Merrick?

Bradley Cooper: Yeah.

Steve Kroft: Without any makeup? Without any prosthesis?

Bradley Cooper: Uh-huh.

Steve Kroft: Just you, Bradley Cooper?

Bradley Cooper: Yeah.

Steve Kroft: And you have to convince the audience that you're him?

Bradley Cooper: Yeah.

Steve Kroft: How do you do that?

Bradley Cooper: By believing I'm him. That's how I do it. If I'm acting like I'm him or I don't quite make that leap of faith, there's absolutely no way you're gonna believe it. I had to do a tremendous amount of work to get to a place where I do believe I'm him.

Part of the work was 20 years of research and part of a performance unlike any he has ever given. The transformation from Cooper to Merrick is shared by the audience in one of the early scenes.

Bradley Cooper: As the doctor is speaking to the Pathological Society, which actually is the audience of the play, and you see an actual photograph of Joseph Merrick in between us, he is then describing all of his afflictions.

[Treves: From the upper jaw that projected another massive bone.]

Bradley Cooper: And then I then interpret each one in a physical manner

[Treves: The right hand was large and clumsy a fin or paddle rather than a hand. ]

Bradley Cooper: Almost-- l-- mimicry. Almost like a mime.

[Treves: To add a further burden to his trouble the wretched man when a boy developed hip disease which left his permanently lame so that he would only walk with a stick.]

Bradley Cooper: And once he's finished with that presentation I'm fully physically transformed but the soul hasn't been injected yet. He brings the cane over, steps away and then says "Please."

[Treves: Please.]

Bradley Cooper: And that's the first time you hear Merrick alive. That is the moment where the transformation occurs. And if I don't-- if I don't make that leap at that moment, the rest of the play is not gonna work.

But it has through 111 performances, each one ending with a standing ovation and hundreds of people outside the stage door behind police barricades waiting for Cooper's autograph or a picture...or a chance to touch someone People magazine had once declared the "Sexiest Man Alive." But it's a moniker that belies his intelligence and talents. He's an excellent cook, speaks fluent French, and after graduating with honors from Georgetown University with a major in English, he borrowed $70,000 to get a masters degree from the Actors Studio.

[Bradley Cooper: How you doing Mr. DeNiro? My name is Bradley Cooper. My question is regarding "Awakenings."]

But Bradley Cooper was never a struggling young actor. He was making out with Carrie Bradshaw on "Sex in the City" while he was still in grad school. A year later had a TV series, "Alias," alongside Jennifer Garner and promptly paid off that college loan. But he was not an overnight sensation either. You may remember him as the obnoxious fiancé who made a big hit in "The Wedding Crashers." But it took him four more years and a road trip to Vegas for a bachelor party to make him a movie star. "The Hangover" grossed nearly a half billion dollars worldwide.

Steve Kroft: Really things started to change I guess with "The Hangover." I mean, that was huge.

Bradley Cooper: Massive, oh, yeah, yeah, yeah-- any time you're part of a movie that makes that much money in the box office, it's gonna provide opportunities for other studios to take chances with you, just on a very mathematical level. That is the way it works. I mean everyone has a number next to them about what their value is and when they are casting a movie, any producer will tell you every actor has a certain amount of currency that an investor will allow them to make so that you can get your money get your movie made.

Steve Kroft: you had-- a perfectly good career. You would play generally either leading men or-- or main supporting actors. And-- and nobody during that time said, "You know, Bradley Cooper's really a great actor." And now you've got three Academy Award nominations. How'd that happen?

Bradley Cooper: Opportunity. People believing in me. I mean, people that have power -- willing to take a chance. That's everything. You know, you've gotta walk through the door and show them why you should be in the room, but you know, the door's gotta, you know, be open for you to walk through it.

Steve Kroft: And one of those opportunities was "Silver Linings Playbook"?

Bradley Cooper: Absolutely.

In this quirky romantic comedy, Cooper played a bipolar teacher who is discharged from a psych ward intent on reconciling with his ex-wife only to meet Jennifer Lawrence who is just as mixed up as he is. It landed Cooper his first Oscar nomination. The next year, Cooper was nominated again in a supporting role for his portrayal of whacked out FBI agent Richie Dimaso in "American Hustle." Both films were written and directed by David O. Russell, the first to realize Cooper's potential.

Steve Kroft: Why do you think he cast you?

Bradley Cooper: You know I think that he saw something that he believed in, I remember him saying to me, "You know, I've only seen you in first and second gear, and I think you've got about six gears. So I wanna go to those gears. And I want people to see that this is the kind of landscape that you're working with with this actor." And that gave me a tremendous amount of confidence.

Once again in "American Sniper," Cooper has turned in a performance that is vastly different than anything he has ever done in a film The New Yorker called a "subdued celebration of a warrior's skill and a sorrowful lament over his alienation and misery." It has generated heated debate about the morality of the war in Iraq and nearly $300 million at the box office.

Steve Kroft: Do you think this is a political movie?

Bradley Cooper: You know --my reaction is like, "No." But then, we could have a discussion about everything's political, do you know what I mean? But no, I-- no I never saw that. I saw it as telling a personal story.

It's the story of Chris Kyle a Navy SEAL sniper who survived four tours in Iraq with 160 confirmed kills protecting the backs of U.S. Marines in places like Fallujah and Sadr City and it's about the toll it took on him and his family.

Steve Kroft: Most challenging role you've ever had?

Bradley Cooper: Oh, without question. And for nothing else other than, Steve, that he was a real human being. It's like, you just work hard, work hard, work hard, do all the work, do all the-- and then hopefully, you just pray that it just starts to happen, so that when you walk on that set that first day, he's there.

To make it happen, Cooper decided he needed to put on 40 pounds of muscle to capture Kyle's enormous physical presence and calm demeanor. For three months, he ate 6,000 calories every day and spent eight hours working out and perfecting Kyle's Texas accent. The weekends were spent on sniper training with former SEALs.

Steve Kroft: What were you trying to convey with this movie? I mean, what did you hope to convey?

Bradley Cooper: If we were able to hit the bull's eye. One was--that men and women in the service who watch the movie feel like they see their story up there, or they can relate to it. Number two would be people-- the 99 percent of the population that has noth-- knows nothing about what military men in service go through, or their families, would see it in a different light and say, "Oh wow, I had no idea."

["American Sniper" clip: Hold on I gotta woman and kid 200 yards out moving towards the convoy and she's carrying something....She's got a grenade. She's got an RKG - Russian Grenade. She's handing it to the kid. You got eyes on this. Can you confirm?]

Bradley Cooper: I'm on the gun and I've shot live ammo through it, and I've seen what it does. I know that I can take them out if I want to but my whole stomach, Steve, turned like that-- the minute I saw them through the crosshairs. Even though it was an empty gun, there were no bullets, you know, they're actors, it's not a real Russian grenade. But because of the work that I had done, it was enough so that my body physically changed. So those little things key you into what-- maybe having a glimpse of what-- any soldier has to go through.

Cooper gives much of the credit to director Clint Eastwood, who allowed him to observe and participate in every aspect of the production....and in Cooper, Eastwood sees a little bit of himself.

Clint Eastwood: He's probably as professional of any actor his age I've ever met, and I never caught him acting. And that-- is a compliment. He's gonna be a great director one of these days when he gets tired of acting, which we hope is not too soon.

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Colin Compano, Gloria Compano and Bradley Cooper
CBS News

Bradley Cooper just turned 40 so there are lots of things he plans to do including eventually having a family, when he has the time and all the right things fall into place. He grew up in a tight Irish-Italian clan in Philadelphia, which he still considers home. We spent an afternoon there with his entourage which consisted of his dog, Charlotte, his cousin, Colin Compano, and his mother, Gloria. When "The Elephant Man" ends its run on Saturday they'll have just enough time to get to LA for the Oscars on Sunday.

Steve Kroft: So you-- you are going as his date?

Gloria Campano: Oh yeah.

Steve Kroft: This is, like, the third year in a row.

Gloria Campano: I know. It's--

Steve Kroft: Aren't you getting tired of it?

Gloria Campano: --I love it. No. I love it. When my son-- are you kidding? This is his third. And I think this year he'll do it. I really do.

Bradley Cooper: Oh Jesus.

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