By Sarah Kuhn
While working on the TV movie I Want to Marry Ryan Banks, Bradley Cooper was constantly regaled with stories about a certain actor.
His co-star, Emma Caulfield, couldn’t stop talking about Nicholas Brendon, who played her love interest on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. “She kept saying, ‘Oh, my God, there was this guy that I worked with who you kind of remind me of, but he’s really funny and he’s such a great actor. You guys would get along,’” says Cooper. “Every day we’d do a scene, and she’d go, ‘Oh, my God, he would be so great in that scene.’ I’m, like, ‘The scene I just did?’ She’s, like, ‘Yeah, oh, my God, the choices he would have made.’ This guy, Nicholas Brendon, I wanted to f***ing kill him.”
In a neat twist of fate, the two are now starring together in Kitchen Confidential, a new FOX comedy that revolves around bad-boy chef Jack Bourdain (Cooper) and his staff at a hip New York City eatery. Brendon portrays Seth, an old pal of Jack’s who comes to work for him. “It’s so crazy that we’re working together now,” says Cooper. “And [Emma was] right: We both find the same things funny.”
That much is certainly obvious. Over brunch, Cooper and Brendon are very much in sync, ribbing each other good-naturedly and jokingly proclaiming that they share a psychic bond. “We actually have become so close we don’t have to talk anymore,” says Brendon. “What’s going on in our heads is 10 times better than this.”
Prior to Kitchen, both actors played nice guys on cult-hit series with kick-ass female leads: Brendon was sarcastic sidekick Xander Harris on Buffy; Cooper spent two seasons as well-meaning reporter Will Tippin on Alias. Cooper also has a scene-stealing supporting role in this summer’s raucous comedy Wedding Crashers.
To kick things off, Cooper recalled his Kitchen audition:
Bradley Cooper: I remember, in the middle of the audition, I felt like they were excited and I was excited. Usually you walk in a room and you get the feeling they’re, like, “Great, do your thing, ’cause there are, like, eight more [actors].” David Hemingson, [who created the show with Darren Star], is amazing, and he was so effusive in his excitement about the project. We started to do the audition, and halfway through I just felt like I wasn’t nailing it. I remember, I thought, “I’m not gonna get this. I’m actually losing the role right now.” I actually said, in the middle of the audition — which is the best thing I did — “I’m drowning, guys.” And just saying that sort of freed me up, and then I was able to do better.
Nicholas Brendon: And what did they say to you? “No, no, no….”
Cooper: David goes, “No, man, you’re on a cigarette boat, you’re skimming across the waves.” I’m, like, “Cigarette?” It took me a second. Then I’m, like, “Oh, Miami Vice, all right.” I’m not drowning, I’m on a cigarette boat.
Entrances and Exits
Back Stage West: You’ve both been a part of hugely successful shows. What was the experience like coming off of those series? And did you find yourself being typecast or pigeonholed at all?
Brendon: I didn’t know how to say goodbye properly. It was very bittersweet for me. I had to do a lot of soul-searching when it was over, and I kind of took myself out of acting for four or five months to take care of some stuff. I think I was too deep into the healing process of this thing that had ended that I wasn’t aware of any pigeonholing that happened to me. We were over at [the Television Critics Association press tour], and somebody had brought that up in the Q&A session, and Darren and Dave both said emphatically that I would have done this project regardless of Buffy, which is great because I didn’t expect that answer — nor did I expect the question.
Cooper: Meaning that they would have hired you because Xander was [like] Seth?
Brendon: Yeah. They hadn’t really even seen Buffy, and basically [they said] I embodied the role of Seth, which was neat. You kind of fear that there’s a name thing, maybe, that there’s a body of work; it’s not because you’re nailing that part. I always felt that if I had to audition for a part, I had so much more respect for that part than if I were offered a part. Four or five years ago, when I was full of anxiety, I would have rather been offered parts, because I was so terrified of auditioning. Now, as I’ve grown up and matured, I love the audition process. ’Cause that’s life: You’re not gonna book everything. In life you’re not going to get everything you want. You have to learn how to deal with the ups and the downs.
Cooper: Alias for me was a real whirlwind of an experience. It was like the best of times and the worst of times, truly. I was from New York, and I got hired out of New York, and it was great because Victor Garber and Ron Rifkin also did. So we sort of all came out together, and they have remained two of my best friends. That was a really special experience, and that first season was kind of magical because it was a groundbreaking show in a lot of ways. And Jennifer [Garner] just exploded. It was amazing. But then it got to the point where I felt like I was on location in L.A. rather than moving to L.A. I was living in Hollywood, up in the hills, and I was only working, like, three days a week. And the whole idea of criticism of the public and the network and the [Internet] message boards. I became completely obsessed with the message boards. People really didn’t like my character, and it really hurt me. I took it very personally. I mean, it was a joint decision [for me to leave]. I didn’t know what the character was anymore. I just felt like I was stagnating as an actor, too, and I thought, “Is this what it’s gonna be my whole life?”
Brendon: That really is admirable. Because after about season five on [Buffy], or the end of season four, I was that guy. [Buffy creator] Joss [Whedon] actually said Xander was done — that there was no more. I was just kind of relegated to the background. It was one of those things that, where I was at in my life, the money was more important than my pride or taking care of myself. [Leaving], especially as the show’s just starting to take off…
Cooper: Yeah, but I was drowning, man. [Alias creator J.J. Abrams], who I love, was so sympathetic when I went to him. We talked a lot about ending Will at the end of season two, and then we did it. It was a very emotional two years, but I would never take it back. I loved going through it, because I learned so much, and I really learned about what’s important. With [Kitchen Confidential], I hope people watch it, but I’m just enjoying shooting the 12 [episodes]. Because that’s all I can control.
BSW: Let’s talk about your first sitcom experiences. Bradley, I remember you in Sex and the City, and Nicholas, I believe yours was Married … With Children.
Brendon: Mine was demoralizing. I was cast as Guy in Ray-Ray’s Gang. I went in for Ray-Ray, but this other actor got it. I [had] one line. In rehearsal, I go [tough-guy voice], “Oh, yo, it’s the ghost of that dead guy, Al Bundy.” That’s how I wanted to say it. And the director says, “No, no, man. You’re a tweaker, and you really believe that that’s the ghost of Al Bundy.” What? So in the end, we’re rolling dice on the stoop, and I say, [meek, scared voice] “That’s the ghost of that dead Al Bundy guy.” You could hear a pin drop on tape. And Married … With Children is the rowdiest show ever. Pin drop. And then [I got] that flush where you can tell you’re turning purple under all your makeup and you’re starting to bead sweat a little bit, and you don’t know what to do.
Cooper: I played Jake the Downtown Smoker. I remember I didn’t know how to drive a stick shift, and they said, “Can you drive a stick shift?” And I was, like, “Yeah, yeah.” I ran home and called my agent and said, “I can’t drive a stick shift.” So they sent me to driving school in New York City. I spent two days driving all over the city in a Honda Accord, and I got really good at it, I thought. Cut to the day of work: It’s 2 in the morning, and I get in the car, and it’s a 1968 silver Porsche convertible. The brake and the clutch on a Honda Accord are, like, right next to each other. On that old Porsche, it was like driving a bus. All I thought was, “I’m gonna smash [Sarah Jessica Parker’s] head on the dashboard.” I was starting to sweat profusely, and then, as I’m realizing that, her assistant comes up to me and goes, “Just so you know, Miss Parker doesn’t kiss in rehearsals. And no tongue.” And then walks away. I was, like, “No, no, I wasn’t gonna do tongue.” In the whole scene, all I kept thinking of was, I was trying to keep my tongue in the back of my mouth and not bang her head against the dashboard. So it was a pretty trying experience, but it was fun.
Starts and Stops
BSW: Speaking of sitcoms, Nicholas, is it true that you landed a guest spot on Dave’s World while you were a production assistant on the show?
Brendon: Yeah. I was cast in it, and I was not a PA for that week, and when I came back, I was fired as a PA. I mean, I fell asleep on the producer’s coach the week before. They frown upon that. Because of that, I got into acting when I was 25: A manager wanted to sign me, and I booked Buffy three months later. That was a monumental time in my life. I [first] got into acting when I was 19, 20, because I had a stutter and I wanted to combat the stutter.
Cooper: So you initially were in it at 20 and then went back?
Brendon: I did three or four commercials. When I would go in for auditions, I wasn’t having fun. I was terrified about having a stutter, and I would give myself such a hard time if I didn’t do well. I would beat myself up. I remember when we had the earthquake in ’94. I was in Sherman Oaks, and I had an audition at Universal for something, and after all the rumbling had stopped and I realized I was alive, my first thought was, “Cool, I don’t have to go to Universal for my audition today.” Not, “Is anyone dead?” but, “Awesome, free day.” I realized that I just really didn’t want to be doing it anymore. [Later] I was in a place to really not care about what people thought about me and just have fun. And I’ve realized that I can’t book every job. The only thing that I’m in control of is doing a good job in there, and I have five minutes; it’s my time. But I really just kind of took all the pressure off me, which is advice that I give to actors: Go in there and have fun.
BSW: Bradley, have you ever thought about quitting the business?
Cooper: Oh, yeah. Once the second season [of Alias] wrapped, I actually had lunch with my manager and my business manager and said, “Stop representing me; I’m gonna move to New York and get a Ph.D. and study literature and teach.” I went to see Punch Drunk Love that night, and I was sitting in the movie theater, and I just loved that movie. I thought, “If I was in a small town with my family and going to see that movie, I would walk away so depressed,” because it’s the only thing I really want to do: tell stories. So the next day I thought, “You know what? Come on, man. Get your shit together.” It was a long road after that and continues to be a long road, but it was a big turning point.
Brendon: I was writing in my journal this morning, and I can’t believe how blessed we all are doing this show right now. We’re on set, and it hasn’t really hit us yet. I can’t believe this is my life. As a kid, I wanted to be an actor. I can’t believe that, literally, I’m living a fairy-tale life. It’s almost like you’re afraid to admit [it], and you’re afraid to write it down, because I always think, “Okay, well, God’s gonna take that away.” But it’s just good to write it out and say, “I really appreciate everything that’s in my life right now.”
Cooper: We’re all doing this at the right time in our lives. What I love about this experience is, I feel like I’m living every moment of it and appreciating it. I’m not caught up in any of the s*** that doesn’t matter — so far. I’m not worrying about the ratings, I’m not worrying about people even watching. I just want people to watch because I love [the show] so much. It’s the perfect time for all of us to appreciate this, and that is a blessing, because timing is everything.
BSW: Any final advice for aspiring actors?
Cooper: I remember when Whoopi Goldberg came to our school [the Actors Studio Drama School at the New School University], and everybody was so irate because she said, “You know what? If you have any doubt about doing it, don’t.” Everybody was, like, “What the hell?” I think that’s the best advice I’ve ever heard. This business is so f***ing hard. I’ve been lucky — the fact that I graduated in 2000 and I literally haven’t stopped working since. And with that, it’s been such a rough road. Between ’action’ and ’cut’ is the best thing in the world for me. If you get that kind of high, then it’s worth it. And if you feel that kind of complete obsession with it, then I think it’s worth it. But otherwise, you know what? Don’t do it. If I didn’t love it, I would not do it. And I never thought that I would say [that], but it’s not negative. It’s kind of like a disease, acting. But I love it.
Brendon: I’m not sure how to follow that, because that was very articulate and beautiful. But mine’s gonna be very simple and completely contrary to yours. Joking aside, the only advice that I would give is to have fun. If you’re not having fun, why do it? That’s why I quit, initially. Also, when I’m acting, I don’t overthink anything. The hardest part of acting for me is the movement of your body, standing in front of a camera. The thing that kind of gets me through that is [thinking], “Listen, as human beings, we’re awkward. We don’t know how to stand.” So just because there’s a camera on you, don’t overthink that stuff. Or if you do, that’s fine, because as human beings we overthink things, as well. As long as you’re thinking something. Acting is faking out people and making them believe and taking them through an adventure, and there are many ways to do that, but the most important thing is to really have fun.