Chris Cooper interview: 'Jake Gyllenhaal is like a nephew'

The Oscar-winner talks about his career as Hollywood's most fervent supporting actor, the advice he gave a teenage Jake Gyllenhaal and how new film Demolition was a chance to cope with his personal loss

If Chris Cooper wasn't an actor, he'd be an architect.

This notion is none too surprising; the 64-year-old actor is, after all, one whose past roles - Oscar-winning or otherwise - come gift-wrapped as performances delivered by a skilled professional who basks in the opportunity to plan, design and construct his characters with great care (see: The Patriot, Adaptation, The Company Men).

One such role is Demolition, the new film from director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club, Wild) which tracks the unique grieving process of Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal), an investment banker who loses his wife in a car accident. The film marks the third time Cooper has acted opposite Gyllenhaal, the first of which - October Sky - dates back to 1999 when the future-Hollywood star was a mere 16-years-old.


"He came from a family in the business and he was looking for the long haul," recalls Cooper in a New York apartment on a snow-strewn Manhattan morning.

Reflecting upon his influence on the actor, Cooper continues: "We had many talks. [I told him] at every turn of this business, do not have regrets; it's a very competitive, tough business and you are going to be rejected so put your time in and have no regrets. I know he took that to heart because I've seen previous interviews and he's mentioned that conversation."

Cooper next worked with Gyllenhaal in 2005, this time on Sam Mendes' gulf war drama Jarhead.

"It's like running into a nephew every so many years. He's always pleasant. It's always a delight."

Cooper stars in Demolition as Davis's father-in-law, Phil, a man struggling to come to terms with the death of his child - a touching feat considering Cooper's own experiences; in 2003, the actor's son Jesse unexpectedly died at the age of 17.

Without specifically referring to his loss, the tragedy's resonance remains close to his lips.

"One of the huge reasons I wanted to take on this role was because, at this age, everybody's going to lose a loved one. It's certainly happened to me."

"Scripts have come my way concerning a similar emotion and I wasn't quite ready to deal with it. [But] I so understood Phil and what he was going through that I thought, with ten years distance of my own experience, it was time to deal with it."

As well as time's passage, would Cooper say the talent of today's screenwriters - in a time so filled with remakes and bloated franchises - helped play a part in his decision?

"Good scripts have always been, I think, hard to find," he levels. "Good storytelling, good writing - it's just not easy. I have made it a point that - if I'm going to put the energy into doing this work - I will wait until I find something I'm really happy with."

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Jake Gyllenhaal and Chris Cooper in 'Demolition'

Cooper is aware he's one of the perennial supporting actors of our generation. Save for 2007 thriller Breach - a film the actor deems the first studio film to consider him a lead - it could be argued his Hollywood career is best surmised by the common phrase: 'always a bridesmaid, never the bride.'

It's effervescently plain to see, however, that this fixture has freed him to broaden his repertoire; Cooper is just as likely to star in American Beauty as he is The Muppets ("I have a newfound respect for rappers," he quips in reference to his character Tex Richman who spits some lyrics in the 2011 family film).

He even dabbled in the post-millennial resurgence of the superhero genre playing supervillain Norman Osborne in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 before Sony wiped the slate clean (again), paving the way for Tom Holland's iteration. "You do those every once in a while because they travel very easily," he admits, bluntly. "Quite frankly, that kind of a film keeps my name alive."


This statement belies Cooper's existence as an actor who hasn't much left to accomplish.

With his theatre startings under the tutelage of indie filmmaker John Sayles, an Academy Award win (he won for Adaptation in, you guessed it, the Best Supporting Actor category) and a TV show ticked off the list (Stephen King series 11/22/63), you've only got to look at Cooper's alternate profession to see where he could possibly go next.

"I think I would enjoy doing a biopic of [American architect] Frank Lloyd Wight. I'm dumbfounded why nothing's been done about him yet; he had such a full career, interesting family life and very dramatic ups and downs. I think he'd be a great piece to work on."

Perhaps he should see if Gyllenhaal's free.

Demolition is released in cinemas on 29 April

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