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On the Guest List for Bradley Cooper’s SBIFF Tribute: Brad Pitt, Carey Mulligan, and a Few Impressions

Amid tributes from Brad Pitt, Carey Mulligan, and the 2024 Santa Barbara International Film Festival itself, “Maestro” director, co-writer, and star Bradley Cooper fit in his own send-ups to a few famous names he’s gotten to work with.

On Thursday evening, the multi-hyphenate was on hand to accept the Outstanding Performer of the Year Award, and the current Oscar nominee reflected on his career in conversation with Deadline’s Pete Hammond, including the period in which he was a student asking questions at tapings of “Inside the Actors Studio,” hosted by James Lipton.

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Recalling when he got to query his future “Silver Linings Playbook” co-star Robert De Niro about whether an acting choice he made in the 1990 film “Awakenings” was inspired by someone he knew, or was organic, Cooper said, “I thought maybe he would laugh. You think all these weird things, that he was going to laugh at you. And I remember he’s a tough interview.” Instead, sitting up in his seat to perform his best impression of the “Raging Bull” actor, he said, “No, I didn’t see anybody do that. That’s a good question.”

Though the interaction did not make the initial broadcast of De Niro’s episode of “Inside the Actors Studio,” Cooper still managed to obtain a VHS tape of the footage well before it reached the internet post his acting success. “I would play it — I’m not kidding — because good things, you gotta hold onto them,” said the actor. “There’s so much rejection in this business. And I would play that honestly because it’s like, ‘No, go with your gut, man.’ You were going to ask some bullshit question about ‘The Mission.’ You wanted to know the ‘Awakenings’ question. You went for it. And he said, ‘Good question.’”

He later would have a reassuring meeting with the acting icon early in his career, during which he recalled De Niro telling him, “You’re not going to get the role, But I see it. I see it.”

Cooper was similarly animated about his interactions with fellow actor-turned-director Clint Eastwood, who he worked with on the Best Picture-nominated “American Sniper.” Backtracking to when Steven Spielberg had to drop out of the project, and Eastwood was in talks for it, Cooper gruffed his voice to express how the gravelly-toned director first told him, “Let me finish the book. … I’ll call you Monday,” and then finally called back to say, “Hey, let’s make this fucker.”

SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 08: Honoree Bradley Cooper speaks onstage during the Outstanding Performer of the Year Award ceremony during the 39th Annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival at The Arlington Theatre on February 08, 2024 in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for SBIFF)
Honoree Bradley Cooper speaks onstage during the Outstanding Performer of the Year Award ceremony during the 39th Annual Santa Barbara International Film FestivalRebecca Sapp/Getty Images for SBIFF

Upon arriving on set with an added 40 pounds of muscle, and his best vocal impression of Chris Kyle, the real-life figure he’d be playing in “American Sniper,” the committed Cooper said Eastwood’s offhand reaction was, “So that’s how you’re going to do it, huh?” The actor also elicited laughs from the audience after revealing that, during the clip of the film the festival showed during the event, in which his Chris Kyle has his rifle aimed at a child whose picked up a rocket launcher, director Eastwood was in his ear saying, “Look at that little fucker run.”

When it came time for Cooper to be celebrated by his peers, he received a taste of his own medicine, with his “Maestro” co-star imitating the times he’d pause the making of their Netflix film to say, “Dude, bro, can you believe we get to do this?” Mulligan added that one of her takeaways from working with her fellow Oscar nominee is, “I can say wholeheartedly that I learned not to give a flying fuck what anyone thinks of me when I’m trying to make good work.”

Pitt, there to actually hand Cooper the Outstanding Performer of the Year Award, got in a dig at the Academy for his second Best Director snub, saying “‘Maestro’ is nominated for seven Academy Awards. Bradley’s nominated for three, for producer, writer, actor — apparently the movie directed itself.”

Though the Oscar-winning “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” star also got in a joke at the honoree’s expense, highlighting how Cooper has now been nominated 12 times, and saying, “I do hope that this is his year because it’s well-deserved. But if it’s not, it’s OK. Everyone knows it’s just a matter of time. And truly Bradley is OK. He’s fine. He’s used to it … he’s a Philadelphia Eagles fan.”

When it was time to accept the award bestowed upon him by the 2024 Santa Barbara International Film Festival, it was clear Cooper was moved by the night. Earlier in the evening, he had shouted out former Netflix film head Scott Stuber, who was in the audience, saying “There is no [‘Maestro’] if they hadn’t given it a shot,” and “Five years ago now, we had a talk, and [Stuber] looked at me and he just said, ‘I believe in you’ and ‘Let’s go.’ And he never relented. And so I thank you, Scott.”

SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 08: Bradley Cooper speaks onstage at the Outstanding Performer of the Year Award ceremony during the 39th Annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival at The Arlington Theatre on February 08, 2024 in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images for SBIFF)
Bradley Cooper speaks onstage at the Outstanding Performer of the Year Award ceremony during the 39th Annual Santa Barbara International Film FestivalGTibrina Hobson/Getty Images for SBIFF

The moment fit in with what would be the greater sentiment he’d impart on the captive audience. “I’m so privileged. I’ve been so blessed. And even with that, living is hard and it feels like it gets harder. And I need people who love me and that I can love. And without that, I would just be walking in a wasteland,” he said. “And sometimes it’s hard to keep going. And when you feel love and authenticity, it gives us strength. And it is just community, man. It’s all about community.”

Doing one more impression of De Niro, Cooper asked the audience that if there is anybody out there they believe in the way people have believed in him, please tell them: “I see it.”

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