Taffy Brodesser-Akner tried to profile actor-director Bradley Cooper for The New York Times. He spoke with her, but he wouldn’t answer her personal questions. He largely stuck to the film’s plot and production and parrotted what he’d told other outlets. That wasn’t the stuff Akner wanted to know. She wanted to better understand Cooper and the connection between him and his story. Readers did, too. “I don’t necessarily see the upside of it,” Cooper told her. “You know?” So she searched for answers elsewhere. The profile she wrote from that is a lively Pirandellian story about a movie that’s about how commerce affects art, about where art comes from, what the best profiles can do, and why people read them.
He told me: “And my hope is that — and that’s the thing about art — in creating this story you did learn a lot about me.” And I took that as a half-assed apology for not really talking to me about his life.
But he wasn’t rebuking me. He wasn’t avoiding me. He definitely wasn’t apologizing to me. He was just telling me that I’m asking the wrong questions. He could tell me about his sobriety. He could tell me about what his father’s death meant. He could tell me about his baby and his relationship. But that’s just information. If you really want to know him, you can’t sit with him and ask him. You have to watch his movie. You have to feel it. You have to be willing to accept answers that are spiritual and not literal.
Here is his movie, Mr. Cooper was telling me. Here is the out-of-the-past character who is a shout-out to a time when an artist could take himself seriously, like the actors he so admired. Here is the allegory of the chokehold of marketing. The not explaining himself to me is the message. The not explaining to me is who he is.