By Steven Rea
The Philadelphia Inquirer
In “Burnt,” opening Friday, Bradley Cooper is Adam Jones, a culinary star desperate for a comeback after torpedoing his career with drugs, drink and insufferable arrogance. The dramedy, directed by John Wells, costars Daniel Brühl (restaurateur), Sienna Miller (rising chef), Emma Thompson (therapist), Uma Thurman (food critic) and Alicia Vikander (ex-lover). The cuisine is decidedly haute, and the scenes in the London restaurant where Cooper’s Jones barks orders are perfect down to the last wisp of truffle pomme puree.
Cooper, the four-time Oscar-nominated Philadelphia native whose hits include “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Sniper,” can now add a hot TV series to his credit — he’s executive producer of CBS’s “Limitless” and has been doing cameos on the show. He was on the phone a few days ago from Los Angeles.
Q: Did you have to go through culinary boot camp to prepare for “Burnt”?
A: I started going to culinary boot camp when I was 15. I was a busboy at a Greek restaurant called Alexander’s … And then I was a prep cook at a Marabella’s in Somers Point, N.J., for three months. That’s where I really learned how to cook in a kitchen and be a part of a brigade and be at the receiving end of a chef’s rants. … And I was a horrible waiter at a restaurant while I was at Georgetown.
Q: So it’s a world you know?
A: Yeah, I grew up cooking with my family. And then I did a TV series (“Kitchen Confidential”) where I cooked a lot. … I am very comfortable with a knife. But that really was nothing compared to what I was able to do in “Burnt,” and the access I had, which is the joy of being an actor. … You get to go into worlds that you would never dream of.
The amount of time I got to spend with Gordon Ramsay. … I got to watch him cook, I cooked with him, I got to do a service at his restaurant with Clare Smythe and her brigade, which was incredible. She’s the only female chef in the U.K. with three Michelin stars. And then Marco Pierre White, I was able to pick his brain, which was invaluable. … He was the youngest chef ever to attain three Michelin stars. … And then Marcus Wareing, who was the consultant on the movie and created all the dishes, he was there every day, behind the monitor. …
We had a functioning kitchen, we had menus every day, and they would just roll camera. … There were no hand doubles, no cook doubles, everything you see is actually me. That was stressful, but at the same time a wonderful challenge.
Q: What about food movies? Do you have a list of favorites?
A: “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” — I have it on my desktop. I’ve seen that documentary about eight times. I watch it if I just want to get in a good mood. And Ang Lee’s movie “Eat Drink Man Woman,” that’s my favorite. But I have to tell you, I asked that question to just about every chef I met, and you know what the answer was every time? Take a guess.
Q: “Babette’s Feast”? “Big Night”?
A: “Ratatouille.” I’ve never heard anything else but that. Isn’t that funny?
Q: Jennifer Lawrence, your “Silver Linings Playbook” costar, has been getting a lot of attention for her comments about the salary gap between male and female actors in Hollywood. Supportive?
A: Totally. She has the ability and the platform to speak about this issue, and that’s a wonderful thing, and that’s how change can come. Somebody of her stature speaking up and speaking out, that’s what people need to do. And then people need to listen.
Q: Are things changing? Are the studios listening?
A: Without question. But that doesn’t mean that the process, and the protests, should stop. … The fact that what she’s saying is getting so much attention, and that we’re talking about it, is actually proof in a positive way.
Q: You’ve just made your fourth film with Lawrence — “Joy,” coming at Christmas. And it’s your third with writer-director David O. Russell. And Robert De Niro is in it, too. That’s quite the company.
A: Yes, although Jennifer and I didn’t have any scenes together in “American Hustle.” … And it will be my fifth with Bob. I’m very lucky to part of that group.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: We’re producing a movie that comes out in April or early summer, “Arms and the Dudes,” with Jonah Hill and Miles Teller. And then I’m just executive producing this television series. … You should check it out, it’s really good. We had 17.6 million people watching it last week, which is insane.
Q: And what about on the acting front?
A: I’ll hopefully get a job. You never know.
A: There’s no guarantee with anything; you should know that.
Q: Sure, when you’re starting out, that’s a real thing. But at a certain point in some actors’ careers — and I would think yours — they’ve achieved a level of success and fame where it’s hard to imagine that someone’s not going to call them up or send them scripts.
A: Well, it’s all about being able to do something that you feel you want to do, and whether those jobs are the ones you’re able to get. It’s all relative. You know, I’ve been so fortunate, but I’ve never, ever forgotten that this is a business where it ends, and it changes, and it fluxes, and there is no security, ever. And if you think there is, you’re a fool.