Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper on American Sniper

Hollywood stars discuss the challenges of making a modern war movie

Cooper as Chris Kyle
Cooper as Chris Kyle
Cooper plays a crack shot
Cooper plays a crack shot
Cooper and Eastwood on set with Elliot Miller
Cooper and Eastwood on set with Elliot Miller
Clint Eastwood directs
Clint Eastwood directs

Clint Eastwood directs Bradley Cooper in his new film American Sniper, here the pair tell Time Out about working with each other and the challenges of war films.

Clint, what was it about the story that resonated with you and pulled you into this project?
Clint Eastwood: When the studio called me and asked me if I’d be interested in doing it, I was doing another picture and I was reading the book [American Sniper] just for fun. And I was curious about the story and the guy. So, they called me about it, and I said, ‘Well, gee, let me finish the next 30 pages and I’ll call you back.’ It was interesting, ironic, a good story. So I said I’d love to see the script. We met them and Bradley called and said, ‘They’d like to have you do it.’ And that was the end of it.

When you were developing the movie, you met Chris’s wife Taya and their family. What was that experience like and what did you learn about him beyond what was already in the book?
Bradley Cooper: Well, I don’t want to speak for Clint, but I feel like the most of what we gleaned from Chris wasn’t even from the book. It was much more about the weekend we spent in Midlothian, Texas, with Taya Kyle, their children McKenna and Colton, his brother, Jeff, and Wayne and Debbie – his mother and father. We got to spend a full weekend, which happened to be the same weekend that was the anniversary of his murder. So, it was a pretty heavy time to be there. We went there sort of curious and as we were flying back, we were looking at each other like, ‘Wow, we got a lot from that.’ No book could ever really give you what you get from meeting people in the flesh. The great thing was also that there was so much source material. There were videos and all the interviews that Chris had done, all the photographs and emails exchanges. I mean, Taya really opened up her life to us. She let us look through all of his clothes… She was a major reason why we were able to take so many specific things about him that actually made it into the movie. There are a handful of scenes that came out of that weekend we spent in Texas where she was just telling us stories about their relationship.

CE: It was also important casting-wise, because we wanted to get somebody to play Taya that we felt would not just do an imitation, but have that same spirit, which Sienna [Miller] did have. She came in to read for the part, and did a splendid job. It was surprising – she has this great American accent, so you don’t even know she’s British.

I wanted to ask you about Chris himself. What do you think drove him to this absolute extreme of the experience of fighting a war?
BC: I think it’s those things that may seem saccharine in this day and age, but in the movie, he says to Taya in the bar, ‘I’d lay down my life for my country. I want to be of service.’ Those aren’t just words to him. He meant that. He wanted to be a cowboy and a soldier, period. And he lived his life that way since he was a kid, taking care of his younger brother and growing up to be the man that he was. That’s the guy that I got to know, and that’s the guy in the movie. It doesn’t make him a martyr; it doesn’t make him anything other than just a man, but that’s the kind of man that he was.

CE: But he liked taking care of people. He liked the leadership aspect of it. I guess he felt that was his calling. He worked hard to become a great Navy SEAL, and a great shot, and he had to work hard, because those guys are all really solid citizens as far as their physical abilities, but they have to have the mental ability, too. He went back for four tours with his wonderful family back home, so he could have easily taken the other direction and said, ‘Well, I’ve done a tour. What the hell?’ But he felt that he had to go back, because he lost people and he wanted to avenge that. He felt that we should complete the mission there.

Clint, can you talk about the challenges of making this film and mounting these scenes of foreign war?
CE: Well, I’ve done war movies before, and they were great. I enjoyed them all. This one was different, though, because it was sort of half and half. Half is it deals with his personal life – his romantic life and his family life. He comes back without his wife knowing he is even in the country. He is sitting somewhere, just trying to gather his thoughts. I felt that way when I got out of the service and I hadn’t even been in combat. I mean, there’s something about it. All of a sudden, it’s like you’re dropped in the middle of a highway somewhere. It was interesting. We tried to capture that essence.

Bradley, what about your preparation to play Chris Kyle. Did you do a lot of sniper training or work getting into the mindset?
BC: Well, I had a tremendous amount of help from Kevin Lacz, who essentially plays himself in the movie. Clint had set up a time for me to go and learn how to shoot live ammo with these guys and one guy was Rick Wallace, who’d trained Chris Kyle. The other guy was Kevin ‘Dauber’ Lacz, who was a fellow SEAL sniper during Chris’s third tour. I’ve done one other ‘war movie’, and we did a tremendous amount of training, but it was all blanks. And there’s just no substitution for shooting live ammo. It was invaluable to experience what it’s like to actually hit a head target from 600 yards.

I wanted to ask each of you what it was like to work with the other. Bradley, can you talk about the experience of working with Clint?
BC: Well, he’s one of the reasons I wanted to be an actor. The truth is when I was growing up, I always thought there were two guys I wanted to work with: Robert De Niro and Clint Eastwood. And the fact that I’ve gotten to do both is incredible. He met every thought I had and surpassed it, and the truth is, we just get along great. We laughed a hell of a lot in the movie, and it’s important to have that kind of levity, I think, especially when the content is so heavy. Making this movie with Clint was just an utter joy and I made a friend, so that was great.

Clint, what was it like for you to work with Bradley?
CE: I’ve admired him on film, and I voted for him on his Academy Award nomination. I think Bradley’s heads up on this generation of actors. He started in films with a lot of comedy and slapstick in them, and the job he did was terrific. But, then, I find a lot of people who have a knack for comedy are great dramatic actors, anyway. They tend to have a wider reach than most. But I hadn’t had the chance to work with him until now, and he actually called me on this one.

What do you most hope that people will take away from this personal story you’ve created about such a complex man?
CE: It’s hard to say. There’ll be curiosity about someone who was documented to have shot 160 people, and how he handles that and how he handles life. People don’t really think too much about what being a military person does to the family life. But he also has time to hang out with the guys at the saloon. He meets this girl and immediately falls in love with her, and that’s a really important part of the picture. Then, of course, the picture isn’t pro-war. In fact, I think it’s kind of anti-war in some ways because these people donate all this time and effort and we’re in wars that seem unwinnable. There are a lot of aspects to the story that are not the obvious things you’d expect, like action and stuff. There’s shooting and all that, but it’s more of an adult approach to a movie about war.
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