The hottest ticket of the summer was for The Elephant Man at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, and not all the demand was just to see a shirtless Bradley Cooper. Word of mouth did much to bring attention to the top-notch WTF production, and many suggested that Cooper’s stage acting was a revelation. Some joked that he was wasting his real acting talent doing the Hangover movie franchise. But films that sell millions of tickets pay a hell of a lot better than a handcrafted theatre production that sells tickets only a few hundred at a time.
Right now the word is spreading quickly that the actor has plans to take his pet project to Broadway. Speaking to Marc Malkin at the premiere of his new comedy, “Hit And Run,” Cooper said: “We’re going to try to do it on Broadway next fall. We’re going to try to nail it down and do a limited run.” As always Cooper had attracted a crowd and his comments were overheard, then repeated.
In a prepared statement reported by Playbill, Jenny Gersten, Artistic Director of the Williamstown Theatre Festival said: “”We’re thrilled that Bradley wants to continue exploring the role of John Merrick. The entire production of The Elephant Man at Williamstown was definitely a season highlight, although there is nothing confirmed beyond that at this point.”Bradley Cooper was highly motivated to get The Elephant Man on the stage, and the Williamstown production was a culmination of a long simmering desire for the actor. When I asked him how long he had been working on it, he revealed that it was his actor’s Master thesis at the Actor’s Studio and that finding just the right cast and director was the result of extensive thought and discussion. Scott Ellis directed the production in which Cooper starred as John Merrick (the titular Elephant Man) alongside Academy Award nominee Patricia Clarkson.
I also explored with Cooper what it was like as an actor to play Merrick, especially since his character had so much mental pain inside. It’s one thing to be shunned, but that escalates when you are also the object of disgust. And then Merrick was also constantly dealing with the deformities themselves. His answer was surprising: “It’s very liberating and healing. I felt very humbled and grateful the first time I played it and can’t imagine I won’t have the same experience. I can’t foresee what it will be in a couple of weeks, but it will most likely be a very different experience from the first time. It was a very singular experience for me to play him, maybe because he was an actual human being.”
Cooper also is fearless in taking on the role. Which presents a special sort of problem for the actor.
“My feeling with Merrick,” Cooper says, is to mimic the effects of “the physical affliction. It’s a massive undertaking.” Especially without prosthetics. So as an actor he will “study his physical malady which plagued him, which were myriad, to what the difficulty of even going to the bathroom would entail. and relive how he would go about his day. The thing I love most about him is just how much he wanted to belong and be a part of normal life, and that’s something I can relate to in my life. I don’t want to say it’s easy to play Merrick, but I feel a very natural affinity and connection to him, to understand who he was.” Cooper finds he has “a very visceral feeling towards this man who lived in the late 1800s.”
Gersten told the Huffington Post during a phone interview she happened on the news, but she wasn’t surprised. “When [Cooper] was here in the production, he said, ‘I really am interested in this play. I want to keep doing it.'”
At the request of the playwright Bernard Pomerance, only local critics were allowed to review the Williamstown performance, and Cooper scored high. The Huff Post also picked a quote from my review: “To watch Cooper and [co-star Patricia] Clarkson work together has to be one of the great moments of the storied Williamstown Theatre Festival.” (Original review link)