By Keith Staskiewicz
Updated August 05, 2013 at 08:13 PM EDT
Credit: Atsushi Nishijima

Over the course of his career, Bradley Cooper has become an expert at playing all the shades of the asshole rainbow. But since 2011’s Limitless showed Hollywood that The Hangover star can open a film all by himself, Cooper has been receiving more varied roles in vastly more ambitious projects, like 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook and this year’s The Place Beyond the Pines, which hits DVD and Blu-ray tomorrow. “I think the opportunities really started to happen after Limitless came out and did well,” says Cooper. “I owe it all to The Hangover, and that allowed me to do Limitless, and Limitless definitely paved the road for directors to take a chance.”

One of those directors is Pines’ Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine), although working with him wasn’t the initial attraction for Cooper. “Initially Ryan Gosling drew me to the project because I’m just a huge fan of his and it was always a real dream to work with him,” he says. “Derek wanted to talk to me about one of the roles for the movie and when I met with him I thought, well, this guy is kind of incredible.”

Cianfrance has a notoriously in-depth process when it comes to his films, which oftentimes go through years of rewrites and dozens of permutations before making it to the screen. “Blue Valentine was 12 years and 66 drafts, and Pines was six years and 37 drafts,” says Cianfrance. “So I feel like I’m getting faster. I’m hoping the next film is 3 years and maybe 18 drafts.” The director started writing The Place Beyond the Pines while his wife was pregnant with their second son and the movie is thus heavily loaded with themes of legacy and sins-of-the-father inheritance. He divided the story into three distinct sections (Cianfrance refers to it as “Neapolitan ice cream”): Ryan Gosling as a bank-robbing motorcyclist, Cooper as the cop who tracks him down, and Emory Cohen and Dane Dehaan as their teenage children years later.

Cooper found his role especially challenging. “He was f—ing complicated to get my head around,” says the actor. “He made a lot of decisions that me personally I can’t even relate to, so to find a way into that and to explore that…maybe I feared those things in myself. I definitely had never been more scared to play a character in my life.”

Until now, at least. Cooper has another, even more difficult role on deck: Chris Kyle, the expert sniper for the U.S. military who was killed on a Texas gun range in February by a mentally disturbed fellow veteran. Steven Spielberg will direct the film*, American Sniper, and Cooper says the project is very important to him. “It’s a unique situation because it’s playing an actual man,” he says. “I mean, Jesus. I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility to do him justice and to do it right. I think it’s an important story to be told right now. It’s been quite a road. We bought the rights to the book and I was talking to Chris and we had every intention of making the movie already and then he was murdered. I know it’s going to be a tough role for me.”

*UPDATE 5:20pm EDT: EW has confirmed that Steven Spielberg has dropped out of American Sniper and will no longer direct the film.

The Place Beyond the Pines

  • Movie
  • 140 minutes
  • Derek Cianfrance