Born Christopher W. Cooper, July 9, 1951, in Kansas City, MO; son of Charles (a military doctor and cattle rancher) and Mary Ann (a homemaker) Cooper; married Marianne Leone (a screenwriter and actress), July, 1983; children: Jesse (son). Education: University of Missouri, B.G.S. (theater and agriculture), 1976.
Publicist —PMK, 8500 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 700, Beverly Hills, CA 90211–3105.
Actor in films, including: Bad Timing, 1980; Matewan, 1987; Thousand Pieces of Gold, 1991; Guilty by Suspicion, 1991; City of Hope, 1991; This Boy's Life, 1993; Ned Blessing: The True Story of My Life, 1994; Pharaoh's Army, 1995; Money Train, 1995; A Time to Kill, 1996; Boys, 1996; Lone Star, 1996; The Horse Whisperer, 1998; Great Expectations, 1998; American Beauty, 1999; October Sky, 1999; The 24–Hour Woman, 1999; The Patriot, 2000; Me, Myself, and Irene, 2000; Interstate 60, 2001; The Bourne Identity, 2002; Adaptation, 2002; Seabiscuit, 2003.
Television appearances include: The Edge of Night, c. 1985; The Equalizer, 1987; Miami Vice, 1988; American Playhouse (special), 1988; 1991; Lonesome Dove (miniseries), 1989; Lifestories, 1990; To the Moon, Alice (movie), 1990; In Broad Daylight (movie), 1991; Bed of Lies (movie), 1992; Return to Lonesome Dove (miniseries), 1993; One More Mountain (movie), 1994; Law and Order, 1996; Breast Men (movie), 1997; Alone (movie), 1997; My House in Umbria (movie), 2003.
Best actor award, Cowboy Hall of Fame, for Thousand Pieces of Gold, 1991; Screen Actors Guild Award for outstanding performance of a cast in a motion picture, Screen Actors Guild, for American Beauty, 2000; best supporting actor, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, for Adaptation, 2002; best supporting actor, San Francisco Film Critics Circle, for Adaptation, 2002; best supporting actor, National Board of Review Awards, for Adaptation, 2002; best supporting actor, Broadcast Film Critics Association, for Adaptation, 2003; Golden Globe Award for best supporting actor, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, for Adaptation, 2003; Academy Award for best supporting actor, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for Adaptation, 2003.
After more than two decades of quietly providing solid support in quirky character roles on stage, film, and television, actor Chris Cooper in 2003 was finally thrust into the spotlight. For his portrayal of John Laroche, the orchid–fancying, dentally challenged swamp rat at the center of 2002's Adaptation, the Missouri–born Cooper walked away with both an Oscar and a Golden Globe as best supporting actor. For Cooper the recognition was proof positive that he had accomplished his central goal in life, a goal he had defined for Pam Lambert in People in 1996 when he said he wanted to be "an actor, not a star."
In accepting the Academy Award for his work in Adaptation, Cooper was characteristically modest. "To all the nominees," he was quoted as saying on the University of Missouri's website, "it's a pleasure to be thought in your same company. To all the people in Adaptation who helped to make this the most enjoyable job I ever had, thank you. Charlie Kaufman, Spike Jonze, Nicolas Cage, the fabulous, beautiful, wonderful Meryl Streep. Working with this woman was like making great jazz. You had a lot to do with this, so I thank you. To my wife, Marianne, you took on all the burden, thank you. And in light of all the troubles in this world, I wish us all peace. Thank you."
Over the course of his acting career, Cooper has created dozens of memorable characters, ranging from a murderous, retired military man tortured by the pain of concealing his homosexuality in American Beauty, to a small–town Texas sheriff in Lone Star . He has managed to leave a lasting impression on millions of moviegoers, most of whom find his face familiar but would be hard–pressed to come up with his name. Whether the publicity accompanying his Oscar and Golden Globe wins in 2003 will change all that remains to be seen. But many critics have little doubt that Cooper will continue to display the range of his acting skills for years to come.
He was born Christopher W. Cooper in Kansas City, Missouri, on July 9, 1951. His father, Charles, a transplanted Texan, served for several years as a doctor in the U.S. Air Force and later operated a cattle ranch in Kansas, while his mother, Mary Ann, kept the household running smoothly while looking after Cooper and his older brother, Chuck. Cooper grew up in a home in the Kansas City suburbs but spent his summers on the Cooper family cattle ranch in nearby Kansas. Agonizingly shy as a boy, he was overshadowed in his early years by his outgoing older brother. His first exposure to the stage and public appearances came as a participant in the church choir and school choral group. One of Cooper's teachers, worried about his painful shyness, was instrumental in getting him into the school chorus. In his teens, Cooper and some of his high school buddies began to get into trouble, including a few incidents of petty theft. To get himself off the streets and out of trouble, he volunteered to help build sets for productions at local community theaters, further increasing his interest in the stage.
Cooper's budding interest in the stage and performing won him little encouragement at home. As he told Jeff Jensen in Entertainment Weekly, "I remember my mother saying, 'But, honey, you don't have any imagination.' I understood what she meant—I just wasn't outgoing. But I knew what was in my head, and it was full of imagination."
To avoid being drafted into the military and sent off to fight in Vietnam, Cooper served a tour in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve after graduating from high school. He also worked briefly as a carpenter's assistant, but in 1972 he enrolled at the University of Missouri to study technical theater, the behind–the–scenes tasks including set design and construction and lighting. He was, however, intrigued by the notion of acting and before long was playing leading roles in theater department productions. In the college production of Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party, he played Stanley. Other roles included Teddy in Mark Medoff's When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder? and the King in Eugene Ionesco's Exit the King.
Cooper also found himself drawn to musical theater, taking both big and small roles in college productions. He even enrolled in a ballet class at nearby Stephens College, a predominantly women's college. His foray into the study of ballet offered an unexpected bonus. As he told People 's Lambert, "Probably the best thing that ever happened to me was taking dance, because I made a total fool of myself every day in front of a classroom full of women. It helped to break through the shyness that I'd always had." Hedging his bets, just in case his dreams of an acting career should prove unattainable, Cooper also took some agricultural classes in college.
After graduating from the University of Missouri in 1976 with a bachelor's degree in theater and agriculture, Cooper headed for the bright lights of Broadway, hoping to break into the acting business with roles on the stage. To further hone his acting skills, he enrolled in classes with well–known drama coach Stella Adler. Cooper made both his professional stage and film debuts in 1980. On Broadway, he appeared as Ben Mercer in Of the Fields, Lately at the Century Theatre, while on film, he landed a role in the British movie, Bad Timing. Although he continued to work on stage in and around New York over the next several years, Bad Timing proved exactly that for Cooper as far as film work was concerned. It was to be seven years before he landed his next movie role.
From 1980 into 1981 Cooper appeared in several productions staged by the Actors Theatre of Louisville, Kentucky. In 1983 he played Tyler Biars in a New York production of A Different Moon by the Workshop of the Performing Arts. In July of that year, he married screenwriter/actress Marianne Leone, with whom he has since appeared in a couple of movies. At the Seattle Repertory Theatre in 1983, Cooper played the role of Paul Anthony MacAleer in The Ballad of Soapy Smith, a role he recreated at the New York Shakespeare Festival the following year. In 1985 Cooper played opposite Lauren Bacall in a London production of Tennessee Williams' Sweet Bird of Youth.
Cooper's career expanded into film and television in a big way during the late 1980s. On TV, he made guest appearances on several series popular at the time, including Miami Vice, American Playhouse, and The Equalizer. He also appeared for a time as Sam Cranshaw in ABC's daily soap opera, The Edge of Night. In 1987 he made his American film debut, playing Joe Kenehan in John Sayles's production of Matewan.
Although Cooper's acting career had truly begun to take off during this period, he and his wife experienced a personal tragedy in the fall of 1987. Six months pregnant with their first child, Marianne in October of 1987 came down with a bad case of the flu. Their son, Jesse, was delivered three months prematurely. Relatively healthy for a "preemie" during the first three days of his life, Jesse then suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage. For several days, the infant's ability to survive was in doubt. Jesse did pull through but was left with cerebral palsy, which has severely limited his mobility and ability to communicate.
Director/screenwriter Sayles, who gave Cooper his first major role in an American film, 1987's Matewan, was obviously pleased with the actor's performance, for he has since featured the Missourian in two of his subsequent films—1991's City of Hope and 1996's Lone Star. In the latter film, Cooper won wide acclaim for his portrayal of Sam Deeds, a small–town Texas sheriff who is investigating the role played in a murder by his late father, his predecessor in the job. Seven years earlier, Cooper earned critical praise in the role of cowboy July Johnson in Lonesome Dove, the TV miniseries of Larry McMurtry's epic novel of the West.
With the exception of Lone Star, in which he received top billing, most of Cooper's film work has been as a supporting player. Along the way he has created some truly memorable characters. Among the most impressive of his supporting performances was his portrayal of the conflicted, overbearing ex–Marine neighbor in Sam Mendes's 1999 film American Beauty. Of that performance, Bob Ivry of the Bergen County, New Jersey, Record wrote: "Chris Cooper is so affecting as the Marine colonel that you might be willing to forgive the facile obviousness of his revealed sexuality.…" For that performance Cooper was nominated for Best Supporting Actor by the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and shared in the SAG Award for Outstanding Performance of a Cast in a Motion Picture.
For the second time in his acting career, Cooper portrayed a coal miner in 1999's October Sky, playing John Hickam, father of aspiring teenage rocket scientist Homer Hickam. Cooper's first role as a coal miner came in Matewan, in which he played union organizer Joe Kenehan who leads oppressed miners in a revolt against the mine's owners. In an interview with Ivry shortly before the release of October Sky, the actor offered some insight into how his film career had evolved. "I'm beginning to get a little bit of recognition. As far as studio films go, I've done well with small, supporting roles. October Sky was a much larger role, and American Beauty is a good supporting piece.… Lone Star brought me some attention, but is that going to make me a Hollywood leading man? I don't think the studios know what to do with me."
Clearly, the crowning achievement of Cooper's film career thus far has been his award–winning portrayal of orchid thief John Laroche in 2002's Adaptation. In February of 2003, the film's producer, Edward Saxon, discussed with Entertainment Weekly 's Jensen both the part and how well suited Cooper was to play it. Of the Laroche character, Saxon observed, "A great antihero. A guy who isn't rich or beautiful, but extremely special. And a little bit cracked. What I love about this part for Chris is that he's usually playing a guy who's fundamentally unhappy. Here, he's this passionate force of nature. He's the guy everyone wants to be." As for the emergence of his Laroche as something of a sex symbol in the film, no one seems more amazed than Cooper. As he told Elaine Dutka of the Los Angeles Times, "It scares me. If the female public says that, they befuddle me, as they have all my life."
Cooper and his family live in a seaside home not far from Plymouth, Massachusetts. He told Dutka that their son is "the best thing that has happened to us. Like many husbands, I was reluctant to have a child, but Jesse has instilled in us what's really important. He seems so normal to us now. And what a great teacher: His patience is extraordinary and, because he's so limited, he's very, very focused. At the expense of sounding ghoulish, Jesse has fueled the characters I've played. He's filled my emotional life."
Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, volume 14, Gale Research, 1995; volume 38, Gale Group, 2002.
Agence France Presse, March 24, 2003.
Entertainment Weekly, February 21, 2003, p. 42; March 21, 2003, pp. 47–50.
Kansas City Star, March 23, 2003.
Newsday, March 13, 2003, p. D7.
People, August 5, 1996, p. 103.
Record (Bergen County, NJ), February 16, 1999, p. 1; March 26, 2000, p. 1.
"Chris Cooper," Filmbug, http://www.filmbug.com/db/260566 (June 19, 2003).
"Chris Cooper," Yahoo! Movies, http://movies.yahoo.com/shop?d=hc&id=1800018625&cf=biog&intl=us (June 19, 2003).
"The Facts: Chris Cooper," E! Online, http://www.eonline.com/Facts/People/Bio/0,128,3544,00.html (June 19, 2003).
"MU Alumnus Wins Academy Award," University of Missouri–Columbia, http://atmizzou.missouri.edu/apr03/cooper.htm (June 19, 2003).
— Don Amerman