'Crazy Heart' helmer depends on Southern storytelling

As a proud Virginian,” says Scott Cooper, “I’ve always been drawn to telling stories.”

The writer-director-producer of “Crazy Heart,” an intimately etched character study about a broken-down country singer, says the Southern storytelling tradition has been crucial to his creative life. “If you look at people that I’ve admired and been influenced by — Horton Foote or William Styron (a fellow Virginian) or William Faulkner, who taught my father at the U. of Virginia — it’s all about treating the human condition very delicately,” Cooper says. “You won’t soon see me making a movie with flying saucers or robots.”

Cooper came to New York City to become an actor. He screen-tested for many films, but, he says, “After losing out to the likes of Matt Damon and Jude Law as many times as I did, I realized that in order to fulfull myself artistically, I needed to expand.” Following in the footsteps of Robert Duvall, Ed Harris and Sean Penn, Cooper decided to write a script for himself to direct. “Crazy Heart” was born out of his experiences along the Blue Ridge Mountains.

When it came to directing his first feature, Cooper prepared by going to the “Robert Duvall school of acting and directing,” he says, which con…sisted of “listening, closely observing human behavior and telling the truth.” (Cooper and Duvall acted together in “Gods and Generals,” “Get Low” and AMC’s “Broken Trail.”)

Scott has innate talent,” says Duvall, “and because he’s also an actor, he understands our process and keeps his set loose, allowing actors a certain amount of freedom to try new things.”

Cooper also was shrewd enough to know that he couldn’t make his debut without help. “Because I surrounded myself with geniuses, I felt very emboldened and secure,” he says.

Though Cooper hasn’t decided on his next project, he’s got a laundry list of actors he wants to work with — Penn, Daniel Day-Lewis, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin — and a commitment to telling stories “about the frailities of the human condition.” He acknowledges the challenges in making intimate pictures today, but he’s going to try. “Otherwise,” he jokes, “it’s back to the farm in Virginia.”

VITAL STATS

AGE: 39


HOMEBASE:
Los Angeles


INSPIRED BY:
Sean Penn, Robert Duvall, Terrence Malick, Hal Ashby


REPS:
Agent: Jeff Berg (ICM); attorney: Darren Tratner (Jackoway, Tyerman)

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