Cooper, Cornish and De Niro on Limitless


On Friday, Neil Burger’s sci-fi thriller Limitless, based on the novel “The Dark Fields,” will open nationwide, and a few weeks back, attended the New York press conferences with Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish and Robert De Niro to learn more about how the film came together.

It all began with screenwriter Leslie Dixon who found Alan Glynn’s novel in a second-hand bookshop and figured out a way to finagle the rights away from Harvey Weinstein, a feat in itself. Her and the producers brought Neil Burger on board, impressed by his 2006 film The Illusionist, which was also based on a novel. Shia LaBeouf was originally attached to play the role of Eddie Morra, but he ended up doing something else which opened the door for Bradley Cooper, star of Todd Phillips’ The Hangover, to play the role of a New York writer who discovers the experimental miracle drug NZT, which allows the taker to achieve their fullest potential.

Cooper continued the story of how he got involved:

“I read the script maybe eight months ago that Leslie Dixon wrote based on this novel by Alan Glynn and I didn’t read the novel until after I got the role. I didn’t even know it was a novel, but she wrote this really incredible script with a phenomenal character. Eddie, his last name wasn’t Morra then. It was something else, and I met with Neil Burger because I just thought, ‘Oh, wow to play a guy that goes from A to Z like that would just be incredible,’ and just tried to basically pitch him why I had to play it. About six months later, we got the offer to do it and then it was about just hopefully getting it made.”

Cooper went onto say why he liked the character of Eddie so much. “Yeah, I loved him. I liked the idea that when we meet him, it’s not that he feels sorry for himself at all, he’s just actually resigned to the fact that his life is such that his potential wasn’t fulfilled and that’s where we meet him that day. It was cool when he had a book contract when he was 25 and he talks about how great it’s going to be, but when he’s 35 and it still hasn’t been written, it’s just not cool anymore. We then see a guy who goes from this sort of complacency to then having power and what he does with that power and what his plan is.”

“Neil Burger sent me the script a while back, and he really wanted me to do it,” Cooper’s co-star Abbie Cornish said about her role as Lindy, Eddie’s concerned ex-girlfriend. “I thought it was a really interesting film, and I felt like the character had room to sort of grow and evolve within the scenes that were already written. Because it is a small part so as an actor, you always want to have a journey to go on, you want to have something where you could sink your teeth in and get your hands dirty. And so I felt like that was possible with this role, and I was a fan of Bradley Cooper’s. We had never met and through the process of making the film, we became really good friends. I just thought Neil as a director would be a very present and caring and collaborative director. The genre of the film was something I hadn’t explored before, and also the idea of this drug and what it could do and the possibility that it could really exist in our everyday lives. Even though it’s far-fetched, at the same time, it kind of felt possible and real, so that interested me.”

The third part of the equation is a veteran actor who really needs no introduction, but teamed at his press conference with the film’s director and screenwriter, actor Robert De Niro, who plays Carl van Loon, a financial mogul who sees opportunity in Eddie’s newfound talents, was able to get out of answering too many questions about the movie and his role. “Well, it’s not that it’s not challenging,” he said about the role. “It is. I mean I enjoyed doing it, and I wanted to work with Bradley and Neil. I liked one of Neil’s other films so sometimes, even though it’s not perfect, you do it to work with people so you can work with them again later on. You establish a relationship, and to me it was worth it. It was good for me and it was well-written and I put a lot of work into it.”

“Never when I first got the movie did I think that Carl Van Loon would be played by Robert De Niro,” Cooper said about his illustrious co-star. “Talk about icing on the cake. My past with him, without him knowing it, goes back a long way, just because he’s the reason I became an actor, pretty much. I went to school at the Actor’s Studio MFA program here in New York and he came to our school and I asked him a question, but I was so scared that it was such a stupid question that I was going to ask some bullsh*t question about ‘The Mission,’ but then someone stood up and asked him about ‘The Mission’ and I thought, ‘Well, I can’t ask him about ‘The Mission.’ They came to me and I was sort of standing there and all of a sudden the real question I wanted to ask him came out which was, ‘When you were doing Awakenings…?’ There’s a scene where he wants to go for a walk and he has to be interviewed by the medical panel and he’s trying so hard to be normal but whatever he was taking, I can’t remember what that drug was, it started to not work anymore and so he started to get the ticks and he would make up for it by pretending to brush his eyebrow. God, it was so genius and I asked him, ‘Is that something you saw people do because they were embarrassed by their ticks or is that something that just happened?’ Then he literally went like this (imitates De Niro) ‘Yeah, I didn’t see anybody do that, but that’s a good question.’ It was like a beam of light shot into my chest! I was so excited that I never sat down.”

That wasn’t the end of Cooper’s story though.

“So that was the first experience with Robert De Niro, and then I put myself on tape to play his son in ‘Everybody’s Fine,’ this movie that he did recently, and my mother played him and we did it in my house in Venice and the tape got to him. I put myself on tape because I couldn’t even get an audition for it and he somehow saw it and wanted to meet me so I met him in his hotel, my mom and I drove there, and I was there for like five minutes and we sat down and he said (again, imitating De Niro), ‘Yeah, you’re not gonna get it, but I see you. I see you. I see you. Okay.’ Then he said, ‘Who’s reading the other role?’ I said, ‘Oh, that’s so weird. My mom was reading it.’ He goes, ‘Yeah, I thought that.’ Then cut to I was a juror for the Tribeca Film Festival, so we’re at this lunch a year later, and I sit down next to him and I was like, ‘Hey! How you doing? I auditioned for the …’ No idea who I was. And he says, ‘This Boys Life?’ I was like, ‘No! What do you mean? When I was like 12?'”

Fortunately it all worked out well even if Cooper didn’t make such a lasting impression on De Niro the first couple meetings.

“And then cut to I’m sitting in his hotel room in LA pitching him the idea to do ‘Limitless,’ which was so crazy because to make it worth the while for any actor we combined two characters and made Carl Van Loon, and he was great. At that meeting it was like I was on the drug, I did not stop talking because one thing I learned about him is he does not like small talk, which was great. So I got in the hotel room, I just sat down and went, ‘Okay, so,’ and I spoke for like 15 minutes and then he went, [imitating De Niro] ‘Let me give you my cell,’ and I gave him my cell and we were like texting ideas and then like two days later, he said, ‘I’ll do it.’ And Leslie Dixon and Neil Burger – it wasn’t just me, it was a full assault to try to get him to do the movie. By the time we got there to shoot, it was effortless, and plus, I’d seen him in so many movies; I felt such a connection to him. So it was wonderful, wonderful. I hope to work with him a lot in the future.”

Cornish also had an anecdote about the first time she realized she was going to be in a movie with De Niro.

“I remember when we did the script read-through, and the seats were very close together and there’s a little card that says ‘Abbie Cornish’ and one that says ‘Bradley Cooper,’ and Bradley sits down and I sit down and we were talking over Bob De Niro’s chair to each other and all of a sudden I looked and I saw his placard and I said to Bradley, ‘Look, in a moment this chair will be filled by Robert De Niro, how surreal is that?’ He says, ‘I know, I can’t believe it.’ We were leaning over his chair and that moment of realizing and we were lmaking sure his chair was ready for him. It was just the most amazing thing for me, because as an actor, his performances are incredible. He’s such a talented and amazing actor and has had such a wonderful career. I think when you meet him, for me – it sounds silly, but when people talk about near-death experiences, like their life flashes before their eyes, when I saw Robert De Niro’s face, all his characters and his performances flashed before my eyes, and then that kind of cleared and I saw this man who is Robert De Niro. So of course, it is surreal and wonderful and amazing and awesome.”

Eventually, the press conference questions got around to the connections between the drug NZT and real-world drugs that help enhance brain performance.

“The closest things to it that I can think of are things like Ritalin and Adorol, these drugs that make you focus that are meant to accelerate the process of study and learning and all that,” Cornish commented on the subject. “For me, I very much feel that it’s each to their own. I feel like you can have a debate about it and you can express your own personal opinion on (whether) you yourself would want to do it or not do it or whether you’re against it or for it, but at the end of the day, how much can you really judge someone else’s existence and their life and what it is that they choose to do? I think as long as it’s not harming anyone else, I don’t know how much judgment can be placed upon it. I feel like that with a lot of things in life. The only thing that I hope is that people are educated, that they’re aware and that they’re living a conscious lifestyle. The only time my hair stands up on its end is when someone is very ill-informed, when they’re arrogant, when they haven’t educated themselves and they feel like they know what is right, but at the same time, they haven’t explored their truth of the situation.”

“In terms of this movie, whether it helps to provoke questions and conversations like that, that is what it is,” Cooper added. “I didn’t set out to do that as the actor. I found this movie to be a compelling story about power and what you do with power much more than drugs. It goes from a guy who all of a sudden has power and how he utilizes that power over other people over what he can accomplish and when you abuse it and whether you treat it with respect. Now if a drug can be equated with power then that becomes a conversation about the drug, but nothing specific to that.”

“Yeah, NZT would be something that maybe something that probably once in a while I wouldn’t mind at least trying,” De Niro concluded that thought in his characteristically succinct way.

Limitless opens on Friday, March 18, and you can watch our video interview with director Neil Burger here.