Last week I decided on a career change. I want to be an actor. More specifically, I want to be Bradley Cooper. Okay, so I have absolutely no experience in acting (though Dr. Reece McGee suggests that teaching is acting.) A February Fresh Air interview of Bradley Cooper won me over and I’d love to have an actor’s life.
In listening to dozens of podcasts over the last three months while driving between Indianapolis and St. Louis – many of them about Hollywood and Entertainers – I’ve not found many in this short survey of actors in interviews that I find likable. Obviously, I am not familiar with the process of acting, or the Hollywood scene. But it has rang rather hollow to listen actors in the build-up and let-down of the Academy Awards talking about what they do. “I just wanted to play this role as honestly as I could.” I’m not sure what that means. And when repeated over and over, “honesty” becomes jargon. It’s likely that they mean that they want to play the role as authentically as they can, given that they are not the person they are portraying.
So why do I want to be Bradley Cooper? In two words: Empathy and Passion. Of all of the interviews I’ve heard, Mr. Cooper seemed to me to be so in-tune with the roles that he played. From Chris Kyle, a modern American Hero (a few argue anti-hero) to John Merrick, the elephant man, on the Broadway stage, Cooper embodies the role, and we see it on the screen. The Hangover? Silver Linings Playbook? American Hustle. All such different roles, and in each, Cooper manifests the perfect mix required for the character. How can he “become” his character without a keen sense of empathy? His transformation before and after a role are in a small way similar to what his American Sniper character went through when returning home.
In the Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross, Cooper showed not only his passion in the process, but his passion for the US Military. While never enlisting in the military, he started doing USO entertainment stops when no one knew him, or even the show he made guest appearances on (Alias.) It’s as if he was preparing for the role of Chris Kyle all along.
So, okay. Now that I’ve had some time to seriously contemplate the career change, I’ll stick with working with leaders. So I will ask: What can leaders learn from Cooper?
1. Know Your Role: Cooper has been intrigued by John Merrick since he was 12 years old. He did the research to learn as much about Merrick, his life, his mannerisms as he could. Research your role, learn about leadership and keep learning.
2. Follow Your Passion: Cooper was so passionate about playing John Merrick, that he’s worked since he was 12 to “become” the role, and to produce the play on Broadway. What is it that you are passionate about? What makes you talk fast and loud, and waive your arms? That’s a passion, my friend.
3. Empathize Deeply with Others: Leadership is not about the self. Just as Bradley Cooper became others in his acting, leaders are only successful if they can empathize with those they lead, building relationships with others.
As we walk the path of our own leadership, I can only hope that my path crosses those of you who bring the empathy for others and the passion for your role that Bradley Cooper does. Lead on!