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Academy Award nominated actor, Bradley Cooper, visited Naval Support Activity Bethesda recently to provide a private showing of his new movie "Silver Linings Playbook" for service members and their families to enjoy.
In the movie Cooper plays as Pat Solitano, a former teacher who spends time in a mental institution to treat his bipolar disorder and ends up losing his wife, job and house. Solitano moves back in with his parents and tries to reconcile with his wife, but things get challenging when he meets Tiffany, a mysterious girl with problems of her own. Several people in attendance could relate to how Pat was treated because of his mental illness.
"Being an Army chaplain, a wounded warrior here and also being recently diagnosed with PTSD and a spinal cord injury I just want to thank you [Cooper] from the bottom of my heart," said Capt. Christina Cogan, U.S. Army chaplain. "This makes my job so much easier to get the awareness out. There is a huge stigma, not only in the civilian world but also in the military, and I always try to reach out to my Soldiers and let them know they should be heard and they should get the help that they need and not feel as though their career is going to be jeopardized. I appreciate that it is more than just a movie and it had the most untraditional ending and I loved it, so thank you so much."
After a screening of the movie, Cooper along with former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy and Barbara Van Dahlen, founder and president of the Give an Hour foundation, a non-profit organization that provides free mental health services to U.S. military personnel and their families affected by the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, held a Q-and-A session to talk about the finer points of the movie.
"What I loved about this movie is that it begins a dialog that doesn't exist in Washington right now," said Kennedy. "We're really missing the more fundamental issue, and that is how we're going to treat each other with the same dignity and respect we expect to be treated with if we suffered from cancer or if we had diabetes or if we had some other illness. But because mental illness is seen as a character issue, not a chemistry issue, we still marginalize people who suffer from any kind of brain-based illness because the symptoms of it are behavior.
"We saw in Bradley's character in this movie an accurate portrayal of what behavior looks like when your brain isn't firing the way it ought to be firing," he added. "I'm hoping that movies like this will begin to open peoples' eyes to the idea that people like who Bradley portrayed and his father, is all of us. The sooner that our country can come to that realization - hopefully one of the great byproducts is we will be better and more responsive to those of you who have a very real physical wound but not one that reveals itself on the outside."
Cooper said he remembers a time when he was talking to his actor friends who were discussing whether or not they learned something from their role. He said he never understood that until this movie.
"There is something about this guy Pat Solitano who I play that I fell in love with," said Cooper. "It felt like I went away and this guy Pat was there, and when I walked into a room all these other wonderful actors would look at me like I'm this guy Pat and I could feel them change. That was very unnerving for me as they were very careful around me and very cautious until I met this woman Tiffany Maxwell. That's the whole thing about this movie, this woman understands him from the minute she comes in and you can see that in the dining room scene. She sees him and they start talking about meds at the table and they start to get into it and she is not scared to insult him and treat him like a man.
"Going through that and experiencing that in an imaginary circumstance, I started to empathize with his condition in a way that I never have before. I realize that I'm a victim of that too. I have walked down the street or been in places and seen somebody that I think has a mental challenge and I'm careful or overly nice instead of just treating them like a human being the way I want to be treated. That's a huge thing I learned and I also learned that you need a strategy in life and that I can relate to Pat in a lot of ways."
In order to get into the role, Cooper spent a lot of time with the director's son who has a mental illness and also did a lot of research reading books and watching documentaries.
"I was made aware early on how personal this was for the director and that he was doing it in many ways for his son. There was a real obligation to make it very authentic and I felt the burden of responsibility of that," said Cooper. "I spent a lot of time with his son and his son's friends and there are a couple of friends of mine who are diagnosed bipolar. That was a way to figure out the heart of the character by hanging out with his son, Matt. Then, it was the logic of figuring out the neurological pathway with which he processes information and that was through reading a lot of material and watching some wonderful documentaries on manic depression."
Cooper was surprised by how much attention his new movie was getting.
"We didn't realize how much it would resonate on the larger scale," said Cooper. "I always knew the power of cinema personally growing up. It's a hugely influential media. It's the reason I do so much. I think this is the first movie that I've been a part of where I felt like I actually understood in terms of other people experiencing something I've been involved with."
There were hundreds in attendance to see Cooper, who signed autographs on personal items and took pictures with the audience.