I interviewed actor Chris Cooper a few months ago for the film Married Life (released on DVD this week). The interview is now up on GreenCine.
Chris Cooper made his film debut in John Sayles’s Matewan. In the 20 years since, his career has been defined by a remarkable wealth and variety of interesting characters and intense performances in films as diverse as Lone Star, American Beauty, Seabiscuit and Capote. He won an Oscar for Adaptation and his unsettling incarnation of CIA traitor Robert Hanssen in Breach was mesmerizing. He takes another rare leading role in Ira Sach’s Married Life, an unusual genre mix that combines period style and a story of adultery and one man’s plot to murder his wife with a comedy of manners approach and a serious conversation about love and desire and marriage and relationships. I had the opportunity to talk to Mr. Cooper about Married Life, married life, and a career playing such a diverse and memorable set of characters.
Harry Allan, the character you play in Married Life, decides to kill his wife because it would be – in his mind, anyway – kinder to her than a divorce.
Yeah, he’s a little narcissistic there, a little full of himself. So in love with his wife it would be better not to confront her with a divorce so, yeah, he decides to put her away gently.
And yet he’s a sympathetic character in a lot of ways. How do you play a character like that who, in real life, would likely be institutionalized for thinking that way?
You don’t work for the evil side of this man. I’d say, for the most part, he is a gentle man and always has been except for his needs in this relationship, which he’s not getting. He’s looking for that romance and affection and his wife just has a different point of view. Add to that, probably to his fault as well, the marriage seems to be falling flat so, like a whole lot of men, he seeks it elsewhere. But he’s certainly made a terrible choice. Instead of doing the honest thing and confronting her with a divorce, he chooses something else.
Patricia Clarkson’s character has a defining line: “Love is sex. The rest is affection and companionship.” Harry is more of a romantic; in his own words, he aspires to be truly happy in love. That’s two opposites in the conversation of love and marriage. Where do you personally fall in the conversation?
I think you really have to work at it. I think, unfortunately, that a lot of men think once they’re married and comfortable, they don’t have to put much effort into their relationships. My wife [Marianne Leone] is a very strong woman, very independent, and she really keeps me on my toes. I’ve come to realize that and it’s gotten to the point where she doesn’t need to keep me on my toes. I realize I have a part to play in the relationship, too. I need to show interest in what she does and inquire about what she does. I think it’s a huge give and take and I think it’s a struggle. Not a struggle, but it takes work to keep that relationship interesting and not let it fall apart and not let it fall flat.