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Breach - Chris Cooper interview

Chris Cooper and Ryan Phillippe in Breach

Interview by Rob Carnevale

CHRIS Cooper talks about playing an American traitor in Breach, finding some humanity and why political films are important to him…

Q. It seems Robert Hanssen is one of the toughest people to play. He’s the star of the piece yet he has all these huge flaws. How did you go about playing him?
Chris Cooper: That was the big challenge. There were five or six books that came out shortly after his capture and interviewing his colleagues, you find out this was actually a rather boring man. They gave him names like The Digger, Dr Death, The Mortician. So, my challenge was to make a boring man more interesting.

Q. The character you play is, in a way, acting himself for this period of his life. Did you see a parallel between the life he led, and your own, and did it give you an insight into the pressures he was under to maintain thar role?
Chris Cooper: Yeah, this was an unusual challenge. With this particular character, I made a choice that in many scenes I was going to have a completely different set of circumstances and thoughts in my head while playing the scene. I thought that was justified. I thought that was something that Hanssen must have gone through all the time. It represented a challenge, but it was a choice I decided to make. For me, that’s the fun of building a character and feeling that you really filled out the character to your own satisfaction.

Q. Now that you’ve played him, do you consider Robert Hanssen an evil man?
Chris Cooper: Yes.

Q. In what way?
Chris Cooper: He made our country extremely vulnerable. He gave information in the case of a catastrophic attack. He gave the Soviets the information of where our President and Cabinet would be. He gave away satellite information, technology information and codes. He gave the Soviets information about Soviet agents who were working for America. Those people died. There was a lot of evil in the man. So yes, I think of him as evil now. But playing the character, I just wanted to make him human. There were a lot of things about the character that I believe were true. I believe he was, in his compartmentalised life, a devout and religious man; he was a rabid anti-Communist. But through the course of those 22-years, working with the FBI, there were specific points that I chose as to why he did what he did. And they changed through the course of his career.

Q. Was your task made more or less difficult by having to work from a somewhat mythological creature?
Chris Cooper: I think most actors would say: “Yeah, I’d certainly like to meet the character I’m playing.” I just feel so strongly that I think I’d have been toyed with if I went face to face with him. I don’t think I’d get anything out of him. The source material I had went back to his school mates and so many, many pieces that I think were much more helpful than a face to face with Hanssen himself.

Q. What do you get from working with a younger talent such as your co-star Ryan Phillippe?
Chris Cooper: I thought we worked in somewhat similar ways. After a break from a take, I remember Ryan and I pretty much stepping off set, parting ways and my mind continuing to think about how to develop this scene. I just respected both of these guys and had respect for the script. I mean, this was a bit of a serious piece. On some sets you’re joking around and trying to kill time. But I feel like our heads, from the beginning of the day to the end of it, were making these scenes as good as they could possibly be. I just really appreciated that.

Q. You’ve made films about war involvement [Jarhead and The Kingdom] and now one about spying. How important is the political message of a film? Is it something that would make you turn down a role?
Chris Cooper: The next film that’s coming up [The Kingdom] touches on this war that’s happening now. And there are other films that have come my way that I’ve passed on because I didn’t agree with the politics or the characters job in the film.

Q. Do you feel happy talking about your own political views?
Chris Cooper: If asked, I’ll be very frank with my politics…

b>Read our review of Breach

b>Read our interview with Ryan Phillippe