Rory Jansen finds enormous success following the publication of his latest novel after years of struggling to make his mark in the literary world. The only problem is the words, and the story as well, was not from his imagination, but something created decades before.
In “The Words,” which covers three time periods, from post World War II Paris to present day America, Jansen (Bradley Cooper) discovers a tattered manuscript in a weathered attache case. What he does with that writing has a profound impact on his relationship with his wife, Dora (Zoe Saldana), and his future.
“I see Roy as a man who’s not really a man and grappling with what is to be a man,” Cooper said. “I think his achilles heal is his impatience and the thing I really liked about the script and the hook for me was the fact that he actually is a good writer. He’s not a poor writer who’s just looking for any way to get success ... but he’s so preoccupied with living up to some idea who he thinks she should be. That’s his fatal flaw.”
“The Words” was the brainchild of Cooper’s childhood friends, Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, who came up the the germ of the story more than 10 years ago. Years before Cooper became the star of “The Hangover” series, he attended a table reading of the story. But celebrity has its perks and Cooper was able to executive produce the directorial debut of his friend’s script.
But in the beginning, Cooper didn’t know if he was the right actor to play Rory.
“I was very scared that I was going to fail these two guys when they asked me to do it,” Cooper said. “I said yes because I would do anything for them. Brian is my best buddy. It was a week before shooting, I was reading the script one last time, and he knew I was worried that I really didn’t get Rory.”
But Cooper finally agreed to put his face in front of the camera and they were able to bring on an esteemed cast that includes Jeremy Irons and Dennis Quaid. But with a $6 million budget and less then a month to shoot, it took a “complete commitment” by everyone involved
“If we didn’t have the actors, the people behind the camera ... everything just lined up,” Klugman said. “It was one of those things where you have an impossible task and its because you have the right people around you, you’re able to accomplish that. I think that Lee and I, having had as many years as we had to sit on this script and work on it, there was no question what we wanted to do. In each scene we were incredibly prepared.”
Sternthal added, “It doesn’t happen that often you meet people that you work with that you’re really in synch with ... and we worked really goddam hard.”
The origin of the manuscript comes from the failing relationship of a young couple following World War II and a lost manuscript. The young man (he is nameless in the film) reappears years later as an old man (Irons), the writer of Rory’s bestseller. Ben Barnes (“The Chronicles of Narnia”) was first reluctant to take on the role as the young man because of the sparse dialogue his character has.
“I got the script accompanied by a note from my former agent saying, ‘The character doesn’t speak, pass,’” Barnes said. “I thought it was such an ambitious title, ‘The Words,’ I thought, ‘I’ve got to sit down and read it.’ I made a cup of tea and read it and by the end ... I’m doing this regardless of how much I have to say. I thought it would be a problem because as an actor you have your expressions and you have the words on the page. I was a bit concerned about it, but Brian and Lee called me up and said, ‘We’ll improvise these scenes and if we find something magical on the way we’ll keep it in and if it’s terrible, Jeremy Irons will voice over everything (laughs). But it was freeing, honestly, in the end because ... I could say anything I wanted and if it was stupid they would turn the volume down.”
Cooper said that his co-directors “got me to places I didn’t know I could get to.” On one level, Cooper said he could relate to the rejection Rory had suffered in his career because of the years he spent as a struggling actor.
“I was like a pig in shit working a graveyard shift ... doing auditions and getting call backs,” he said while he was a doorman at the Morgan Hotel.
But Cooper said Rory is a lot more complicated at first look.
“It’s not until his wife looks at him the way that he wants her to look at him for the first time that he seduced by that and he’s not a man enough to say, ‘That’s not me,’” Cooper said. “Then his publisher, when he does come clean ... the publisher says keep lying. He doesn’t say, ‘No, you’re right. Take your name off it and we’ll suffer the economic consequences.’ He actually says, ‘No motherfucker you got to deal with it.’ Then when he goes to the old man and says, ‘I’ll give you the money back. He’s says no, keep doing it.’ It’s much more complicated then a plagiarist who wants success.”
Release date: September 7
Production company: Animus Films, Benaroya Pictures, Serena Films and Waterfall Media
Distributed By: CBS Films
Official website: www.thewordsmovie.com
Cast and Crew of The Words:
Starring Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Jeremy Irons, Olivia Wilde, Ben Barnes and Dennis Quaid
Directed By: Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal
Written By: Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal
Produced By: Bradley Cooper, Michael Benaroya, Cassian Elwes, Tatiana Kelly, Laura Rister and Jim Young