Playing John Merrick, aka the Elephant Man, is something of a right of passage for many genetically gifted actors. Now, Bradley Cooper has taken up the challenge in a current production of Bernard Pomerance's 1977 play at the Williamstown Theatre in Massachusetts. And we've seen the shirtless pictures to prove it (check them out over at Us Weekly).
Sound strange? In a recent New York Times story, Eric Grode explained that having People's Sexiest Man Alive play the disfigured character has a long precedent. Everyone from David Bowie to Mark Hamill have played the character on stage, without any sort of prosthetics or severe makeup, relying on their body and voice to portray the deformities. Seems that Billy Crudup was the "best" Merrick, according to the playwright himself. (See the slideshow for proof.)
"My father was a huge cinephile," Cooper told Marie Claire in April 2001. "I remember watching Raging Bull with him on cable when I was 10, and when I was 12, him showing me The Elephant Man and Apocalypse Now -- all these crazy movies."
Although he's now attached to The Hangover-brand of dude comedies, Cooper has a history of playing unusual characters. If you recall, he played a gay camp counselor in Wet Hot American Summer.
When asked in 2009 about gay rumors that have come up over the years, he responded easily. "I think it's awesome," he told The Advocate. "Victor Garber is one of my best friends, and I'll never forget when we went to some event together and people thought we were dating. It was all over the Internet. It was the first time I read a rumor like that about me, and I just thought it was fantastic. But if you believe those rumors, every single male in Hollywood is gay."
The Elephant Man is scheduled to run until August 5.