After more than a decade of hard work and lucky breaks, Bradley Cooper has unequivocally, unabashedly, officially arrived.

Always a bridesmaid and never a bride is perhaps a phrase actor Bradley Cooper related to as his best-friend/buddy roles in Wedding Crashers, He’s Just Not That Into You, and Failure to Launch pegged him as one of Hollywood’s most popular supporting actors. But it was his starring role in 2009’s blockbuster comedy The Hangover that placed him permanently on Hollywood’s celestial map.

The Hangover Part II
© Melinda Sue Gordon
At the age of 36, Cooper is at the top of his game in the summer’s highly anticipated sequel with a title that says it all: The Hangover Part II (Warner Bros. Pictures/Legendary Pictures). Reprising his role as alpha male Phil Wenneck, he joins the ensemble cast of Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, and former world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson (who is back to play himself). The R-rated bachelor comedy (this Generation X and Y’s Animal House) picks up two years later, as the ill-fated and self-proclaimed “wolf pack” travel for yet another wedding-related event. Recalling the bachelor party and subsequent antics that wreaked havoc in the original story, the action this time revolves around a low-key pre-wedding brunch … and you know what they say about the best-laid plans.

“The film takes place in Bangkok and definitely adheres to the structure of The Hangover,” says the Philadelphia-born actor. “Like the Bourne Identity films, no one wants to see Bourne on a picnic having wine in Napa Valley! The stakes are higher and, much like the film’s former location in Las Vegas, what happens in Bangkok stays in Bangkok.” He also admits that the film is definitely darker comedywise than the original.

Many actors base their portrayal on a real-life role model, and Cooper’s Wenneck is no exception, being modeled on the film’s director, Todd Phillips. Mannerisms were mimicked and behaviors were copied, but Cooper sees nothing of himself in the character. “It’s a trend of mine basing the part on the director. I did the same thing with director Joe Carnahan [with his role as Lt. Templeton “Faceman” Peck] on The A-Team.” And does life imitate art for this method actor? Cooper says the only bachelor party he has attended was a golf outing with five guys in Palm Springs.

The acting bug bit early when Cooper experienced the proverbial “aha moment” while watching the 1980 film The Elephant Man. “I became entranced and fell in love with this film when I was a kid,” he explains. “It wasn’t even a question; I always knew I wanted to be an actor.” Ironically, the film based on the true story of Joseph Merrick, a severely deformed man in l9th-century London, would be Cooper’s thesis performance many years later at New York’s Circle in the Square.

I am lucky enough to be in a profession where you have to be completely present with whoever the actor is you are starring opposite. My hope is this practice bleeds into my personal life.

As the son of a former Merrill Lynch stockbroker and the grandson of a Philadelphia beat cop, Cooper realized that acting was not exactly a logical progression after studying at Villanova and Georgetown. It’s unlikely the charming and charismatic young man thought he would eventually host Saturday Night Live or be included in People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” issue either. After graduating from the honors English program at Georgetown, he enrolled at the New School University’s Actors Studio Drama School and never looked back.

While his impressive résumé reveals roles on both the small and big screen, becoming a star did not happen overnight. One of the part Irish/part Italian actor’s first big breaks came when producer Darren Star cast him (in a basement of all places) opposite Sarah Jessica Parker on the iconic series Sex and the City in l999 and as a regular in Star’s series The $treet in 2000. After starring in New York-based roles on television’s Law and Order, he moved to Los Angeles and landed the coveted part as Jennifer Garner’s BFF Will Tippin on ABC’s Alias, followed by the role of Aidan Stone on the controversial FX series Nip/Tuck.