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Volume 24, Number 10 — November 2017

'Crazy Heart'

The Little Film That Could

By TOM NETHERLAND | SPECIAL TO THE HERALD COURIER | March 09, 2010

*** Published Sunday, March 7 in the Bristol (Va.) Herald Courier. ***

BRISTOL, Va. Where will you be at 8 p.m.?

If, like Thomas Cobb and Jim and Loretta Cooper, you will be on the couch watching the 82nd Annual Academy Awards on ABC, and you might want to root for the home team.

The Coopers, who live in Bristol, are the proud parents of writer and director Scott Cooper, whose film version of Cobb's book "Crazy Heart," has been nominated for three Oscars, including Best Actor for Jeff Bridges' portrayal of the film's lead character, Bad Blake.

The directorial debut for Scott Cooper, a 1988 graduate of Abingdon High School, "Crazy Heart" was released in December and already has won Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards.

"My wife, Loretta, and I are beyond proud," Jim Cooper said.

Amid the onslaught of media attention and buzz about his film, Scott Cooper could not be reached for comment. Cooper is an accomplished actor with such credits as "Gods and Generals" in 2003 and last year's "Get Low" opposite Bill Murray and Robert Duvall."

About four years ago, Cooper optioned the rights to "Crazy Heart" from author Thomas Cobb.

The book about a worn-and-torn country music singer was first released in 1987. A year later, Cobb made a stop in Bristol, to read from his book during an appearance at Virginia Intermont College.

"I have a soft spot for Bristol," Cobb said by phone Friday afternoon from his home in Foster, R.I.

The book soon went out of print. But amid the film's critical and box office success, Cobb's novel was re-issued in February 2010.

"When Scott optioned my book, we didn't really know Scott," Cobb said. "We didn't think there was any way in the world he would get this made into a film."

The Abingdon-born actor nearly didn't.

With no prior experience as a director, the odds of Cooper finding the funding, bankable actors and a studio to back the film were as slim as a Southern accent in Hollywood. However, he had befriended Oscar-winning actor Robert Duvall. He even got married on Duvall's farm in The Plains, Va., in Fauquier County.

On Friday night, Jim Cooper talked about how his son pulled it together.

"Scott adapted the screenplay and sent it to Robert Duvall," Jim Cooper said. Duvall "called Scott back and said he liked it and asked what could he do."

Plenty.

Cooper told Duvall that he needed money, wanted Jeff Bridges to play the lead character, and wanted 10-time Grammy Award-winner T Bone Burnett to craft the film's music.

"Without them he knew it wouldn't fly," Jim Cooper said. "So Robert sent [the screenplay] to them, but he said "Scott, it will take a year for Jeff to decide.' "

A year or so later, four-time Academy Award nominee Bridges replied.

"Jeff said, "There's no music,' " Jim Cooper said. "T Bone said, "Well, Jeff, that's what I'm for.' "

And "Crazy Heart" was on.

"I was pretty thrilled," Cobb said. "I was more shocked. A number of people had optioned the book and tried to do a film of it."

Yet, given Cooper's background in music while growing up in the Mountain Empire, perhaps there should be minimal surprise over the film's success. Thanks to his father's resonant love of bluegrass and country music, Cooper's knowledge of the music dominating the film took seed in childhood.

"Scott grew up going to bluegrass festivals," Jim Cooper said. "I dragged him and my wife and other son Todd to as many as I could. Scott got an early start. We'd go down to the Down Home [in Johnson City, Tenn.] every Christmas to see Doc Watson."

So Scott Cooper's option of Cobb's book made good country and Hollywood sense. Authenticity? Nailed that rascal out of the park.

However, his adaptation, while respectful of Cobb's book, differs in particular in the form of Bridges' character.

Many have compared Bridges' portrayal of Bad Blake to country singer and songwriter Kris Kristofferson. But Cobb had someone else in mind when he devised the on-the-downside character.

"Hank Thompson," Cobb said. "I saw him open for Conway Twitty one time in Tucson. Hank was playing with a band that only met him two days beforehand. And I thought, 'my God, Hank Thompson was one of the greatest country singers of all time.' He was the physical model (for Bad Blake)."

After watching the film, Cobb sees the character he created far differently.

"I thought, "my God, that's Bad Blake,' " Cobb said. "Now, when I read it, I see Jeff as Bad Blake."

Filmed in 24 days for $7 million in such locations as Santa Fe and Albuquerque, N.M., the Fox Searchlight picture premiered in Hollywood in December.

"I went out to the premiere in December six feet tall," Jim Cooper said, "and came back 12 feet tall."

The film opened in limited release, fewer than 1,000 screens nationwide, Dec. 16, 2009. To date, "Crazy Heart" has grossed $26 million, according to www.boxoffice.com.

Awards to date include Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and Independent Film Spirit wins for Bridges as Best Actor.

"After the Golden Globes, Meryl Streep came over to Scott and said, "Scott, yours was my favorite movie of the year,' " Jim Cooper said.

So now comes Oscar.

"Crazy Heart" is nominated for three Academy Awards. Bridges is up for Actor in a Leading Role, Maggie Gyllenhaal for Actress in a Supporting Role, and Ryan Bingham and Burnett for Best Original Song for "The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)."

Meanwhile, as sure as Oscar is golden and Bad Blake is country, the Coopers and Cobb will be on their respective couches in Bristol, Va., and Rhode Island tonight, their televisions on, rooting for the little movie that could.

"I call it my little miracle film," Cobb said.

Expect more of those from Abingdon's Scott Cooper.

"I promise you, there'll be more," Jim Cooper said. "Stay tuned."


'CRAZY HEART' LINKS
"Crazy Heart" links
* Audio and video: http://www.crazyheartmovie.com
* Music: http://www.tboneburnett.com
* Author: http://www.thomascobb.net