Without A Plan
How Sylvania’s Oliver Cooper landed a role in Project X, the newest high school comedy – with some help.
Oliver’s ambition to make it in Hollywood grew from performing stand-up comedy as a high school student in Sylvania, Ohio. Long suffering as the Cooper family dunce, his decision to drop out of Arizona State at age 19 and move to Los Angeles was thought by relatives to be another half-baked plan destined for self-effacing mediocrity.
Once in Los Angeles, he took some acting classes and frequented the city’s renowned comedy clubs, polishing his innate charisma through stand-up. Oliver met actor Shaun Weiss on the stand-up circuit in October of 2009. Shaun — known for his iconic role as “Goldberg the Goalie” in Disney’s The Mighty Ducks franchise — understood the workings of Hollywood and it was Shaun’s guidance that landed Oliver an audition for a part in Todd Philip’s raw high school comedy, Project X.
We picked up Shaun and drove to Jersey Mike’s Subs in Burbank to sit down for this interview. Shaun’s friend and the restaurant’s manager, Marnee, let us jump the queue to place our orders after he had told her that we were doing this interview for Rolling Stone. Without telling Marnee the truth, we sat outside on the covered patio with our cold cuts — this gathering, like most of Hollywood’s alleged “business meetings,” boasted the formality of a Big Lots shopping trip.
“We were writing, that was how the relationship started,” Shaun said, tapping a fresh cigarette from the pack. “We weren’t looking for money, we weren’t looking to get famous; we were just working on comedy, trying to write good material.”
Cooper meets Goldberg the Goalie
“The first time I met [Oliver], he came up to me in a character that I totally bought. He was acting like a nerd.” Shaun said, “’kinda like a geeky kinda douche-bag kinda guy.’ He knew who I was from The Mighty Ducks or somethin’.”
“Well I didn’t even know he was ‘Goldberg the Goalie.’” Oliver said to me, then, looking at Shaun, “I just thought you looked like him.”
“You were just goin’ on that? Anyway, he comes up to me,” Shaun said, and then seemingly speaking through a parrot’s voice, “’Hey do you mind if — when I’m performing — you sat in like the front row so I could possibly refer to you for my routine in some shape or form?’ And he gives me this spiel and I’m like, ‘What the fuck?’ So I left the club without even going on stage just to get the hell away from him so he wouldn’t embarrass me,” he said, looking at Oliver. “He scared the shit out of me.”
“The second time I bumped into Oliver, I was waiting to go up and I saw his act for the first time. Not really a polished routine but he had some funny jokes, some good material. You could just tell he was funny. What he lacked in experience, he made up for with charisma and just being able to squeak out the laugh onstage.”
As two Jews performing in Hollywood, it’s no surprise that their comic tastes overlap. Their mutual understanding of “What’s funny” is cast from the same mold.
In Oliver’s words, “It’s an understanding of people really. We’d be hangin’ out and the things that would make us laugh were very similar. It’s just people, man. [That’s] exactly what comedy is. We’re all acting. We’re all fuckin’ being characters all day.”
A matter of self-perspective
Shaun nodded, “Definitely a bond that we have. What’s very specific about [Oliver’s] comedy to me is his level of — and commitment to — authenticity. He’s intuitive and his comedy’s very real. He’ll write jokes that’ll crack me up and I’ll be like, ‘You gotta do that.’ And he’s like, ‘Nah, it doesn’t feel like me,’ Whereas any other comedian would be like, ‘Oh shit, I found a combination of words that could make somebody laugh? I’m using it.’ He’s not a slut with his comedy.”
At the time, Shaun and Mark were considering putting together some kind of ensemble to make funny tapes for YouTube. Seeing Oliver’s act finalized their decision.
“Honestly, right off the bat we were like, ‘We should try to hook up with him and do stuff,’” Shaun said. “Literally, it wasn’t even a month later, we went to Goodwill, we were in dresses (in character) on Hollywood Boulevard.”
The videos danced the boundary between funny and outrageous.
“When we started doing these videos, it was such a good time because neither of us had anything going,” Oliver said. “I had some shitty stand up act and Shaun was at a low point in his life — financially. I was buying him lunches and driving him around. I would laugh, ‘Oh, it’s like a homeless guy and this Jew living off his mom’s credit card runnin’ around town tryin’ to get into Hollywood.’ He had a huge part in me getting into this movie (Project X) besides just getting me the audition. Without him, I wouldn’t have known how to go in for an audition.”
Maneuvering for an audition
In Spring 2010, Oliver found out about Project X auditions from a guy in his acting class.
“He was going in for an audition the next day,” Oliver said as he sat back and took a drink. “I read his sides [for the part] and I was like, ‘I could play this.’ So I had the guy print off a copy of the sides — which he was hesitant about in the first place — I dunno why.”
Shaun looked at Oliver and laughed, “I dunno why?”
“I printed off the sides and I called Shaun and he was like, ‘Dude, no problem. I can get you an audition.’ So I went home and started practicing. [Shaun] helped me.”
“Oliver would show up every morning, 9:30, 10 o’clock,” Shaun said. “And it’d be like, ‘What are we going to do today to try to get him into the (audition) room?’”
“For a two-week period, every single day,” Oliver said. “All I did was practice the sides, so by the time I actually had the audition, I would be ready. Weirdly, I’ve never been this way about anything in my entire life. I was so used to passing up things in my life, like, ‘Screw it, I’ll get the next one.’ But this time I was like, ‘I’m not letting this one go. I’m getting this audition.’”
“I would show up and Shaun would be passed out at like two in the afternoon. I’d be like, ‘I thought you were supposed to email them. Call them up Shaun,’ because he was representing me. I’d being goin’ nuts, ‘We gotta do this.’”
Shaun called his own talent manager, Jeff Morrone, to help Oliver secure an audition, but that avenue was unsuccessful. And since Shaun told him he’d get an audition, Oliver convinced his acting class that he already had a callback.
“Even before I went in once, these guys [in my acting class] were all goin’ nuts for me,” Oliver said. “They were like, ‘This is huge Oliver. You might get this.’ But [Warner Brothers] still didn’t even know I existed.”
In the meantime, Shaun acted as his manager, emailing Oliver’s headshot — taken with an iPhone — to the movie’s casting office.
“I said to the casting people,” Shaun recounted, “‘Are you gonna see this kid or do I have to get Judd Apatow to call the office?’ No reply. I was talkin’ to the casting director like she was an asshole, like, ‘Lady, listen. I’m tryin’ to make your life easier, alright?’” “They just weren’t interested,” Oliver said as he twisted the cap back onto his water bottle. “They said I looked too old or something.”
Still not having booked an audition, but undaunted, he and Shaun snuck onto the Warner Brothers studio lot without a plan.
“It was stupid,” Oliver said. “We were just walking around. The last straw — while we were in the coffee shop (in the studio lot), Shaun wrote this long email to Judd Apatow, who he knew from working with him on the movie Heavyweights — and attached my stand-up video clip, which was shit. Do you have that email still?”
Shaun nodded with closed eyes, “I still have it. I wrote, ‘Judd, I’m in a really bad spot right now – financially. This kid tells me that if I get him an audition to read for this part, he’ll give me $50,000.’”
“Which wasn’t true,” Oliver added. “I never told you that.”
“I don’t know why I decided to tell him that. I told him, ‘Judd, this kid is the next coming.’ I don’t know why, but [Oliver] convinced me that he could book this role. And I’ve been in this town a long time. To have some kid come up to you and be like, ‘I’m gonna book my first [audition],’ I fuckin’ believed him.”
The nudge from Judd Apatow put the wheels on the track.
Oliver began, “Now Judd gets back, he’s like, ‘I can’t find Oliver Cooper. I don’t know who he’s represented by. He’s not in our system.’ So Shaun tells him ‘Oliver’s represented by Jeff Morrone’ — who’s Shaun’s talent manager. So Judd’s people call up Project X’s casting office asking for them to see me. They were seeing a lot of people anyways, so it didn’t seem that unrealistic.” But still, “I couldn’t believe it.”
“If Judd Apatow calls for anybody, you get an audition,” Shaun said.
“What happened was, the casting office called Jeff Morrone,” Oliver explained. “Jeff didn’t even know who the fuck I was even though Shaun had been calling him every other day to see if he could get me an audition. So they call him, ‘Hi, we have an audition for Oliver Cooper.’ And he’s like…”
“Who?” Oliver and Shaun said in unison. Oliver continued, “Then they told him, ‘Judd Apatow called on his behalf.’ Then he was like, ‘Oh, right.’”
“That was a victory for us,” Shaun said. “It was almost as if we’d booked the part — we were that happy.”
“Huge victory,” Oliver said, grinning. “Getting that audition, I felt like I’d accomplished the greatest task in the world. We were beside ourselves, man. And I’m telling you, they’re seeing everybody.”
“They were seeing everybody with representation,” Shaun clarified.
Looking for a nobody? You found me.
“So I go in there, Shaun’s talkin’ shit to the six kids sitting there waiting. He’s like, ‘This kid’s goin’ to a meeting with Judd Apatow right after this. You guys are fucked,’” Oliver said, laughing. “We had come up with a tagline for me: ‘You guys said you’re looking for a nobody — you found me.’”
“The opening line,” Shaun nodded.
“[Shaun] kind of instilled in me, like, ‘You gotta go in there and make them laugh.’”
“The first thing out of your mouth has to be funny and you’ll rock,” Shaun said. “It took me 20 years to figure out that when you leave the room, it doesn’t matter what the fuck you did in there, they have to be able to remember you.”
Oliver looked at Shaun, “So I did that. I finally get in the room and I killed it, man. I just went balls out. I do the whole thing reading the sides and the casting director was like, ‘Oliver Cooper, where the fuck have you been?’”
“Tryin’ to get in this office for three weeks, that’s where the fuck I’ve been,’” Shaun shot back, mimicking
The casting director thought that Oliver was a prime candidate for the movie’s funnier character, “Costa.”
“He said to me, ‘I want you to do this character. I think you’re perfect for this.’ So I winged it, killed it, and he was laughin’ his ass off. I walked outta there with [Shaun] and we’re on like ‘Cloud 20’ and I am so nervous that I start puking all over the place.”
“First off, here’s what you gotta understand: I only read for the casting director. Knowing what I know now, that doesn’t mean jack shit. I had eight auditions left. Shaun’s tellin’ me I got the part already so he’s on the phone with my dad. He’s like ‘Doctor Cooper, your son is gonna be a movie star. I couldn’t believe it. I thought for sure I was getting the part.”
“So they call Jeff Morrone back that day, ‘We wanna see him back at Warner Brothers tomorrow.’ And I was surprised like, ‘I gotta go in again?’ The director hadn’t even seen me. [Shaun] came with me again the next day. It was at Warner Brothers —real deal though — the producers were in there. I wasn’t scared, but the sides were new to me.”
“But never once did you say, ‘I’m nervous,’ or ‘I’m unsure,’” Shaun said.
“No, I knew I was the guy to get this part,” Oliver said. But, “I walked in there and I fuckin’ bombed. I stumbled over my words, I just wasn’t that confident because I didn’t know it that well. I was like, ‘I can’t believe I screwed this up, man. I had it in the bag.’ We were listenin’ to Carol King on the way home.” Oliver started to sing “‘It’s too late baby, now it’s too late…’
“It was really that Tommy Boy moment,” Shaun said with a grin.
A Call-back audition
Yet Oliver had convinced the casting director with the first audition, prompting his people to call Jeff Moronne. They wanted to see Oliver again the next day; he better be prepared. Shaun said, “‘If you were shakin’ like a leaf’ — and that’s what happened in there — ‘and they still wanna see you, that means they want you for this.’”
“The next day was the pivotal day and that was the craziest day,” Oliver started. “I took an Aderall that day — and I gave [Shaun] one — because I wanted to learn the lines. I was like, ‘You gotta help me.’ I was walkin’ laps around Balboa Park a hundred and fifty times just memorizing the lines and we came up with a few key catch lines and phrases.”
“Oliver had a difficult time learning the exact lines,” Shaun said. “But he had it in his head that if he knew these lines, inside and out, it would free him from thinking about it. He would be able to perform. That’s when he’d be at his best.”
“I’m only good when I’m not thinking,” Oliver said. “If I’m thinking, I’m done. [Shaun was] supposed to come in with me that day and then at the last minute [he] fainted. I guess that Aderall screwed him up. We’re walkin’ around Ventura and he has a seizure’”
“The ambulance comes; he’s foaming out of his mouth. This is like noon and I had the audition at two. I’m like, ‘Dude, I got this one. Thank you for everything. Go home and get some rest. I’m gonna do this on my own.’ Honestly all my worries went away because…”
“So I show up at Warner Brothers to read for the same people that I bombed in front of yesterday. This time I killed it and they asked me to stick around for a couple hours to go in for Todd Phillips (the director of Old School and the Hangover). The Todd Phillips thing was the big one.”
“I go in there and I say my big line, ‘You guys said you’re lookin’ for a nobody - you found me.’ That was a hit. Then he asked me about my stand up. So I told him “Phoenix Online,” my only joke. I was like, ‘I’m a college student. Everyone’s tellin’ me, “Oliver, college. The best four years of your life. The women, the parties.’” I was like, ‘Yeah, Phoenix Online is nuts.’ Some bullshit like that,” Oliver laughed. “And Todd was like, ‘That’s genius. There really is a Phoenix Online.’ He was talkin’ to the other producers. And he was also askin’ me, ‘So how did you not win ‘Last Comic Standing?’ I was thinkin’, ‘Because I only have one joke,’ but I said, ‘I don’t know.’” At this point, we hadn’t even done the audition and they were already on board with me. I was doing this whole character for Costa and I knew it was going well. In the middle of my audition, [Todd] cut me off and was like, ‘He’s like a little Jew Pesci.’ Everyone in the room was laughing. They told me I was good to go and just as I was walking out of the room, I turned around and I was like, ‘I’ll call you guys.’ Afterward, I couldn’t believe I said that. I wasn’t thinking.”
“During the filming of the movie, I found out that I was Todd’s choice from that first audition. I guess it’s all about the first impression you make on somebody.”
“I was a little worried because it was between me and this kid Miles Teller (who was already in a movie with Nicole Kidman) for this role. We had these mix-and-matches; auditions where you meet up with people [so the producers can] try to figure out the perfect cast chemistry. Miles would go in, I would go in, Miles would go in, I would go in. We had a mix-and-match one week, and then two weeks later we had another fuckin’ mix-and-match. And I was like, ‘Jesus Christ, what’s going on?’ I got all worried and shit. I even went home (to Toledo) for a week because I was so beat from this whole thing.”
Getting the part
“At the end, Todd Phillips came up to all of us and was like, ‘I know this has been a hard process for all you guys, but thanks for comin’ out. Every one of you are gonna be in this movie one way or another, it’s just a matter of what role.’ And he shook all of our hands.”
“It was like five days later, I’m talking to my manager, Jeff Moronne, and he’s like, ‘Alright, we’re supposed to find out at three o’clock today.’ I was fuckin’ nervous and I go to this Chinese restaurant to go eat somethin’ and Jeff calls me up. He was like, ‘They wanna see you at Warner Brothers in an hour.’”
Oliver showed up at the Warner Brothers offices. The atmosphere was much more relaxed than his previous visits.
“The vibe was just different than it had been. They knew. They cast the movie already, they just didn’t tell us yet so it wasn’t official. I see the casting director there and this kid Jonathan, who I had never met before, and this kid Thomas, who I had met in the mix-and-match, but I had never read with him even once. These two guys would end up being my costars in Project X.”
“They told us, ‘We’re gonna go over to Joel Silver’s office’ – producer of the movie, who I’d never met before. ‘He’s the big dog. He’s like a mafia don.’ I told Seth, the casting director, on the way there, ‘Man, if I don’t get this part my parents are gonna make me go back to college. I just don’t wanna go back to college.’ And he was laughing.”
“So we walk over there and Miles Teller was in there. I was like ‘Shit. I thought I had this thing.’ Miles was sittin’ next to me and he was like, ‘Dude, congratulations.’ ‘For what?’ He’s like, ‘They told me I didn’t get it. I’m getting the character, Miles (who was more like the cool guy). So you got the part [of Costa], man.’” So they call me in. It was all of them sittin’ around and Joel was like, ‘How would you like to make a movie at Warner Brothers?’ And I bullshitted him. I’m such an idiot. I thought I still had to win the part,” Oliver paused to laugh. “First off, I took one acting class in my life and I didn’t even do that very well. I was like, ‘My training at the Ruskin School of Acting and the Meisner Technique.’ I swear. I can’t believe how much I bullshitted him then. I was like, ‘I know this character, man. I was born to play this role.’”
“You said that?” Shaun said.
“Somethin’ like that,” Oliver broke into laughter again. “This meeting was in June, and in the conversation I found out that Joel was going to a Laker’s playoff game that night — it was during the NBA Finals — courtside seats. And right before I walked out, I was like, ‘Hey man, if you need an extra guy to go to the game with you, I’m down.’ He didn’t even answer me -— total silence.”
“So on the way home, Jeff Marrone calls me and says, ‘We’ve got the contracts in. You got it. Aren’t you excited?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah.’ So I drove over to Shaun’s house and told him.”
While Oliver was well received in the audition room, Shaun’s help gave him the opportunity and the added confidence to impress the people behind the desk. “What [Shaun] taught me is something that’s been invaluable,” Oliver said. “Just use your gut and go balls out.”
“See, poor kid?” Shaun began. “You hear five different stories about how he got the movie; five different people got him the part — not him. We all need somebody to help us open the door, but just because somebody opened the door doesn’t mean they get credit for what you did inside to actually get the part.”
“If I have anything to add to this story, it’s that Oliver really did rejuvenate my passion for The Business. I saw in him what made me very successful. I had never helped anyone in The Business before; I had never wanted to, never cared to.”
“But what was it?” Oliver said. “What do you think it was about me that you actually wanted to help versus anybody else?”
“I can’t answer that question. I just thought you were talented,” Shaun said. “I truly believed that he should be in this movie because the first time he ever came up to me [about the Project X audition]. He’s like, ‘Check this role out.’ And he gave me the sides and he put these glasses on and he starts doin’ this character and I’m like, ‘That’s pretty fuckin’ good. That’s passable. I would watch that.’ When I tell people about your story, I talk about how there was no doubt in your mind. For me, that’s the lesson you learn.”
After filming, the re-shoots, and his agent’s career advice, Oliver’s overall lesson was somewhat different - a humbling truth. “The most fascinating thing I’ve learned is that it’s all bullshit,” Oliver said. “That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned: It’s bullshit.”
Cooper has recently signed a deal to appear in Columbia Pictures’ Grown Ups 2 , a sequel to the 2010 comedy. Filming is expected to take place in Boston later this year with Adam Sandler and other stars returning from the first movie. It’s due out in mid 2013.