Taking the Measure of a Man
by Jay S. Jacobs
There is a certain irony about the fact that the new movie Measure of a Man stars Blake Cooper as a boy coming of age, because we’ve been watching Cooper grow up before our eyes for a few years now. We first met him – both as film fans and personally with our first interview – when he was 13 years old and played fan-favorite Chuck in the popular film The Maze Runner.
Fast forward a few years and Cooper is 17 and he is the star of the sweet and nostalgic indie film (he was only about 14 or 15 when Measure of a Man was filmed), which is based on a beloved memoir called One Fat Summer by sports journalist Robert Lipsyte.
Cooper has been getting raves in the early reviews.
“Affectionate period touches and a soulful ’70s score that’s completely in tune with young Cooper’s adroitly connected performance.” The LA Times
“The young actor, so good as the portly, doomed Chuck in The Maze Runner, never asks for our sympathy, instead seeking – and getting – recognition for a deeply nuanced portrayal.” San Francisco Chronicle
Looking at him now, Cooper is taller, thinner, surer of himself, more of a man. And things are looking up, possibilities are wide. To paraphrase the old song, “the future’s so bright, he’s got to wear shades.”
Funny thing is, he owes it all to social media. He would never have even gotten the role of Chuck if not for a massive fan campaign. The completely unknown at the time actor – he’d just started taking acting classes a couple of years earlier in his native Atlanta – was championed by Twitter fans.
As Cooper explained it to us last time we spoke with him in 2014, “When my agent tried to get me an audition for the role, she wasn’t able to, unfortunately. After a while, Wes Ball, who is the director, I tried to find his Twitter account. I found it and I sent him a quick tweet saying, ‘It would be awesome if you gave me a chance to audition. Thanks!’ Fans noticed first, and they started making all this fan art and fan fiction and stuff like that. After about a couple of days Wes noticed, and he decided to give me an audition. It was pretty cool.”
Years later, Cooper still finds the turn of events amazing.
“It’s so crazy to think about,” Cooper says. “I really have to give all the credit to the fans who made their own fan art and all of that stuff. They really lobbied for me. And to the director who gave me a chance. It was their achievement.”
For it is Chuck, more than anything else, that Cooper is remembered for. A kind, hard-working, friendly, conscientious boy plucked down in the middle of a bunch of alpha males, Chuck became a fan favorite. And plus (spoiler alert on the outside chance you still haven’t seen or heard what happens), he has a tragic death scene towards the end of the film.
“Every time someone meets me, they are like, ‘Oh my God, I cried when you died,’ or something like that,” Cooper shares, good-naturedly. “I think people still see me as Chuck. Every time they see me, it just reminds them of that scene. Which was kind of the goal for that scene. It’s been a while, but it’s always something I’ll appreciate, the fan base and all of the people who cried over Chuck.”
Since The Maze Runner, Cooper has kept busy, making the movie Cocked for Amazon and another film called The Late Bloomer.
“That film was about a man who is in his 30s and one day he realizes he has a tumor in his pituitary gland. This isn’t my character, by the way,” Cooper laughs. “Basically, he gets the tumor removed from his brain and he starts going through puberty, in the course of like a week or two. I play that character’s friend.”
By the way, did we mention that it was a comedy?
“Yeah, that was a really fun shoot,” Cooper says. “It really came out of nowhere. I was sitting playing video games with my friends. My mom walked in my room and she goes, ‘Hey Blake, I just got a call from a casting director who said they’ll probably want you to fly to Bulgaria tonight.’ I was like: Wait! Wait! What? And she said, ‘Well we’re not sure if it’s tonight yet, but you should probably pack.’ I was kind of hesitant. I was like, I don’t want to stop playing my game.”
Well, he may not have made a high score, but it turned out he made a movie. It was the smart choice. When he landed in Europe he was greeted by a cast made up of the likes of Johnny Simmons (Perks of Being a Wallflower), Brittany Snow (Pitch Perfect), Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick), JK Simmons (Whiplash), Maria Bello (A History of Violence) and Jane Lynch (Glee).
“I’m so happy that I wasn’t lazy about it and I actually did that project because it was super fun to work with that cast. [Fellow actor] Kevin Pollak was the director, and he was really fun to work with. It was like an 11-day shoot in Bulgaria, which was awesome.”
Which brings us to Measure of a Man, which was actually shot a few years ago. Cooper didn’t have the game-related doubts about this film. When he received the script by David Scearse (who also wrote the Tom Ford film A Single Man), Cooper knew this was a project that he wanted to take on as an actor.
“The characters are so fleshed out and complicated and relatable in some ways,” Cooper explains. “That stuck with me a lot. The pacing of the story; the events that happened were very captivating. I couldn’t really stop reading the script.”
Measure of a Man took place in the summer of 1976. However, Cooper did not do so much looking into the Bicentennial year when preparing for the role.
“I didn’t really research much of the time period, no,” Cooper admits, “but I did try to beat the habit of saying [things] how you do today. Going back to how people spoke back then, or the mannerisms people had back then. I didn’t really brush up so much on the events that happened during that time period. There was a scene where the family was listening to the radio and there were a bunch of historical events going on the radio, which I thought was interesting. But, yeah, I focused more on the character.”
But still, it was an interesting experience for a modern kid to immerse himself in a 70s lifestyle. Cooper admits there are some modern conveniences that he would have really missed had he grown up during the 70s.
“I definitely couldn’t live without the current streaming sites that we have, like Netflix and HBO. I couldn’t live without those,” Cooper laughs. “Also, video games I would miss.”
Which is not to say that the era didn’t have its selling points.
“The main thing about that time [that I like] is the music,” Cooper says. “I still listen to music from the 60s to the 80s. I love it. The Rolling Stones, Queen and Santana are my favorites.”
In fact, Measure of a Man was a bit of a learning experience in that way. The movie had some interesting musical choices, slightly more obscure, not the obvious things. The film’s soundtrack introduced him to artists like Foghat, America, Marmalade, Donovan, even Herman’s Hermits.
“Yeah, I wasn’t really familiar with the music they used,” he admits.
Of course, those weren’t all the changes he found back in the ‘70s. Bobby was breaking his back working hard as a gardener for a princely sum of $2.00 an hour – which was considered well paid at the time.
“Yeah, that’s inflation for you,” Cooper laughs. “It is hard to see that, with wages now like $15.00 an hour being what people consider good pay. But, yeah, you could get a gallon of gas for like $0.50 back then. It’s like $3.00 now.”
Still, doing the job of maintaining the huge estate also had a massive side benefit. Dr. Kahn, his boss and mentor in the film, was played by acting powerhouse Donald Sutherland.
“It was great,” Cooper says about working with Sutherland. “He is truly such a great guy to work with. I mean, he’s a legend. He helped me a lot, but he didn’t really directly teach me anything. It was a lot of stuff I learned just from watching him and doing scenes with him. It was just how he carried himself, his mannerisms on set. Just how professional he was. It’s really something I aspire to be one day.”
The cast put together by British director Jim Loach in his US film debut was full of such great talents, though, from established actors like Judy Greer and Luke Wilson, to up and comers like Liana Liberato, Danielle Rose Russell, Luke Benward and Beau Knapp.
“The whole cast was really great,” Cooper enthuses. “They were very welcoming to me. Just hanging out on the set with them, especially Luke. There were times we were waiting on set for a bit. It was one of the few times we had time for waiting and stuff. We came up with this joke… actually it was not a joke, I’m still serious about it… but he and I came up with this plot for a TV series, a detective show called Bobby and Pops. For like an hour we just made funny videos on set messing around with that idea. That shows you how easy it was to talk to them and be around them. They were great.”
Being the same age as Bobby (at the time of filming), Cooper could identify with some of the life choices and chances that Bobby was living through.
“The main thing I connected the most with him was his struggle with his weight, because that is still something I’m trying to work on right now,” Cooper says. “Just recently I’ve decided I’m going to try to get into better shape. It’s also your self-image. Bobby struggled with that. That really resonated with me.”
Still, looking back at the filming a little down the road, he realizes that some things he just didn’t get yet.
“One thing I actually had trouble with was… I didn’t have trouble with it at the time, but in hindsight, it was something I wish I had experienced… I’m not going to go into details because it’s kind of a spoiler, but some things happened to Bobby. I’ll probably get into this more at another time, but there were things that happened in my life after we shot Measure of a Man that looking at them in a selfish way were like, ‘Oh, man, I could have used this experience in the film that I just finished.’ I had a better understanding of what happens in Bobby’s mind after it happened to me.”
Of course, in coming-of-age traditions, Bobby experiences many things that summer: bullying, unrequited crushes, family drama, learning to stand up for himself. Cooper only has lived through some of those things.
“I don’t think bullying, no,” Cooper says. “Not to the extent that Bobby has to go through. No one should have to endure that kind of harassment and abuse, but I think a lot of people do know what it is like who go to school. Maybe this movie will help them see that it’s not forever. It does get better.”
He’s also not sure he’s done the unrequited love thing, on one or the other side of the equation.
“I honestly don’t know,” Cooper admits. “It’s hard to tell with that kind of thing. It’s one of those things where you might think you have been friend-zoned or something like that. For all I know I could be friend-zoned by somebody, I couldn’t tell you who, though.” He laughs.
However, Cooper does believe that Bobby learned what was most vital in the film.
“To stand up for yourself, you need to have confidence in yourself, that you can accomplish what you are setting out to do. In the movie, he finally gets the strength to stand up for himself because he gains the self-confidence with the help of Dr. Kahn. I think self-confidence is the most important thing for Bobby at the end of the movie.”
Unlike the Marx family in the movie, Cooper also has never had an annual vacation jaunt.
“Just recently my mom and I started to go up to Minnesota,” Cooper says. “Her whole family lives up there. But, we’ve never really had a consistent yearly vacation. We don’t really need that, because we lived on a farm for probably seven or eight years. A long time. We were constantly around a ton of animals. A lot of our vacation time was dedicated to my siblings. They did competitive equestrian horse jumping. That was a big part of our lives. It took up a lot of vacation time, because my mom and my siblings had to travel around the country and do that. It was a great time to have those animals, but in hindsight it’s like, they’re very expensive. It’s a very expensive business and sport. Then we moved on from horses and got into other animals.”
Working on a small indie like Measure of a Man was a bit of a culture shock compared to his earlier tentpole exposure in The Maze Runner. But each style of filming has its perks.
“It’s very different, at least in my experience,” Cooper says. “On a low-budget movie, you don’t have as much time. You don’t have as much wiggle room, I guess. Everything is more serious – because of the time crunch and budget constraint – than if you had a $50 million-dollar budget, or any kind of high budget like that. So, yeah, it’s definitely harder. There’s more pressure to get up to speed faster. But, it was still a really great time, either way.”
Now that Measure of a Man is finally hitting theaters, Cooper has shifted briefly into promotional mode. He has been doing interviews and did a screening and Q&A with the original book’s writer Robert Lipsyte a few days ago in New York, where many of these pictures were taken. Then he and his mother are going to take a quick trip. However, he still has his next project lined up, a film called Chance which is currently in pre-production.
“I think we’re almost done casting,” Cooper says. “I’m going to start shooting it in late June, I believe. Actually, my mom just said June 11. So, yeah, it’s coming up quick. It’s a movie about a boy… not a boy, he’s my age… a kid my age who lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. It’s the story about how he was a potential A1 college baseball player and how he eventually ended up committing suicide. It’s a really, really great script and a really great cast behind it. I can’t wait to shoot it.”
Speaking of college, Cooper is getting close to that age. He has been home-schooled since even before The Maze Runner. Is he planning on going to college, or to continue to focus on his career?
“I turned 17 last October,” Cooper says. “I’m doing dual-enrollment right now. I’m doing college courses that count as credit for high school. I just finished my semester two days ago. I’m just focused on graduating high school for now. I’m also focusing on doing whatever I can to build my career. I think that is what I want to do for the rest of my life, but there are always multiple options open.”
Copyright ©2018 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: May 11, 2018.
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