Bradley Cooper thought being named Sexiest Man Alive was a joke.
In an interview on best friend Dax Shepard's Armchair Expert podcast, the A Star Is Born actor got candid about his insecurities, including over his looks.
Referred to as a "heartthrob," The Hangover star replied, "I don't think I ever, ever let that in — ever," adding, "At this point, I'm going to be 47, I think that ship has sailed."
Cooper said he's dealt with life-long insecurities about his looks. He said he was a "beautiful cherub of a child" and people thought he was a girl until he was 8. But people treated him "like a doll" where they'd try to pick him up. It "affected me as a kid. Big time," he said.
Cooper went on to offer "facts to back up my rejection of that notion," that he's a heartthrob. He recalled how early in his acting career, he auditioned and was given feedback that he lacked sex appeal.
"'He's not f**kable,'" the star recalled being told. "I was like holy s***. That was a rough thing to hear."
Cooper said he was never cast "as the hot guy... I was like the sidekick on Alias. The a**hole in Wedding Crashers."
So when People magazine decided to name him Sexiest Man Alive title in 2011, which his publicist called him on the set of Silver Lining Playbook to tell him, "I thought it was a joke. I think I thought it was Dax ... pranking me," bringing back Punk'd.
While Cooper knew his mother, Gloria, would be "so happy" that he'd join the ranks of Hollywood's heartthrobs, he immediately sensed, "Oh, this is not going to be good. Everybody's gonna be like: What? And the truth is, that is what happened."
He recalled first what he said was a lackluster announcement, on Good Morning America, of him getting the title.
"'Oh, it's Bradley Cooper,'" he recalled an unidentified co-host saying. "Literally like that... I am not kidding. I went, Oh, s***. My fears are right."
It got worse when "people protested" that Ryan Gosling didn't win.
"There was a protest!" he said. "That was for real."
Cooper said he felt like it was "high school all over again" when he moved to Los Angeles to get into acting. He was insecure when he landed his role in Alias, which debuted in 2001. While he found a TV family with J.J. Abrams, Victor Garber, Michael Vartan and Jennifer Garner as the show exploded, he found himself obsessing over comments people made about him on the message boards of then-website Television Without Pity.
"I remember reading comments and they were saying your largest fears. Like: He's dirty. He's ugly," he recalled. "I was like: Holy s***... I became addicted to reading them... It was a narcissistic self-loathing endeavor."
He recalled a New York Times article at the time saying TV writers were taking note of message board comments and cited his character as one not being liked by fans. "From there, it got worse," he said, leading to him asking Abrams to write off his character.
Cooper said he felt like he was "losing his mind" and called the time "dark" for him. He felt if he stayed on the show, he wouldn't "survive." Against the advice of everyone he knows, he quit.
Cooper said he had been looking for outside things to give him self-esteem, and realized it was time to look inside. Getting sober in 2004 was a big part of that.
"I slowly started putting my life together" after that, he said.
A year later, he became friends with Shepard through friend Will Arnett. Shepard was also newly sober and that friendship was pivotal to both of them. They both spoke about that a lot during their conversation.
"We discovered that we were born three days apart [in 1975] ... we got sober a month apart [in 2004] and then, buckle up, we were both born deaf," Shepard said of their bond. "To me, that was like: Let's seal the deal here." (Cooper was born with cholesteatoma, a growth of skin in the middle ear behind the eardrum, and also had a punctured eardrum, necessitating numerous surgeries as a child. It's unclear what Shepard's hearing issues stemmed from.)
Cooper called Shepard his "lifeline" in Hollywood for years, and always gave him a "feeling of comfort."
Cooper talked about having "so much self-loathing" before getting sober. He said his friendship with Shepard came at the right time because, "We were so riddled with insecurities," related to their careers and lives, and did not have "the escape of drugs and alcohol. I can't even imagine going through those years without you."
Shepard said he called Cooper after he relapsed in 2020, and Cooper was behind his decision to publicly share his relapse in 2020, on Armchair Expert, to come clean. The men — who dropped a lot of "Coop!" and "bro!" during the interview — worked together in Shepard's directorial debut, Hit & Run, in 2012.