Oscar Actors: Cooper, Chris–Background, Career, Awards (Cum Advantage, SAG Noms)

Updated June 27, 2020
Chris Cooper Career Summary:

Occupational Inheritance: No

Social Class: upper-middle; father, US Air Force doctor and a cattleman, mother housewife.


Education: University of Missouri; major acting

Training: foreman, set designer, builder; regional repertory companies

Radio Debut:

TV Debut:

Stage Debut: 12 years of repertory theaters, while in his 20s

London Debut: Revival of Sweet Bird of Youth, 1985; age 34

Broadway Debut:

Film Debut: Matewan, 1987; age 36

Oscar Role: Adaptation, 2002; age 51 (won at first nomination)

Other Noms: SAG Award nominations (3)

Other Awards: Bolden Globe

Screen Image: character actor; versatile; not typecast

Frequent Collaborator: Director John Hughes, 5 films, beginning with Matewan, 1987; age 36

Last Film: Active Career

Career Output: Still Active

Film Career Span: 1987-present (33 years)

Marriage: one, son died of epilepsy



Christopher Walton Cooper (born July 9, 1951) is an American actor. He has appeared in supporting performances in major Hollywood films, including the drama American Beauty (1999), the biopic titled October Sky (1999), the action spy film The Bourne Identity (2002), the sports biopic Seabiscuit (2003), the biopic Truman Capote, Capote (2005), the geopolitical thriller Syriana (2005), the action-thriller The Kingdom (2007), the crime drama The Town (2010), the musical comedy film The Muppets (2011), the biopic about Fred Rogers, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019), and the coming-of-age film Little Women (2019).

Oscar Award: Adaptation

Cooper won both the Oscar and Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as John Laroche in the 2002 film Adaptation.

He played a lead role in the historical and political thriller Breach (2007), playing FBI agent and traitor Robert Hanssen. He played Daniel Sloan in the 2012 political thriller The Company You Keep, and supervillain Norman Osborn in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014). He also portrayed Al Templeton on the 2016 Hulu miniseries 11.22.63.

Frequent Director: Cooper is frequent collaborator with director John Sayles, including Matewan (1987), City of Hope (1991), Lone Star (1996), Silver City (2004) and Amigo (2010).

Cooper was born on July 9, 1951, in Kansas City, Missouri, the son of Charles and Mary Ann (Walton) Cooper. He has an older brother, Chuck Cooper (born 1948). His father was both a US Air Force doctor and a cattleman, and his mother was a housewife. Both of his parents were from Texas.

Cooper grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City, and spent his summers at his family’s cattle ranch, located about 15 miles west of Leavenworth, Kansas.

He was also raised in Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Houston. While attending Southwest High School in Kansas City, Cooper worked for local theater company: “I had a background in carpentry, so I could build sets and work in the wings and shift scenes in the evening.”

After he graduated high school, Cooper became the shop foreman for another repertory group. He also considered helping his father raise cattle for a living. Cooper avoided getting drafted into the Vietnam War after stint in the Coast Guard Reserve.

Cooper attended the University of Missouri and enrolled in the theater program, planning to major in set design. It was during his sophomore year when Cooper changed his major to acting in order to overcome his “overpowering shyness.” Cooper, therefore, took acting classes at the University of Missouri. He recalled in 1996 interview with “The Philadelphia Inquirer”: “I started going in and watching some shows at the theater department. I started taking theater classes and auditioned for plays. And once I got into it, it was pretty immediate. I really felt right, felt at home.” Cooper also took dance classes at Stephens College.

After graduation from the University of Missouri, Cooper moved to NYC in 1976.

While living in NY, Cooper shared one-bedroom railroad flat with four other aspiring actors and dancers. He supported himself by renovating apartments. He also worked in construction and served as a janitor and a chauffeur. At the same time, he studied with Stella Adler and Wynn Handman.

Stage and Film Debut

Prior to his film debut with Matewan (1987), Cooper spent the previous twelve years doing stage work with the Actors Theater of Louisville and the Seattle Repertory. In 1985, Cooper appeared in the London revival of Sweet Bird of Youth.

Cooper’s early performances include Sayles’ 1987 film Matewan; the 1989 CBS-TV Western miniseries Lonesome Dove; the 1991 indie Western drama Thousand Pieces of Gold, and the 1992 ABC-TV docudrama “Bed of Lies.”

Some of his notable performances include: Money Train, as a psychotic pyromaniac who terrifies toll booth operators; Lone Star, in a rare leading role as a Texas sheriff charged with solving a decades-old case; as Deputy Dwayne Looney in director Joel Schumacher’s 1996 film A Time to Kill (based on the John Grisham novel); as Frank Booker in 1998’s The Horse Whisperer.

SAG Nomination

He played a closeted homophobic Marine Corps colonel in American Beauty, a role that garnered him a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. To get into character, Cooper said he “depended on a friend who’d fought in Vietnam. I asked him to go deep. What would this man have done? What would be on his walls? On his desk?”

In 2000, Cooper played Colonel Harry Burwell (inspired by Lieutenant Colonel Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee) in The Patriot. He was nominated for another Screen Actors Guild Award, a BAFTA Award, and won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and a Golden Globe Award in 2003 for playing the role of John Laroche in Adaptation. In 2002, Cooper also appeared in The Bourne Identity as a ruthless CIA special ops director, a role he reprised (in flashbacks) in The Bourne Supremacy.

Cooper received another Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for his supporting role as racehorse trainer Tom Smith in 2003’s Seabiscuit. In 2004, Cooper starred in Silver City, playing an inept Republican gubernatorial candidate, a character noted for similarities to U.S. President George W. Bush.[citation needed]

Cooper appeared in three acclaimed films in 2005: Jarhead (which reunited him with American Beauty director Sam Mendes and October Sky actor Jake Gyllenhaal); Capote; and Syriana. He also acted in the thriller Breach, playing real-life FBI agent and traitor Robert Hanssen. Cooper commented that Breach was “the first studio film where they’ve considered me the lead [actor]”. In 2007, he appeared as a government agent in dangerous territory in the action thriller The Kingdom and voiced the character Douglas in the film adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s book, Where the Wild Things Are (2009).

At the 2010 Sundance film fest, Cooper appeared alongside Ben Affleck in the drama, The Company Men, to great acclaim.

In 2015, he starred in the short play Bite the Hand by Ara Watson, for Playing On Air, a non-profit organization that “records short plays [for public radio and podcast] written by top playwrights and performed by outstanding actors.”

Tony Award Nomination

In 2017, he and Laurie Metcalf starred in A Doll’s House, Part 2, a Broadway play by Lucas Hnath based on Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, for which he received a Tony Award nomination. Cooper played Nora Helmer’s husband, Torvald.

Cooper portrayed Norman Osborn in the 2014 film The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in uncredited role. He appeared in Ben Affleck’s crime drama Live by Night, released in December 2016.

Two Femme-Directed Movies

In 2019, Cooper starred in two acclaimed films, Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, with Tom Hanks, and Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women with an ensemble cast featuring Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Laura Dern, and Meryl Streep.

Cooper met his future wife, Marianne Leone, in 1979 at an acting class in NYC. On their first date, she helped him carry sheet rock up eight flights of stairs: “That’s when I knew this was the girl for me.” They married in July 1983. Their son, Jesse Lanier Cooper, was born three months prematurely in October 1987. Three days after he was born, Jesse suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and developed cerebral palsy. Jesse was eventually mainstreamed into Silver Lake Regional High School, where he became an honor student. Cooper recalled in a 2003 interview with The Morning Call, “(Jesse) is the best thing that ever happened to us. He’s in a wheelchair and he communicates only by computer, but he’s taught me so much because he’s just so incredibly focused. Now he’s in a regular school, which we fought to get him into. He’s an honors student, and he’s doing great.” On January 3, 2005, Jesse Cooper died suddenly and unexpectedly from epilepsy. A memorial fund was set up in his name, the Jesse Cooper Foundation. Cooper has said that the death of his son has helped him understand several characters he played, such as Charles Aiken in August: Osage County (2013) and Phil Eastwood in Demolition (2015).

Cooper formerly maintained residences in Hoboken, New Jersey, and Plymouth, MA. As of 2003, he resides in Kingston, MA. On May 14, 2016, Cooper received honorary doctorate from University of Massachusetts Lowell.