Chris Cooper’s long acting career began with his role as a union organizer in the 1987 film “Matewan” about a deadly West Virginia coal miner’s strike in 1920.

The Kansas City, Missouri, native has gone on to appear in more than 75 films and TV projects, including “The Patriot” (2000), “The Bourne Identity” (2002), “Seabiscuit” (2003) and “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (2019). He won a best supporting actor Oscar in 2003 for “Adaptation,” with Meryl Streep and Nicolas Cage.

Cooper, 72, lives in Massachusetts near Cape Cod and will be in Maine next week as a guest of the Bates Film Festival. He’ll participate in a question-and-answer session following a screening of the film “Lone Star” at the Portland Museum of Art on May 18.

When did you first know you wanted to be an actor?

Something happened in grade school, you know, when I was a  little boy. And it was simply that I got hit with the three big boys in the ’50s, (Marlon) Brando, (Montgomery) Clift and (James) Dean. I was just mesmerized by the way they had changed acting. Something was going on. That was huge. And I wanted to be part of it. I did a good 12 years of theater before I did anything on film.

When you think back to those movies that influenced you as a kid and all the movies you’ve seen since, do you have a favorite or two? 


There are a handful of films with the actors I just mentioned that had a big impact on me: “On the Waterfront,” (1954) “East of Eden” (1955) and some others. One more recent film that’s remained one of my favorites is “Paris, Texas” (1984) by Wim Wenders. To me, everything came together on that – the writing, directing, casting, music, photography. The story just broke my heart.

What was the best experience or two you’ve ever had making a movie?

Well, the first one (“Matewan”), I mean, how lucky can you be? To start out and be working with James Earl Jones, John Sayles, David Strathairn and all these other actors. And to be involved with a piece of history that America really knows nothing about, these coal mining wars.

Another great experience was “Adaptation,” working with Meryl Streep. We had a lot more improvisation than I’ve ever done in any other film. A lot of it didn’t make it into the film; it’s on the cutting room floor. But that experience of really being on top of it, and being able to improv, that was a pretty remarkable experience.

Is there any role you’ve never played but you you really still want to?

I can’t imagine why there hasn’t been a series or film on the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. He had such a interesting, crazy, long, up-and-down career. I would love to delve into that.

Why do you think film festivals are important? 

I think it just introduces people to other forms of storytelling. We have to have these film festivals because (the movie industry) might get taken over by all this Marvel comic stuff. They’re just not my kind of films. I need something with a little more human-to-human contact.

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