Limitless director Neil Burger on Bradley Cooper, NZT and shooting in New York City

By Sean O’Connell If there existed a pill that could solve most of your problems, would you take it? Silly question. Of course you would. But how much consideration would you pay to the side effects? Would you pay any attention to them at all?

In Neil Burger’s latest film, “Limitless,” Bradley Cooper plays a struggling writer who is introduced to NZT, an experimental pill that unlocks the parts of our brain we normally can’t access. As a result, he becomes a human being with unlimited potential … and, as you may assume, an unlimited amount of new problems.

But it wasn’t the issues plaguing Cooper’s character that initially lured Burger to “Limitless.”

“I loved the idea of a guy who was a failing artist at the end of his rope getting a second chance,” Burger told me during a recent interview.

“The movie is about intelligence and human potential, but it’s also very much about power. And power in New York City, specifically, because that’s very much a power center.”

In fact, when it came time to shoot, Burger said he couldn’t imagine setting “Limitless” anywhere but the Big Apple. But you don’t need an NZT prescription to understand that filming in Manhattan causes its own unique set of difficulties.

“New York has a really wild energy,” Burger said. “You know, sometimes you get a film production that shuts down the streets. For me, I wanted just to leave everything wide open and just let New York be New York in the background. I remember one time we had Bradley as regular Eddie, with his long hair, and it’s just me, Bradley, and the cameraman walking down the street. It was just a regular street, and we are crossing past people mid-block, between taxis and stuff like that. And nobody blinked an eye.”

Hard to believe given Cooper’s recent success. His involvement in “The Hangover” alone has elevated his profile to insane heights. But Burger said the “Limitless” team found ways to work that exposure to their advantage.

“When [Bradley] was playing Eddie on NZT, like in a scene at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, there literally would be 300 people just out of frame screaming his name. You couldn’t even hear what you are trying to do,” Burger said with a laugh. “It was madness. But it was kind of fantastic, in a way.

“I think you really see what a great actor Bradley is in this film,” Burger continued. “It’s a really tour-de-force part, a guy who goes from complete failure to really be on top of the world, and then he comes crashing down. First of all, Bradley is really intelligent. You feel like he is on NZT. He’s so verbally nimble, adept, and clever that he can talk circles around people. At the same time, he has a wealth of emotion and experience to draw on, so he can play the much more vulnerable side of regular Eddie, who is really at a loss and crumbling. Bradley’s able to bring all aspects of the character to the project.”

“Limitless” opens everywhere today, Friday, March 18.

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