By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - After years of struggling to break into the Hollywood A-list from television, actor Bradley Cooper has gained some serious recognition for his work on the silver screen.
Cooper returns to the comedy franchise, "The Hangover," which skyrocketed his career, after dramatic roles that earned him an Oscar nomination and praise for his more dramatic talents.
The 38-year old actor has been on TV since 1999 and landed some supporting film roles. But it wasn't until he was cast as the cocky Phil in the 2009 buddy comedy, "The Hangover," that he found mainstream success.
The movie, about four men who try to piece together the events of a wild bachelor party in Las Vegas, became an unlikely hit, grossing more than $467 million at the worldwide box office and spawning a franchise.
After "The Hangover Part II" took the actors - Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis and Justin Bartha - to Thailand on yet another wild bachelor party, they decided to return one last time in "The Hangover Part III," out in theaters on Friday.
"We really didn't let any day pass without taking stock of what we have because of these movies, and how special our bond is," Cooper told Reuters about filming the final installment.
"It really is a once-in-a-lifetime thing and to be able to do a third one and go out knowing it's over, hopefully we're going out on a high note."
In the final film of the franchise, the wolf pack are unwittingly lured back to Las Vegas in a full circle from the first film, in a hunt for the elusive and eccentric Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong).
Cooper said that while the first two films had become box office hits with similar storylines, it was important that the third film found a new plot.
"There was a lot of pressure to make sure it was going to be fresh, that it was going to deviate from the structure of the first two," the actor said.
DRAMA AND DIRECTING
After landing leading roles in 2010's reboot of "The A-Team" and 2011 action-thriller "Limitless," Cooper reached a career high this year with an Oscar nod for best male actor for his role as bipolar Pat in "Silver Linings Playbook."
Cooper credited the film for changing perceptions about his talents.
"There were people going 'wow, I didn't know you could do that,' and I thought 'yeah, did you think I was Phil?' It was interesting," he said.
"The Place Beyond The Pines" saw Cooper in a rare dramatic role, playing a police officer struggling to come to terms with killing a suspect while on duty.
Cooper said the role was "really tricky" and came to him at the right time in his career, when he was looking for a challenge and wanted to take risks with a complex character.
"It was not the role that a young male leading man would want to take, because there was nothing flashy...but it was a great acting challenge," Cooper said.
The actor, who was thrust into the spotlight in 2011 as People Magazine's 'Sexiest Man Alive,' said he has set his sights on stepping behind the camera one day, though for now, he is in demand for roles in upcoming films by Steven Spielberg and Cameron Crowe.
"I can't pass that up, but at some point I have to direct, because that's really the only way I think," Cooper said.
(Editing by Paul Casciato and Bernadette Baum)