Sienna Miller doesn’t want to talk about whether or not Bradley Cooper dies in the end.
In the upcoming biopic American Sniper, he portrays Chris Kyle, the deadliest marksman in U.S. military history. During Kyle’s four tours in Iraq, the decorated Navy SEAL had 160 confirmed kills before retiring in 2009. But his life abruptly ended in 2013 when he was shot by a Marine veteran reportedly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. (He’s currently awaiting trial.)
When asked if that sad coda to Kyle’s legendary career is included in director Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of the soldier’s best-selling 2012 memoir, the British actress demures. “I’m not supposed to say anything,” says Miller, who portrays Kyle’s wife, Taya. “The film really focuses more on his life than on his death. That’s what I’m supposed to say.”
Hitting theaters in limited release on Christmas Day, American Sniper arrives as a late addition to the awards-season scrum with a growing din of sight-unseen prerelease buzz. Cooper—who also produced the film—packed on pounds of muscle for the part, practiced shooting live ammunition with real SEAL teams, and personally promised Kyle (just before his death) to do justice to his story.
As such, American Sniper showcases Kyle’s overseas deployments where his courage under fire and pinpoint accuracy earned him the nickname “Legend” (and, Kyle claimed in his memoir, put a bounty on his head from enemy insurgents). But the movie also follows its hero home from the battlefield.
“Ultimately, it is a war film,” Miller says. “At the same time, you have romance: humanity grounded by a love story. The dilemma of life at home. Leaving that high-adrenaline, high-intensity situation behind and trying to be a father and husband. This is a man whose priorities in life are God, country, and family—in that order.”
The movie appears set to follow a release pattern similar to Eastwood’s sports drama Million Dollar Baby, which hit screens in December 2004 and went on to win four Oscars. Various prognosticators are already placing short odds on Cooper, who’s earned two nominations in the past two years for American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook.
“His performance is completely compelling. He’s just unrecognizable,” Miller says. “He was training four to six hours a day. He put on 40 pounds of muscle. He looked and sounded like a different person. I’m pretty sure he didn’t break character for the entire thing. He dived into this completely head-first. It was an amazing thing to be around.”
Amazing in a completely different way were a pair of butt-hugging khaki short shorts a bulked-up Cooper was photographed wearing on set that became an Internet meme earlier this year.
“We did have a laugh about those photos. Funnily enough, those are the SEALs’ Hell Week shorts,” says Miller, laughing. “They are the Navy SEALs’ training uniform. I guess it’s part of Hell Week to be humiliated to that degree.”