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Bradley Cooper plays Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL sniper, in 'American Sniper.' The film is based on Kyle's autobiography detailing his time serving on the battlefield. VPC

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NEW YORK — Much has been made of Bradley Cooper's impressive physical transformation into legendary sharpshooter Chris Kyle in American Sniper.

He packed on almost 40 pounds of pure muscle to play the Navy SEAL in the movie, opening nationwide Friday, turning his sleek physique into what he calls a "science experiment." But, attests his film wife, Sienna Miller, there was something of an awkward phase en route to a performance that has been hailed by critics as revelatory and fully immersive.

"We did Skype and I did see him grow. He went through a chubby phase before he got really strong," says Miller, who is based in London.

Cooper, sitting next to her at the Greenwich Hotel here, cracks a smile. It's his one day off while starring in The Elephant Man on Broadway, and he's visibly weary.

"Once I put that weight on and I could feel comfortable talking like him — that was very fascinating. His register was higher than mine," Cooper says. "That was just to get to the place where I could start doing the work. There's no way I'd ever be able to believe I was him without doing that."

Miller says she didn't meet the real Cooper until filming wrapped, because the actor stayed in character the entire time — not for any pretentious, eye-rolling artistic reason, but because it was easier than switching his new and meticulous Texas drawl on and off. Director Clint Eastwood, a no-frills filmmaker, got a kick out of it.

"He dug it. He would make fun of me constantly, the accent," Cooper says. "I'm just so relieved it worked out."

Dropping the extra pounds, however, was tougher. "I just lost (the last of it) it in the past four weeks," he says. "I lost 20 pounds fast and I couldn't lose the last 15. I love to eat."

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