The Elephant Man

In Hollywood, more often than not, they’re making more kind of traditional films, stories that are understood by people. And the entire story is understood. And they become worried if even for one small moment something happens that is not understood by everyone. But what’s so fantastic is to get down into areas where things are abstract and where things are felt, or understood in an intuitive way that, you can’t, you know, put a microphone to somebody at the theatre and say ‘Did you understand that?’ but they come out with a strange, fantastic feeling and they can carry that, and it opens some little door or something that’s magical and that’s the power that film has. -David Lynch


The skull and skeleton of Joseph Merrick, better known as ‘The Elephant Man’. The cause of the excessive growths throughout Merrick’s skeleton has been a topic of debate, and the current theory is that Merrick may have suffered from a combination of disorders, namely neurofibromatosis type 1 and proteus syndrome, although DNA tests have been inconclusive. Merrick’s skeleton is currently kept in a small museum of the medical school of the Royal London Hospital, the same place where he spent his later years and eventually passed away aged only 27. 

Joseph Carey Merrick, better known as “The Elephant Man,” became well known in British circles during the Victorian Era. Born with a congenital disorder that began to change his appearance at the age of three, his startling disfigurement made him a popular sideshow attraction. When sideshows were made illegal in England, Joseph was taken in by a doctor and taught to be a gentleman in both manner and dress.

Early in the show the audience sees an actual picture of John Merrick while the doctor describes his symptoms; the barely clothed actor internalizes each deformity until he becomes Merrick. “You’re asking the audience to go along with the illusion and you’re completely naked in your soul,” Bradley Cooper says. “It’s almost a ritualistic experience.”

As Merrick, Cooper speaks and even breathes differently. “I go away and he goes in. There’s not one thing similar about us, so my brain goes, ‘Oh, that’s Merrick in here now.’”

“They Laughed at Me at First”: Bradley Cooper Proves His Teachers Wrong By Bringing The Elephant Man to Broadway