American Sniper fake baby

The first comments I heard from people about Clint Eastwood‘s American Sniper, after the film’s premiere at AFI Fest in Los Angeles last fall, were about the baby. If you’ve seen the film, you’ve noticed the baby. If you haven’t seen the film you’ve probably still heard people talking about it. During a scene in which Chris Kyle is at home, Bradley Cooper has to hold a very obviously plastic baby for over a minute. Sure, joke about the scene being the one to lock Cooper’s latest Best Actor Oscar nomination, but for real, why the plastic baby?

Turns out there’s no grand concept behind using a prop rather than a real baby for the scene — it was a purely practical decision.

Here’s one of the scenes in question, via an ABC news report. (The scene had been uploaded in full, probably via screener, but was quickly deleted from YouTube by Warner Bros.)

That clip only gives some idea of the presence the baby truly lacks, but it’s a good start.

Turns out this might not have been a sly aesthetic or thematic choice by Eastwood. Rather, it was merely a question of getting the scene done as scheduled. Writer Mark Harris was among many mocking the prop on Twitter, and Jason Hall, screenwriter for American Sniper, waded in with a response:

@MarkHarrisNYC hate to ruin the fun but real baby #1 showed up with a fever. Real baby #2 was no show. (Clint voice) Gimme the doll, kid.

— jason hall (@jasonhall8675) December 30, 2014

You can look at just about any film and find a instance where something on screen represents a practical decision made on the day of shooting to replace an element or concept that wasn’t working. But the American Sniper baby is far more attention-getting than most. Eastwood is famous for bringing his films in ahead of schedule and under budget; the comment from Jason Hall suggests Eastwood’s decision was made simply to keep the film moving on schedule. That may not have been the right decision in the long run, but knowing the thought process helps make sense of the choice.

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