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Bradley Cooper took on an almost preacher-like fervor as he greeted the audience at the Shrine Auditorium on Monday for the Los Angeles premiere of his directorial debut A Star Is Born, extolling the upcoming splendors of the Dolby sound system and thanking everyone from his top-ranking production crew members down to the extras present who’d filled the venerable expo hall’s seats for a sequence he shot there with co-star Lady Gaga.
As Cooper reminded the crowd, the Shrine was sacred territory in the annals of A Star Is Born, having served as the opening setting of the second of four film versions of the story, the 1954 incarnation starring Judy Garland.
On the red carpet, Cooper — upbeat over the film’s escalating buzz but also insistent on spreading the credit among his collaborators — told The Hollywood Reporter that despite having no prior directing credits on his résumé, by taking his time, formulating a vision and sharing faith with his colleagues he felt utterly prepared as shooting commenced.
“I definitely wouldn’t have shown up on set if I didn’t feel like I knew exactly what I wanted to explore, for sure,” said Cooper, who in addition to directing and starring also worked on the story, screenplay and the music. “I wouldn’t have asked all these people and told them to trust me if I didn’t feel that. And that’s all about work and all the people that worked in the prep of this movie.”
“Once I got there, I was excited to go to work every day. I think if I wasn’t prepared I would have been terrified,” he continued. “To have people like Lady Gaga and Sam Elliott and Dave Chappelle show up and say ‘OK, you told me to trust you!’ … I didn’t do it until I was ready. As a matter of fact, we pushed the movie two months because I knew that she and I hadn’t really gotten to a place where I felt like we could capture what we wound up capturing. And she was so willing to work with me, which was really great.”
The musical romance, which has captivated audiences over generations — in the 1937 William Wellman version starring Janet Gaynor and Frederic March; George Cukor’s 1954 reimagining with Garland and James Mason; and Frank Pierson’s 1976 iteration starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson — pairs Cooper, as substance abusing, career-spiraling country star Jackson Maine, with his new love and rising pop star discovery Ally, played by Lady Gaga in her feature film acting bow.
Cooper says their bond was uniquely potent and intimate offscreen as well. “It’s everything,” he said of their connection. “You just wish that happens [on every film], but with her the difference was we both had so much to lose. We’re both really going on a limb, and I’m asking her to hold my hand and jump off a cliff every day. And I think because there’s someone who has almost as much to lose as you do in the foxhole with you and it’s Lady Gaga, two things would have happened: Either it would have gone on one side or the other, and I’m just so happy that it went on the other side and I have a friend for life.”
While Gaga spends most of the film looking un-glammed compared to her pop-icon image, she trod the premiere black carpet with her usual sense of playful pageantry, paying sly homage to Streisand in a grand, gleaming silver Givency Haute Couture velvet lamé and lace gown with an epic cape that echoed an ensemble Streisand wore in a scene from the ’76 adaptation.
Screen veteran Elliott told THR he quickly knew he was in the company of a genuine actor early on in his work opposite Gaga. “I wasn’t surprised, I’ll preface it with that,” he said. “I mean, how could you be surprised? It’s just, ‘Oh, she can act, too.’ It was incredible to watch it.”
Elliott detailed how in a key scene with Gaga — whom he, like the film’s other cast members, refer to by her given name, Stephanie — he felt a genuine kinship with her as a fellow thespian. “There was something about that day that just was really special. There were like four or five of us standing close, and nobody else around. She was a ragged edge at that point, and I was kind of the same for those reasons. But it was a real gift, I know that, just to be there with her.”
Cooper crafted Elliott’s role — as Maine’s contentious/caretaking elder brother/road manager — with the actor specifically in mind (Cooper also does a fine extrapolation of Elliott’s familiar low-register drawl to cement the familial tie), something that still boggles Elliot’s belief. “He’s such a brilliant guy, and he seems to be just an unaffected guy who just really wants to get at the truth,” he said. “The fact that he wanted me to come do this thing, the fact that he’d written this part with me in mind — you can’t get any better than that. If you can’t come to trust somebody or feel close to somebody for those reasons, then you’re pretty cold.”
Comedian Andrew “Dice” Clay, who like Gaga first dreamed of being an actor before his stand-up success, was thrilled to get another opportunity to delve into a richly drawn character, playing Ally’s doting, if overly verbal, father. “I love doing things that I don’t do on a stage as a comic,” said Clay. “All my scenes were basically with her and we were both absorbed in who we are in the film. So I’m not seeing Lady Gaga; I’m seeing my daughter, and she’s seeing a father. She’s not seeing this filthy, dirty-mouthed comic — which was great and it worked for us. I didn’t talk to her too much when we would do the scenes, because half the time she was crying. I didn’t want to take her out of that.”
Adding musical verisimilitude was country singer-songwriter Luke Nelson, the son of outlaw country legend Willie Nelson, who collaborated with Cooper to get Maine’s country-rock sound just right. “I think the words he used was he said, ‘I wanna look authentic up there,'” said Nelson. “I figured I’d just do what I know as a musician: write the songs tell them what I know about being me. I said, ‘OK, we’ll figure it out from there.'” The song “Black Eye” emerged as a personal favorite, he adds. “Bradley had a lot of great ideas on that song. He wrote that song — all the lyrics — and it was fun to see everybody’s talent shine.”
Just don’t expect Cooper to take his country act out on the real road, play stadiums or release his own solo album. “No, no, that was Jackson Maine,” Cooper laughed.
The film’s producer Bill Gerber, who segued from a long and distinguished career in the music industry to become one of Warner Bros.’ most prolific producing partners, is as high on the chart-appeal of the soundtrack as he is on box office projections. “To have a movie with 99 percent original music where the highest-rated aspect of the film is the music, and it’s all original — it’s unheard of!” Gerber told THR.
Gerber was glad he kept faith with the remake, which over several years would come together and fall apart in fits and starts. But it was Cooper’s take — and rousing endorsements from filmmakers who’d worked with the actor, including Eastwood and David O. Russell — that was worth waiting for.
“Literally, first take of the test that he did with Gaga, [screen test cinematographer Janusz Kaminski] and I looked at each other and thought, ‘This is weird — this feels like a guy who’s made eight movies.’ We kind of laughed about it, but Bradley’s a very, very good student. He spent a lot of time understanding what the filmmakers he had worked with in the past were doing and why they were doing it. And when he had his chance, he was ready to go.”
Garland’s daughter, Lorna Luft, was also on hand at the premiere, and, having recently co-written the book A Star Is Born: Judy Garland and the Film That Got Away, which explores all four film incarnations, said she believed the story was as impactful as ever. “I think that the reason that everybody responds to A Star is Born is because it’s not about Hollywood — it’s about human emotion, and it’s something about that we all know about,” Luft said. “We all know about love and we all know about loss. We know about talent, we know about addiction, and we know about tragedy, and we know about triumph.”
Gaga’s triumph, says Luft, was in bringing her own distinctive and considerable talents to the role to shine — out of the lengthy shadows of Luft’s mother, or Streisand or Gaynor — under Cooper’s direction. “She’s made her her own, and that’s what she needed to do. This is her movie, and I couldn’t be more happy and thrilled, for both of them.”
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