'A Star Is Born' Producer on Film's Original Ending and the Evolution of "Shallow"
Lynette Howell Taylor opens up about how the Oscar-nominated movie came to fruition, reuniting with Bradley Cooper for his directorial debut, and her excitement over seeing Cooper and Lady Gaga sing "Shallow" live at the Academy Awards.
Lynette Howell Taylor first worked with Bradley Cooper on Derek Cianfrance's The Place Beyond the Pines six years ago. Little did the veteran producer know she'd later help to bring the star's directorial debut to the screen.
When Cooper called her about his contemporary telling of A Star Is Born, which has pulled in more than $418 million worldwide, the head of 51 Entertainment had yet to see any of the earlier iterations. But she immediately went home and watched the Judy Garland (1954) and Barbra Streisand (1976) versions — back-to-back.
Having recently inked a two-picture worldwide rights deal with Brie Larson at Netflix, Howell Taylor, 39, spoke with THR about how Star came to fruition and why she is just as excited as everyone else is to see Cooper and Lady Gaga sing "Shallow" live at the Oscars ceremony.
The first A Star Is Born (1937) didn't have music. How did you decide to include music in this version?
Bradley's version of it was the story of musicians. That being said, it was inevitable that it was going to heavily feature music. But as you know, it's not a musical. The music is a little more musical in nature in the sense that each song has meaning to where the characters are at that place in the story. Even though it's two musicians performing their music, this definitely has elements of the music pulling you through the action of the film and telling you exactly what the characters are thinking or feeling.
How did Bradley initially describe his vision for A Star Is Born to you?
He gave me the script, so I had a general idea of what he wanted to do. He showed me the clip of him and Lady Gaga that he had taken on his iPhone when he had gone to meet her not that long before. They were singing "Midnight Special." For him, it was about the chemistry between the two of them and what he felt she could bring to this character and the way he wanted to approach Jackson Maine. At that time, it was very much about modern music. Addiction was a big part of why he wanted to tell the story and the harsh realities of what that can do to a relationship. The other big difference in this version is that it wasn't about the story of a star on a career decline. Because Jackson very much is still at the height of his career, unlike in some of the previous versions. It was more about a musician that has struggled internally with his addiction, and that's been an ongoing struggle for him his whole life. We meet him and he's drinking after his concert. It's really this woman that comes into his life and gives him a brief respite from that. She is like a breath of fresh air for him and her love for him brings him out of that. But ultimately, it can only sustain him for so long because the reality is, addiction is very real and it can be torturous for a relationship and on a marriage. Really, it was about how the story works with today's music and these characters being very specifically woven into today's fabric.
Why do you think this story is one Hollywood wants to tell over and over again? What do you think is its staying power?
Each version of the movie stands alone as its own unique version with its own set of characters that are unique to that time. This one is no different. It's a contemporary retelling, but the characters are very much their own characters. People love a good love story. This is a movie that makes you fall in love and then completely breaks your heart. Those stories are timeless. Music is a big element, too. When you tell the story of love through music, music has a way of evoking emotion like no other.
Bradley has said that he changed the ending of the film halfway through the shoot. What was the ending and why was it changed?
Oh, I don't think I can say what the original ending was. (Laughs.) Look, the movie was always going to end with a suicide. It was more about the way that he would go about it. Obviously, in the previous versions, Kris Kristofferson gets into a car crash, although it's ambiguous whether that was a suicide or not. In the Judy version, he walks into the ocean. All of those had been contemplated. But this felt like the truest version to Bradley, and he discovered it partway through filming. He felt like this was the most honest way to represent in today's world what struggling addicts often end up doing. It felt very relevant to him.
"Shallow" went through different incarnations of where it would be featured in the film — during the end credits song or a scene where a character was drowning. How did those changes come about?
Yes, that's one of the versions in an early draft of the screenplay, that Jackson would drown, much like in the Judy version. That was the ending that was in the script around the time that Lady Gaga and Mark Ronson were writing "Shallow." It was written a little bit with that in mind. But then they reworked it. What's so wonderful about the process of making this movie was its collaborative nature. You have Bradley as a screenwriter working closely with Lady Gaga and Mark Ronson and all the other musicians. They would send the song with certain lyrics. Then, that would inspire Bradley to change the script in a certain way to motivate the story. At one point there was a more "pop" version of "Shallow." Once Bradley worked out that scene in the parking lot, it became clear that that was what the journey for this song was going to be, "How does somebody create a song? How does somebody come up with an idea for lyrics? How does somebody come up with a melody? How do artists work together?"
What did you think of Bradley and Lady Gaga's Jan. 26 Las Vegas performance?
I had no idea that was going to happen! I loved how in that moment, it's her show. She's in her full Gaga makeup and wardrobe, and full confidence, and he's shyly sitting in the audience. Then suddenly he's onstage in his jeans and I'm sure probably pretty nervous to do that. What a beautiful role reversal from the way that we shot it in the movie.
Could this show go on the road?
(Laughs.) Who knows? That's not on me. But I'm very excited to see them sing "Shallow" at the Oscars. To get to see them do it live — I'm not sure this will be a regular occurrence.
A version of this story first appeared in a February stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.