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Cooper makes his directorial debut with the movie that serves as Gaga’s first film. The actor also had to learn how to sing to portray his country musician character.
Speaking with frequent collaborator Robert De Niro at the Tribeca Film Festival on Saturday night, Cooper detailed how he and Gaga helped each other out.
“She said right from the beginning that this is going to be a barter,” he explained. “[She said] ‘I’m gonna rely on you to get a performance that’s honest out of me’ — because she’s never done a film before — ‘and I’m gonna make sure that you turn into a musician. Because we’re going to sing everything live.’ And I thought, ‘Wait, wait, what?’ And she said, ‘No, that’s only way this is going to work. I can’t stand when I watch musicals and you can tell that it’s a prerecording, or lip syncing.’ And she’s right. So that was terrifying, but I really relied on her.”
Cooper explained that he spent a year and a half taking vocal lessons, “and working on it and singing in front of people.”
“One of the great things that I love about the movie is we shot everything from the stage, and we went to real concerts, real venues, and just jumped onstage for four or five minutes,” he said, recalling how they performed in front of tens of thousands of people at the Stagecoach and Glastonbury festivals. “The production value you get out of that is great.”
Cooper also revealed why he felt like the remake was the right vehicle for his directorial debut, something he’d been interested in doing for a while.
“I always realized that I was a bit different than the other people I was acting with because I realized I was a little obsessed with the storytelling, how you film it, how you tell a story, and that’s what always interests me,” he said. “This story for some reason. Clint Eastwood was going to do it. … We were going to do it together, but I thought I was too young and not right for the role. It kept haunting me, this broken love story. Shots kept coming into my head. And I would dream about it. I just realized I had to do it. I had to purge it in a way. I knew that I had to do it. Whether it fails or not, I knew that I had to try, and I wound up absolutely loving it. You can’t hide when you sing. To me the best way to express love is through singing and music. I knew if I could marry that in a way, it could be special.”
Cooper also revealed that De Niro — with whom he has worked in the films Limitless, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle and Joy — had wanted him to direct a movie that they were going to do together after Limitless, which never came about.
Still, that offer, Cooper said, gave him a lot of confidence. De Niro is a big fan of Cooper’s, and told the audience that he’d seen a screening of the Star Is Born remake and called it “terrific.”
“He is great in it. The movie is wonderful. I really hope it gets the attention I feel it should,” De Niro said of the film.
De Niro and Cooper’s mutual admiration was well on display during the conversation, for which De Niro was serving as the interviewer but struggled to come up with questions, often letting Cooper talk about his films or share stories about their experiences working together.
In particular, Cooper recalled that De Niro had “changed [his] life” twice, which the elder actor might not even realize.
First, Cooper explained, when he was a college student, he asked De Niro about the process behind a scene in Awakenings during a taping of Inside the Actor’s Studio. Cooper was afraid his inquiry was too odd, but De Niro said it was a good question.
“I remember when you said, ‘Good question,’ it felt like a light shot through my stomach,” Cooper recalled. “You’d done the whole interview and hadn’t said that any of [host James] Lipton’s questions were good. … I asked the school if I could have the videotape. … And I would play that. I’m not even kidding. Because this business is so difficult. And I would think, ‘Go with your gut, look what happened, Robert De Niro said that was a good question.’ And that really kept me going for, like, three years. I’m not kidding,” he said.
And the second key moment he had with De Niro before the two began working together was when De Niro invited Cooper to meet with him after he auditioned for a part he didn’t get as De Niro’s character’s son in Everybody’s Fine.
Cooper recalled that De Niro said, “You’re not gonna get the role, but I wanted you to come ‘cause I saw something and I see it now. That’s it. Give me a hug.'”
“You hugged me and I left,” Cooper said, explaining that when his mom asked him how it went, he said he wasn’t sure.
“I don’t know,” Cooper told his mom. “He [De Niro] said he saw it — he sees it.’ That kept me going for, like, forever.”
It turns out De Niro indeed saw something special in Cooper and wanted to meet with him — something he does occasionally when he sees work he admires.
“When I see something in someone and what they do, sometimes I would like to meet them,” De Niro explained. “I just did that the other day with a director and I saw some things he had done and he offered me a part in this thing, but I just didn’t care for it, but I cared for what he was doing in general, his sensibility. So you never know.”
Midway through the chat, Cooper and De Niro were joined onstage by their director on Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle and Joy, David O. Russell, who had been in the audience and participated in their recollection of behind-the-scenes stories from Silver Linings Playbook.
Russell also offered some insight into De Niro’s reticence, courtesy of something Joe Pesci told him before he and De Niro started working together, which Russell told the audience, complete with a Pesci impersonation.
“You’re going to find out that if you don’t tell him what to say, he’s not going to say anything,” Russell as Pesci said.
Russell also watched an early cut of Cooper’s A Star Is Born, the actor revealed, giving him notes on the film. And Cooper said he’s taken advantage of the movie’s delayed release date — it was initially set to be released in May but was ultimately pushed back to October — to edit the pic more.
“I don’t wanna say too much because maybe you’ll hate the movie, but I love it. I really love it,” he said. “It’s the movie I set out to make, which is hard to say.”
Cooper said he hadn’t worked on anything but A Star Is Born for the past three years, but indicated he might soon start on another project.
In response to an audience question about the type of roles he’d want to play that he hasn’t played yet, Cooper said he’s done most of the six types of characters he envisioned himself playing and that he was hopeful he’d get to do another one of the six soon, in a movie that came to him recently. But he was reluctant to reveal more details for fear that he’d jinx the project he hadn’t yet signed onto.
Cooper also repeatedly said that he hoped he’d be able to keep directing after A Star Is Born.
De Niro, meanwhile, indicated that he himself may direct another movie, or three more, adding that he hoped to helm three to five films in his lifetime.
Asked Cooper, “Do you have something you want to do next?”
Replied De Niro, “I’m not sure. I’m deciding, because as you know, it takes a lot of time.”
De Niro also said that he and Russell are planning another collaboration after their TV series at Amazon was scuttled after sexual misconduct claims were leveled against producer Harvey Weinstein and Amazon Studios head Roy Price.
“We’re still working on stuff, and I’m hoping we can get it done sooner rather than later,” De Niro said of projects with Russell.
Watch De Niro, Cooper and Russell’s full conversation in the video below.
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