Gill Pringle caught up with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga ahead of the premiere of A Star Is Born at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Ten years ago, director Clint Eastwood was reportedly in talks to convince Leonardo DiCaprio to star with Beyoncé in a remake of the Hollywood classic, A Star Is Born.
The beloved movie had already been made three times – in 1937 with Janet Gaynor; 1954 with Judy Garland; and in 1976 with Barbra Streisand. But Eastwood believed every generation has their own version of the time-honoured story, and DiCaprio and Knowles would undoubtedly have made a luscious pairing.
Certainly plenty of other “stars” have waited in the wings: Jennifer Lopez, Rihanna, Selena Gomez, Kesha, Demi Lovato, Shakira and Janelle Monae. And every one of them would have been just grand, bringing unique nuances to the role.
But not unlike A Star Is Born’s star-crossed lovers spanning the past 80 years, fate would bring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga together to carry the torch.
With the project long abandoned by Eastwood, Cooper began developing his own vision for a remake, just as Eastwood was directing him in American Sniper in 2013.
Following in the footsteps of his mentor, Cooper would write, star and direct the film too, casting Lady Gaga in a role she was born to play – all of which leads STACK to the Toronto International Film Festival where A Star Is Born premiered tonight to a standing ovation and not a dry eye at the Roy Thompson Hall.
Talking with the gorgeous duo prior to the premiere, Cooper, 43, will admit the idea of making his directorial debut began taking shape even prior to American Sniper.
“It was six years ago when I was backstage at a Metallica concert and I was behind Lars Ulrich’s drum kit and I saw the scope of the scene and thought how it would work just to be on the stage all the time. I’d never seen a movie where all the concert footage is from the stage.
“And I also wanted to tell a love story. Without getting too specific, it was also Annie Lennox singing I’ll Put a Spell on You, and I was looking at the veins in her neck and thinking how pure that was. You can’t hide that when you sing.”
But most of all, it was about finding a muse in Lady Gaga, whose only real acting experience – apart from creating her own fantastical stage persona – was appearing in TV’s American Horror Story: Hotel.
“I think Bradley is an incredibly talented filmmaker. I have acted before but I’ve never been a lead actress in a feature film and every day was such a thrill to watch and work,” says Gaga, 32, looking every inch the star of the title in a velvet burgundy off-the-shoulder dress, diamond chandelier earrings and platinum blonde hair swept into a dramatic topknot.
“It was such a thrill to work in the environment he created. He operates with such precision and you can see the gears turning while he’s working,” says Gaga, born Stefani Germanotta.
Describing their intimate process, which involved Cooper calling her variously “ninja”, “assassin” or evoking her emotional core by mentioning her pal Tony Bennett, she says, “I had my lines memorised of course, but he told me that the most important thing was to know what I was trying to say and then, when he got on set, I could just throw it all away and exist in this precise but completely liberating environment.”
Not that she found the process rigid.
“It was a very artistically liberating experience and I’m very grateful to him for believing in me. I just wanted to be a vehicle for him to tell this beautiful story.”
Portraying washed-up, booze-soaked country rocker Jackson Maine, Cooper realised early on that he would need to up his game if he was going to share the microphone with Gaga, filming much of the footage on real stages in Glastonbury, Coachella, Desert Trip and Stage Coach.
“Everything about the performances had to be up to her level,” says Cooper, smiling at Gaga, recollecting how the first time he ever saw her sing live was at a Sean Parker Cancer benefit. “She levelled the entire room when she sang. It was insane.”
The song which left such an impression was La Vie en Rose, which today he employs as an introduction to Gaga’s waitress Ally, where she sings to a room full of spellbound drag queens or “my gay girls” as she calls them.
“I like to joke that behind every female icon is a gay man,” says Gaga. “I really wouldn’t be here without the gay community and what they have taught me about love and acceptance and bravery, so this scene was so special.”
Learning to live up to Gaga’s standards was tough on Cooper, training with top vocal coaches Roger Love and Don Lawrence. “When we first met, Stefani was very adamant about it. I had no idea how hard it was. It’s one thing to sing in the shower but it’s another to sing in front of 20,000 people. Your endorphins are running and your breath goes.
“My evolution as a musician is 100 per cent due to this person here,” he says, turning to Gaga. “She really gave me the confidence and from the very first time we met, we were singing together ten minutes into the meeting. We all know her as a massive talent but what we don’t necessarily know is that she is such a cultivator of talent and so selfless with her knowledge and enthusiasm.”
Picking up from the plot lines of previous iterations of A Star Is Born, Cooper tackles addiction head-on, while Gaga offers her own very personal take.
“I think what would be wonderful would be for the whole world is that we intervene early in life when we see people struggling,” she says. “I think that fame is very unnatural and we see that Jack is struggling in this film; there is substance abuse, there is trauma. To my mind, Ally also suffers from depression at the beginning of the film and not believing in herself, and I think its important that we guide artists and take care of them on a psychological level as they begin to rise, because everything changes. And the truth is – people think that we change, but it’s not us that changes, it’s everyone around us that changes.
“If we could be more careful with the human spirit, not just for the artists, but for everyone, I think that intervening early; teaching people about kindness; teaching people about compassion and how to reach out and be there for someone – even when they don’t even know that they’re sad. I think that’s so important and we touch on all of this in the film.”
A Star Is Born is in cinemas on October 18.