In bringing the timeless Hollywood love story A Star Is Born back to the screen, the versatile Bradley Cooper not only stepped behind the camera to direct, he also had to perform as a musician.
This is the fourth cinematic telling of A Star is Born – the 1937 version paired Janet Gaynor and Frederic March; the 1954 version, Judy Garland and James Mason; and the 1976 version starred Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.
In this new spin, Bradley Cooper plays seasoned musician Jackson Maine, who discovers and falls in love with Lady Gaga’s struggling artist, Ally. On the verge of giving up her dreams to make it big, Maine coaxes her into the spotlight even as he battles with his own downward spiral, struggling with alcoholism.
A real passion project for the actor, who also wrote and produced the film, Cooper says, “I get that this is a real swing [from the rest of his career], but you can’t control what moves you; you can’t contrive or manufacture something that moves you, and I always wanted to tell a love story.
“This project was around before, and it always stayed with me and, to me, music is the most purest way that you can communicate love because you have to be relaxed. And, in terms of the visual experience, I always saw this movie as something that had to be seen in the theatre so that I could be with musicians as they’re on-stage singing.
“I’ve been lucky enough to be on-stage watching musicians and the scope is incredible but, oddly enough, movies that have live music don’t capture that – but with this movie, almost the entire time, the camera is on stage, and it was a really successful endeavour.”
If Cooper was daunted by performing with one of the world’s most successful singers, then Gaga – real name Stefani Germanotta – quickly became a fierce collaborator.
“She was very supportive,” he notes. “She told me, ‘You’re going to become a musician and you’re going to make me as comfortable as I can be on film’, because she’s never done a film before. She was such a good partner.
“She’s a real revelation in this movie, and when I first approached her for it she said, ‘Well we’re gonna sing live’, and I said, ‘Well you’ll sing live…’ And she said, ‘No, no, what I can’t stand in the movies is when you see that it’s just playback and they’re lip-syncing and it’s clearly not live’.
“Deep down I knew that we were going to have to do that, and it was three years in the making and luckily I had time and support,” adds the actor, who arranged to jump on stages with Gaga at Coachella, Glastonbury and Stagecoach festivals in front of real crowds.
Cooper says he was able to get comfortable with the live stage experience during his long-standing performance in The Elephant Man.
“I did 298 performances of that and I think it really paid off. You either feel comfortable on a stage or you don’t.”
He also learned to perform alone, which he describes as “the scariest thing.”
“Kris Kristofferson, who played in the ‘70s version, was kind enough to let us go on to his set at Glastonbury, singing in front of 80,000 people, so I got to sing and then say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Kris Kristofferson.’ Then he walked out. I’ll never forget that.”