So many people react with a surprised “What?” when they discover that Bradley Cooper not only has the male lead – opposite Lady Gaga – in the newest version of “A Star Is Born” (the most recent, in 1976, had Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand), but he also directed and co-wrote it. Those folks likely haven’t paid attention when the actor (Oscar-nominated for “American Hustle” and “Silver Linings Playbook”) has said in past interviews that he’s always wanted to direct. Cooper wears all sorts of hats in this film. Besides the writing and the dramatic acting, he also produced the film and, as the fictional country-rock star, he sings and plays guitar. Cooper spoke about this third remake of the story about a seasoned celebrity on the way down who meets a newcomer on the way up at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Q: Why did you think now was the time to direct your first film?
A: Movies have healed me my whole life. They’ve taken me to places in my imagination and in my life where, without movies, I never would have gone. I knew since I was a kid that I wanted to direct, but I was terrified of it. But as I get older, time is the biggest currency. I was about to turn 40 at the time I decided. That’s why I thought it was time to do it.
Q: But weren’t you connected with or at least interested in acting in this film even before then?
A: It started about six years ago, when I was at a Metallica concert and I was behind Lars Ulrich’s drum kit. I saw the scope of all that, from the proscenium, and I thought that’s how I want to see a movie. I’d never seen a concert movie where all the concert footage is on the stage.
Q: Did anyone pull you aside to give you advice about first-time directing?
A: The advice I got was posthumously. I watched a documentary about [director] Mike Nichols about a week before we started shooting. There was a Q&A he had recently done, and they asked him how he approached directing. He said it was the same way he approached acting: “I prepare as much as I can, I show up on set, and I throw it all away.” And that gave me the license, the confidence, the courage, because that’s the way I act.
Q: So, what turned out to be the biggest challenge for you?
A: The hardest thing was knowing that the actors trusted me. The fact that they gave their blind trust to me was terrifying, and motivating. The preparation was also hard – starting to sing and realizing I really couldn’t, starting to learn guitar and piano, and realizing I really couldn’t. Also, I really love all the characters in this movie, and I learned from David O. Russell that if you get actors of this caliber in your movie, you’d better serve them. I wanted to make sure that each person’s talent was served, and lasted throughout the movie.
Q: You’re starring with Lady Gaga, who’s known as a singer, not an actor, and you’re known as an actor, not a singer. And you filmed your concert performances live, often in single takes. That had to be difficult.
A: There was no question about singing live. I have the real deal [Gaga] in the movie. So, the authenticity of everything, from setting up to putting on a concert, all of that had to be up to her level. When Stefani and I first met (her real name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta), I sort of feared doing it live, but she was adamant about it. I had no idea how hard singing is. Singing in the shower is one thing but it’s another thing to sing in front of 20,000 people. Your endorphins are running and your breath goes [out]. We wanted it all to be one flowing thing. There’s a scene where she gets out of the car and she goes all the way to the stage, and we had to cut there. But then we started it again, where she’s listening to the song [I’m singing] and she comes out on the stage and starts singing with me, and that was all one take. To keep the rhythm of the scene, we would never stop.
Q: So, you were finally comfortable about being both an actor and a singer in the film?
A: In terms of my own evolution as a singer, it’s a hundred percent due to Stefani. We were actually singing together 10 minutes after the first time we met. She really gave me the confidence.
“A Star Is Born” opens on Oct. 5.
Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.