Bradley Cooper on Making ‘Maestro,’ the Role Howard Could Have Played in ‘A Star Is Born,’ and What He Wants More Than His First Oscar
Hollywood superstar returns ahead of his critically acclaimed Leonard Bernstein filmNovember 28, 2023
At 48 – which to his mind might as well be 50 — Hollywood superstar Bradley Cooper believes he only has time enough to make a handful more movies. The actor turned filmmaker spent four years on his directorial debut, the smashingly successful Lady Gaga-led remake of “A Star Is Born,” and then the next six after that on his new film “Maestro,” a biographical drama about legendary American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein. To say Cooper, who worked tirelessly to both speak like Bernstein and also conduct like him, merely researches his characters would be an understatement. He is meticulous in his artistry, and so, out of necessity, he must be equally discerning when choosing a project.
But Cooper, who admitted he’s been fixated with music since seeing Bugs Bunny conduct as a kid, told Howard he knew right away that “Maestro” was a film he needed to make. Not only was Leonard and his wife Felicia’s love story a wonderfully cinematic one, but the film also gave Bradley a once-in-a-career opportunity to put conductors — who he affectionately calls “music wizards” — center stage.
“I spent six years on it because I’m absolutely obsessed with conducting,” Cooper told Howard at one point on Monday, explaining he was hellbent on conducting a real live orchestra to perform Gustav Mahler’s second symphony. “The thing that I can almost relate it to was like riding a stallion … because it is its own living, breathing organism,” he continued. “So, you have to be the leader of it, and control it, and [be] the captain, but you also have to respect that it’s a powerful organism — which is what an orchestra is — as it’s in front of you.
He described Symphony No. 2, which he conducts in the film, as “heavier than Metallica.”
“I just felt like it was so powerful. It’s like riding a dragon, basically,” he said. “It was fucking crazy.”
Howard thought Cooper and co-star Carey Mulligan’s performances were just as powerful, so he understood why many believe the two will each take home their first Oscar next year.
“Every time I saw a picture of Felicia [Bernstein] I just kept thinking Carey Mulligan,” Cooper said of his on-screen wife, explaining he saw her perform a one-woman show while researching “Maestro” and knew then she was the right actress for the job. “It was a moment of divine intervention,” he recalled. “I was just lucky I was open enough to listen to what this project was telling me to do, which happened a lot on this movie.”
In another example which took place at 30,000 feet, Cooper recalled feeling so frustrated by the project that he wanted to quit. Until a fellow passenger approached him claiming to be Bernstein’s goddaughter and asked about the film. “To me, the minute that happened, it was like Lenny saying, ‘No, motherfucker, you’re doing this movie,’” he laughed.
Bradley Asked Howard to Do ‘A Star is Born’
While Howard has mentioned turning down movie role offers in the past, Bradley on Monday revealed he was on the receiving end for one of those rejections. Inspired by the King of All Media’s kind eyes, Cooper had asked Howard to play his brother in “A Star Is Born.”
“I couldn’t believe how gentle your eyes are, how kind your eyes are — like you can’t even hide it,” Cooper said before adding, “There was something about our dynamic.”
Although Howard initially thought they’d be brothers in the way Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger were siblings in “Twins,” he was so interested he even considered shaving his head for the part. “I went, ‘No shit, that’s kind of intriguing,’” Howard remembered thinking. “I was really toying with the idea.”
The role of the brother ultimately went to veteran actor Sam Elliott, who scored a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his work. But Cooper remained open to collaborating with Howard at another point in the future. “We still could do something,” he insisted to Howard. “I have to figure out the right thing so that you’ll say yes.”
On His Singing Chops
Because Cooper won multiple Grammys and had genuine hits from the “A Star Is Born” soundtrack, Howard was surprised the actor never toured behind it. “First of all, it wasn’t my voice, it was the character’s,” Bradley said before referencing repeat Stern Show guest Billy Joel. “He always could imitate so many people’s voices. His singing voice was a … patchwork of all these different voices — that’s kind of what Jackson Maine is.”
In fact, Bradley noted the amount of work he’d have to put in to be tour ready. “That would be a whole lifetime thing,” he explained. “I mean, it took me a year, Howard, of training … three or four times a week just so I could get up and sing in front of people because it’s so hard … it’s not something deep inside of me.”
Listening back with Howard to songs like “Maybe It’s Time” and his duet with Lady Gaga, “Shallow,” Cooper stressed how important it was for him to learn to sing. “The nuclear power of that movie is Lady Gaga’s voice — that has to be recorded live, and so we recorded all the vocals live … so I had to learn how to sing,” he remarked. “I had a feeling that I had good pitch and there was something interesting about my voice, but I knew I would have to do a lot of work.”
On more than one occasion, the actor has been asked if he uses any artificial effects when voicing the Rocket Raccoon character in Marvel Cinematic Universe films like “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Avengers: Endgame.” “I [take] major offense to that,” Cooper admitted before giving Howard a line reading right on the spot. “Unless they’re lying to me, they have not augmented it at all.”
Whereas Bradley spent years prepping for his roles in “A Star is Born” and “Maestro,” it was quite the opposite with the raccoon. “We do it like a play … [director James Gunn] reads all the other characters, and I play Rocket, and that’s how we do it the first round, and it’s really wonderful,” he revealed. “And then after all that gets laid in, you just keep honing it, or working on other things, or improvising.”
Admitting he was so fond of the role he actually cried while watching 2023’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” Cooper made no secret that he was open to doing another one. “I would love it,” he remarked to Howard.
Oscars or Eagles?
Before letting his guest go, Howard couldn’t help but ask the famed Philadelphia Eagles fan a few questions about his passion for football.
“Sophie’s Choice for 2024: You win the Oscar — not only for Best Director but Best Actor and Carey Mulligan wins Best Actress — or the Eagles have a Super Bowl victory?” Howard asked.
Cooper didn’t even let Howard finish the question. “The Eagles Super Bowl victory,” he said with a laugh. “I’m sick.”
“Maestro” is now playing in select theaters and arrives Dec. 20 on Netflix.