Music and movies have been a part of Bradley Cooper’s life since he was a child. Being a filmmaker? Not so much.
So it’s natural that he gravitated to the role of a washed-up rock star in the latest remake of A Star Is Born. But he also decided to make it his debut behind the camera.
“I had all these things I wanted to explore cinematically. I got sick of hearing myself say that I’m going to do it one day, and I just decided I had to do it. I just had it inside me,” Cooper said during a recent stop in Dallas. “It was the best artistic experience I’ve ever had in my life by far.”
Cooper plays Jackson Maine, whose popularity is starting to wane when he drunkenly stumbles into a drag bar following one of his shows. That’s where he’s blown away by a soulful performance from Ally (Lady Gaga), which leads to a relationship that’s platonic at first but, due to his persistence, quickly turns into something deeper. Jackson becomes a musical mentor to Ally in addition to a romantic partner, and while her career experiences a meteoric rise, his own downward trajectory is fueled by alcoholism, depression, and residual childhood trauma.
Cooper extensively praised Lady Gaga, the Grammy-winning pop star who won a Golden Globe in 2015 for her work on TV’s “American Horror Story.” She makes her big-screen debut by taking over a role previously portrayed on screen by Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland, and Janet Gaynor — with the latter two garnering Oscar nominations.
For his own performance, Cooper drew upon a diverse musical background. He grew up in Philadelphia — raised by a mother liked opera and a father who loved Tom Waits — listening to artists from the city’s burgeoning 1980s rap scene. He dabbled with the guitar and sang in a gospel choir in college.
Cooper, 43, performed all of Jackson’s songs himself, and wrote most of them. For one pivotal sequence set during an outdoor festival, he was allowed to film for eight minutes during a stop on the Stagecoach Spotlight Tour between sets by Jamey Johnson and Willie Nelson.
Cooper said his character’s sound evolved prior to filming, with the opening song coming to him in a dream. He sent Lady Gaga a voice memo with a snippet, and she encouraged him to go for it.
Besides working five days a week with a voice coach in Los Angeles, Cooper spent three days with Eddie Vedder at his home studio. He also met with Noel Gallagher, Bruce Springsteen, Lukas Nelson, and Lenny Kravitz, among others.
“It was crazy. I only had that courage because they believed in me so much,” Cooper said. “I had incredible access to learn from these people and their experiences. Lady Gaga gave absolutely everything.”
Cooper worked on the project for more than four years, and was involved an almost every facet of the production. He co-wrote the script, and even used his own dog on screen. Plus, Cooper played a critical role in assembling the supporting cast that includes Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle, and Sam Elliott. Along the way, he gained the trust and support of studio executives for his vision.
“I take the responsibility for every single frame,” Cooper said. “Nobody told me to do anything. They really allowed me to completely make the movie I wanted to make. For a first-time director working on a movie at a studio, it’s kind of unheard of.”
Cooper borrowed some of his directorial traits from colleagues including J.J. Abrams, Clint Eastwood, David O. Russell, and Todd Phillips. As Cooper was wrapping post-production, some of Phillips’ advice made him feel at ease.
“When you write and direct a movie, it’s going to be very personal. You’re going to feel very vulnerable,” Cooper said. “It was a huge relief. When we went to Venice, which was the first time we showed it, I actually felt sad and scared to give it away. This thing did cost me something.”