BY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC A few weeks ago Bradley Cooper kept up his tradition of hosting a Philly “friends and family” screening of his latest film, this time with his directorial debut A Star is Born. Cooper who got his start playing the “pretty boy” on Alias, proved he could also be the “funny guy” in The Hangover but with A Star Is Born he’s effortlessly transitioned into the role of auteur. His highly-acclaimed re-imagining of Star, with songs furnished by Cooper and co-star Lady Gaga, is the tour de force unveiling of Cooper’s emergent triple threat: director, screenwriter and star. It was a much more subdued than usual Cooper who took the stage at the Prince Theater on September 12th after the screening of A Star Is Born to take audience questions. Maybe because it was a hometown crowd, Cooper was surprisingly forthright, candid and humble about where this film came from and how he crafted and starred in one of the most acclaimed films of the year. The following is a transcript of that Q&A.
Q: So what made you want to step behind the camera with this film in particular?
BRADLEY COOPER: As you get older, time is the biggest currency. I was 39 and had all of these ideas running around my head. I always wanted to be a director and I think I was just scared to do it, to actually put myself out there because it is a vulnerable thing. Because if I tell a story it better be truthful. There’s no reason to direct something, unless you have something to say; which is oddly what Jackson says.
I never saw this story as having anything to do with the ones that preceded it, to be honest. What I cared about is what happens when a trauma occurs to you at a young age and you don’t have the tools or the people around you to deal with it and how one survives and endures and that’s Jackson. With this specific character, he happened to bring it into song and he became a musician and he was rewarded for that and he hadn’t cultivated the other parts of his life. That interested me, what happens to a person who doesn’t have the tools to deal with trauma.
Ally what’s so different about her than all the characters that proceed her in the property is she is not an ingénue, she’s 31 years old. She is someone who has been beaten down by the business, by men telling her she’s not pretty enough to merit the songs she’s writing. Then if you take these two people that haven’t had the help and the tools to progress to become their best selves, they meet each other and fall in love. It’s almost like the end of The Graduate when they’re both sitting in the bus, they made the decision, now what? This is the now what? There is no infidelity in this movie, you never question their love. But even with that bond, that intense energy, it’s still difficult for these two.
Q: How did Lady Gaga become involved with this project, especially given this is her first leading role in a theatrical film?
BRADLEY COOPER: You know I got lucky there because we both had something to lose. This was a big swing for both of us. Sometimes in life people say, ”you know what it’s okay”, you know, but this one, if it wasn’t okay, we were going to take a hit. There’s something about being in a foxhole with someone else and not just yourself. It was the first time she did a film, and the first time I had written and directed a movie, so it was nice to know we had that vulnerability with both of us and we could walk down this path together.
But I have to say all the actors, too. Dave Chappelle — it took me two years to get him to do this movie. I flew to Ohio twice, and I kept sending him videos of the drummer I wanted him to emulate, that’s why he’s called Noodles; but we cut that part of the movie out. He did all this work on drumming, sorry Dave.
Q: And Dice Clay he was pretty amazing as well you almost don’t recognize him?
BRADLEY COOPER: In eighth grade I memorized his whole album. Oh yeah and I love Ford Fairlane and I remember him on the Rodney Dangerfield New Year’s special and my dad watching it. So the fact that he is in the movie is crazy. Absolutely Crazy.
Q: Did you write the Ally role with Lady Gaga in mind?
BRADLEY COOPER: No. It was a series of ideas and sounds quite honestly and sort of things I always wanted to tell and the story. By the time I pitched the movie to Warner Brothers, I really just had the first 10 minutes in my head. I was sort of running around the office showing them everything and they said go ahead and go write it. But it wasn’t until I was at this benefit, for this cancer foundation, I started in my father’s name for people who are struggling with stage 4 cancer. Lady Gaga was the final surprise performance and she sang La Vie En Rose, the song in the film and it just decimated the room. It was that moment that I thought that’s it. I didn’t really know what she looked like, at all, but I knew I wanted to meet her and if what I just saw was it and that’s why I wrote that into that scene. So I just made it so I didn’t have to act, because I just recreated the experience, just in a drag bar and with my voice an octave lower.
Q: Speaking of the voice, where did that come from and how hard was that?
BRADLEY COOPER: You know it hurt for the first two months, I would do these exercises with Tim Monich who’s a dialog coach who I worked with on American Sniper. I always knew this guy had to be archetypal and idiosyncratic, the musicians that I know who are well known musicians walk into a room and you just know they are a one-off. I knew it had to be someone who is completely different from who I am and I always heard Ally and Jackson when they were speaking in my head, that he would be this sort of bassline note and she would be up staccato moving around him. I always heard it in my head, so it was just getting it here.
Q: Can you still do the voice?
BRADLEY COOPER: I don’t think so. He’s still in that garage.
Q: Why make Jackson a country music singer-songwriter?
BRADLEY COOPER: I don’t see him as country, I see him more as a hybrid. He takes his hat off when he goes on stage, which I really liked because that hat he wears is sort of to protect himself from the world in a way. When he takes his hat off, that is when he is himself. It’s why he takes his hat off at the end of the movie in that garage. The whole Sam Elliott of it all started with me trying to find that voice that I could work on. I was listening to a bunch of voices and I thought where’s Sam Elliot from, he from Sacramento, California but his mother was from Texas that’s why he’s got that odd accent. So, I started listening to these interviews with him and I would work on the voice.
I was reading Bruce Springsteen’s biography where he says he stole his father’s voice, and I use to want to be my father all the time. I had a briefcase when I was in kindergarten and the kids would wanna beat me up and my sister would beat them up, it’s true she had a Phillies cap and all this hair and they thought she was a boy. So that is how that whole relationship with Jackson and his brother was born, I thought it’s his older brother and he wanted to steal the voice of his older brother. I didn’t want to do this father/son thing, I like this idea of the prodigal son and his older brother who never got this chance and this little cherub with this gift who outshines him.
I asked Sam to come over and I didn’t know what he was going to do, if he was going to be insulted. I told him I wanted to play you something, and it was an interview at the Sundance Film Festival two years ago and I played it and it was me doing him in the interview and I said here’s the idea. I pitched him and the relationship and he luckily said yes. If Sam said ‘no,’ there went that Bob and Jack storyline. He was really vulnerable and that was the hardest thing to do, to show up, because he was peppered throughout the shooting schedule and deliver this deep moving performance.
Q: Finally, addiction, I know you’ve struggled with that as well, was that important for you to address in the film and how you tackled it?
BRADLEY COOPER: What I asked everyone to do on this film I asked that of myself. I’ve dealt with issues what Jackson has dealt with. The thing I cared most about was if anyone had anything to do with addiction or knows about addiction, they would watch this movie and say yeah, that’s it. As an actor you always have to draw on your personal experiences. I knew it was going to be difficult. But I have to say it felt so soothing and therapeutic to do it. It really felt like I was using what I went through for art, and putting it out there, giving it to audiences, if I’m lucky it’ll heal in some way.
BRADLEY COOPER’S “A STAR IS BORN” NOW PLAYING IN AREA THEATERS