Bradley Cooper On The Personal Story Behind 'A Star Is Born'

Sep 14, 2018
Originally published on September 14, 2018 4:53 pm

Bradley Cooper has had a story to tell for a long time — about fame, addiction, his relationship with his dad.

The stars aligned when he was given the chance to direct his first film: a new take on A Star Is Born.

In Cooper's movie, the main architecture of the narrative is still there. A famous musician falls for a regular girl with a magical voice and makes her a star, while his own troubles come to the surface. The most famous version is the 1976 movie with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.

For Cooper, it's not only a story with personal resonance — it's made more challenging by the fact that Cooper is playing a musician, a guy named Jackson Maine, opposite the character Ally, played by Lady Gaga.


Interview Highlights

On working with Lady Gaga

I knew nothing about her. I didn't even know, really, what she looked like before I met her. And I was — I couldn't believe how comfortable she made me feel, and how present she was — is. And then we went to the piano and sang, and it was this kind of wonderful thing. I couldn't believe it.

So that was the beginning of the journey. And the first time we sang together — everything's live; we sing everything live in the movie — oh yeah, there's nothing, we're not lip-synching. And I turned to Lady Gaga, who was singing next to me, and she was looking at me like I was Jackson Maine. And when you're in a scene, and the actor is fully believing that you're the character, you can't not believe it yourself. So she really gave me that confidence.

On mining 'the deepest parts of myself' to portray the vulnerable, broken character Jackson Maine

Cooper: I think because I'm 40, and I've gone through a lot in my life, I was able to do it with joy. 'Cause some people have asked me: It must have been hard to go to those places? But oddly enough, it was very therapeutic. ...You know, I've had an interesting road, and I've dealt with similar things in my life. And I've observed it in others close to me, and --

Martin: You're talking about alcoholism, because this character is a big drinker.

Cooper: And addiction in general. And the main thing, when I was writing it and specifically shooting it, I thought: Gosh, when this movie comes out (if it does come out), I really want anybody who knows deeply about this disease to say, "Yeah, this is the reflection of what it's like." Not a glossy version, but the real reality of what it is to be an addict.

On controlling the culture on set, in light of newly-resurfaced sexual harassment allegations around Jon Peters, who is listed as a producer in the credits

With this property, there are many writers that come before — if you see the end credits, it's like, there's 10 writers. And [Jon Peters] was part of the, I guess, the grandfather clause of the movie, and we had to get his consent in order to make the movie. When you're at the helm, it's a huge responsibility. And I guess — I mean, first of all, on the set ... you have to create an environment where everybody feels safe. Everybody. And there's no room for disrespect, nothing. And that's something that you'd have to ask everybody who was involved, but I feel like that's the environment I created. Luckily, Jon wasn't there. And if I had known all those things, I would have done it differently. And I guess it's ... I wanted to make the movie, I knew I had to get consent from him, otherwise there's no film. But I should have checked. I guess that's the thing.

On how becoming a parent has affected his career

Well, I've been opened up to a world of children's music, that's for sure. ... I spent about 15 years going from movie to movie to movie. And then I hit 39 and I stopped and I said, "What do I really want to do?" I want to tell Joseph Merrick's story in The Elephant Man. So I did that for a year.

Then this story came to me, A Star Is Born, and then I spent the next four years doing that. And the one thing that I know in the future is: It's worth all the time to dedicate, even if one piece of art comes out of it in a half a decade, that would still be incredible as long as I can feel like it's the movie I wanted to make, which is this movie. So I guess having a child, and having a family of my own — which is a miracle and something I've always dreamt of — has opened me up even more, I guess, to the day, and to be present.

On the impact of his late father

In terms of this story being personal, a lot of it has to do with my father. My dad works his way into my life every day. Luckily, thank God, I still dream about him — he comes into my dreams. But there's a lot of things in the movie that no one else would know, but they were little things that I did, created, in order to keep my father close, one of them being that our dog in the movie's name is Charlie, which is my father's name. ...

Here's the other thing that connected Stefani [Germanotta, Lady Gaga's given name] and myself right away, is that we were very, very loved as children. And when I meet people that have had that similar upbringing, I can just see it in them. And that's the thing I want my daughter to have — I just always want her to feel loved.

Noor Wazwaz and Danny Hajek produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Patrick Jarenwattananon adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Bradley Cooper has had a story to tell for a long time - about fame, addiction, his relationship with his dad. But he didn't know how the story would come to be. Eventually, after several years, the stars aligned when he was given a chance to direct his first film, a new take on "A Star Is Born." The most famous version is the 1976 movie with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. The main architecture of Cooper's film is the same - famous musician falls for a regular girl with a magical voice and makes her a star. This time, she's played by Stefani Germanotta, also known as Lady Gaga.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A STAR IS BORN")

LADY GAGA: (As Ally, singing) Tell me something, boy. Aren't you tired trying to fill that void?

BRADLEY COOPER: I knew nothing about her. I didn't even know, really, what she looked like before I met her. And I was - I couldn't believe how comfortable she made me feel and how present she was - is. And then we went to the piano and sang, and it was this kind of wonderful thing. I couldn't believe it. So that was the beginning of the journey. And the first time we sang together - I mean, everything is live. We sing everything live in the movie.

MARTIN: Wow.

COOPER: Oh, yeah. There's nothing - we're not lip-syncing. And I turned to Lady Gaga, who's singing next to me. And she was looking at me like I was Jackson Maine. And when any - when you're in a scene and an actor is fully believing that you're the character, you can't not believe it yourself. So she really gave me that confidence.

MARTIN: Where did you go to in your own life experience for Jackson Maine, to create that character?

COOPER: I mean, to probably the deepest parts of myself. I think because I'm 40 and I've gone through a lot in my life, I was able to do it with joy because some people have asked me, it must have been very hard to go to those places. But oddly enough, it was very therapeutic.

MARTIN: He's a vulnerable guy.

COOPER: Yeah.

MARTIN: He's someone who walks through the world with all this fame and talent, and he's broken.

COOPER: Yeah.

MARTIN: You said that a lot of that was stuff that you felt a personal connection to.

COOPER: You know, I've had an interesting road. And I've dealt with similar things in my life. And I've observed it in others close to me. And...

MARTIN: You're talking about alcoholism? - because this character is a big drinker.

COOPER: Yeah - addiction in general. And the main thing while I was writing it and specifically shooting it, I thought - gosh, I - when this movie comes out, if it does come out, I really want anybody who knows deeply about this disease to say, yeah, this is the reflection of what it's like, not a glossy version but the real reality of what it is to be an addict.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A STAR IS BORN")

COOPER: (As Jackson Maine, singing) Baby, it's time to let the old ways die. Baby, it's time to let the old ways die...

MARTIN: I have to ask you - one of the producers on the film is a man named Jon Peters. He's been sued multiple times for sexual harassment. The Producers Guild of America announced recently he would no longer be recognized as a producer on this film. But I wonder - as a first-time director, did you think - what kind of culture am I setting here? I'm the boss. I'm the director.

COOPER: So true. That's a great question. With this property, there are many writers that come before. If you see the end credits, it's like there's 10 writers. And he was part of, I guess, the grandfather clause of the movie. And we had to get his consent in order to make the movie. When you're at the helm, it's a huge responsibility. And I guess - I mean, first of all, on this set, there's - you have to create an environment where everybody feels safe.

MARTIN: Right.

COOPER: Everybody. And there's no room for disrespect, nothing. And that's something that you'd have to ask everybody that was involved. But I feel like that's the environment that I created. Luckily, Jon wasn't there. And if I had known all those things, I would have done it differently. And I guess it's a - I was just - I wanted to make the movie. I knew we had to get consent from him. Otherwise, there's no film. But I should have checked. I guess that's the thing.

MARTIN: Yeah.

You're a relatively new dad.

COOPER: Yes.

MARTIN: I read that your daughter is about a year or so.

COOPER: A little over that.

MARTIN: Becoming a parent changes everybody. And I wondered...

COOPER: Oh, yeah.

MARTIN: ...How it is changing the kind of projects you want to do, the kind of stories you want to tell, how you see the world.

COOPER: Well, I've been opened up to a whole world of children's music, that's for sure.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: For better or for worse?

COOPER: No, for better.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: I spent about 15 years going from movie to movie to movie. And then I hit 39. And I stopped, and I said - what do I really want to do? I want to tell Joseph Merrick's story in "The Elephant Man." So I did that for a year. Then this story came to me, "A Star Is Born," and then I spent the next four years doing that. And the one thing that I know in the future is it's worth all the time to dedicate even if one piece of art comes out of it in a half a decade. That would still be incredible as long as I can feel like that's the movie that I wanted to make, which is this movie.

So I guess having a child and having a family of my own, which is a miracle and something I've always dreamt of, has opened me up even more, I guess, to the day and to be present.

MARTIN: I did want to ask about your dad because he was such a big part of your life. He passed away in 2011. And I wonder if you've been thinking about how he parented you and, now that you're a new dad, what you could take away from him as a parent.

COOPER: In terms of this story being personal, a lot of it has to do with my father. My dad works his way into my life every day. Luckily, thank God, I still dream about him. He comes into my dreams. But there's a lot of things in the movie that no one else would know. But there were little things that I did create in order to keep my father close, one of them being that our dog in the movie's name is Charlie, which is my father's name.

MARTIN: Are there things he did as a dad that you don't want to repeat?

COOPER: You know, I don't know if time does this. But all I remember is the great stuff. Does that happen to you?

MARTIN: Yeah.

COOPER: Yeah. And he was very - I mean, here's the other thing that connected Stefani and myself right away is we were very, very loved as children. And when I meet people that have had that similar upbringing, I can just see it in them. And that's the thing I want my daughter to have. I just always want her to feel loved.

MARTIN: The film is called "A Star Is Born." Bradley Cooper directs it. He also co-stars in it.

Thank you so much for talking with us.

COOPER: Thank you for talking to me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHALLOW")

LADY GAGA: (Singing) I'm off the deep...

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: We say the Producers Guild of America had said Jon Peters would no longer be recognized as a producer on A Star Is Born. The PGA does not have any say in who is listed as a producer in credits. It simply confers its Producers Mark on people it believes to have performed a majority of producing duties on a film. The PGA has confirmed it will not be giving Peters the Producers Mark.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.