Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper on How Glastonbury & Annie Lennox's Neck Veins Inspired 'A Star Is Born'
The Bradley Cooper-directed A Star Is Born, the third remake of the classic film about a booze-addled celebrity on a downward spiral and the talented neophyte he mentors and falls in love with, is one of the most authentic films ever made about being in a band and the demons that sometimes accompany an artistic mind.
The film, which also stars Sam Elliott, Dave Chappelle, Anthony Ramos and Andrew Dice Clay, opens in theaters Oct. 5. It had its North American debut with back-to-back screenings at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) Sunday (Sept. 9) night, and is already earning rave reviews and Oscar buzz.
At Toronto, Cooper and his co-star Lady Gaga sat down for a 45-minute press conference to discuss everything from how Cooper made Gaga go makeup free to how Annie Lennox's neck veins factor into the film.
How Metallica and Annie Lennox's neck veins inspired the film:
Cooper: It probably started about six years ago when I was at the Metallica concert and I was behind Lars Ulrich’s drum kit and I saw the scope, the proscenium, of that. I thought just to be on the stage the whole time, that’s how I want to see a movie. I’ve never seen a movie where all the concert footage, you’re always on the stage. And I wanted to tell a love story. It was also, not to get too specific, it was Annie Lennox, singing the cover, “I Put A Spell On You,” and I was looking at the veins in her neck and how pure it was and I thought, “If I could have that in the movie,” because you can’t hide when you’re singing. So it just a bunch of elements, but at the epicenter is Lady Gaga. She was the one that propelled the whole thing.
How whispering Tony Bennett's name helped Gaga’s performance:
Gaga: He would whisper things to me like “Tony,” or “C’mon, assassin” or “ninja." I had the lines memorized. He told me the most important thing was to know what I was trying to say, to tell the story that I was meant to tell in that scene, and then when we got on set, I could just throw it all away and exist in this precise but completely liberating environment. It was not rigid. It was a very artistically free experience and I’m very grateful to him for believing in me.
On Cooper’s jam session approach to directing:
Chappelle: Bradley has a way of directing. You almost have to see it to believe it. To act in a movie and direct looks hard. Like Stefani [Lady Gaga] said, sometimes he’d be Jack [his character] directing, and sometimes you wouldn’t even know he was shooting. You’d be talking, “Why is Bradley talking like…. Oh he’s Jack!” It almost felt like a jam session. It was like actors having a jam session. It was like a rhythm. It was what you call “vibes.” It was these palpable vibes. I mean, everyone really liked each other —in the script, they’re supposed to like each other, but it became real. It was a very unique experience as far as my career. I’ve done mostly comedies and silly movies; it was unlike anything I’d ever done.
Cooper: Singing live, there really was no question. I have the real deal in the movie, the whole movie, the authenticity of everything, what it is to set up, to put on a concert — besides just every character being real — it all had to be up to her level. I sort of feared it, but when we first met Stefani was very adamant about it. I just didn’t know how I was going to get there, but I worked with this incredible vocal coach, Roger Love, as well as worked for a short time with your [Gaga’s] coach, Don Lawrence. I had no idea how hard it is. It’s one thing to sing in the shower, it’s another thing to sing in front of 20,000 people. Your endorphins are running and your breath goes, that’s the first thing that goes. So I thought, “That’s not going to work.”
The opening of the movie we shot eight minutes. We jumped on the stage, [American country singer] Jamey Johnson was kind enough to let us come on, and Willie Nelson, so we had eight minutes, then we went to Glastonbury [Festival in England] and shot for four minutes before Kris Kristofferson went on, in front of 80,000 people, so there really weren’t multiple takes. But the stuff that we were able to orchestrate, it was really important that it all felt like one flowing thing. So we started shooting the scene when she gets out of the car and we brought her all the way up to the stage. Then we had to cut there, but then we started again. She listened to the whole song and brought her out on stage and we sang the whole song — that was all one, we would never stop. I wouldn’t know how to do that. The rhythm of it, we would start acting a lot if we kept stopping.
On “La Vie en Rose” opening and drag queen cabaret:
Cooper: Cracking the structure in that opening of the movie was one of the hardest things to do because it was important that you understood who these two characters were in a very short period of time. Eric Roth and I at the time who was writing the script [with me], we sat down with Stefani for hours and hours and we’d record conversations, and then he and I would work through it afterwards and think about what we could implement. I saw her sing “La Vie en Rose.” That was the first time I ever heard her sing live at a Sean Parker cancer benefit the night before I went and met her. She just leveled the entire room when she came out. It was insane. I thought right then, “That song, it’s in the movie.” Because that was also the first time I saw her sing so it worked out kind of perfectly.
Then we were talking about this idea at the drag bar where she used to sing in the Lower East in New York, and it all just started to become cultivated and then I think you [Lady Gaga] suggested Shangela, and then I met Willam — Willam is like gold. When we showed up on set and Karen Murphy, the production designer, just recreated The Virgil, this bar, into this incredible place, and it just had a vibe. It felt like we were there for two months, we shot there for a day I think, a day or a day and a half. It just had this energy. We just soaked it up and I started to spend time with Willam and Shangela and it really became magical.
Lady Gaga: It was an absolute dream of a scene and moment for me in this film. I’d make a joke sometimes that behind every female icon is a gay man. I really wouldn’t be here without the gay community and what they had taught me about love and acceptance and bravery. This scene was so special. I loved singing “La Vie en Rose.” I’ve sang it before. The challenge for this, what I tried to focus on, was that I was not at a Sean Parker [charity] event performing as myself, but I was Ally singing “La Vie en Rose.” I sang it a little bit differently. I think one of the most beautiful moments of this film was when she walks through the tinsel and she hears him playing a song, where he says the lyrics, “Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die,” to the drag queens as they’re sitting there. I think to myself, she’s falling in love with this man because she sees he has empathy, he has compassion, he has love, he’s a kind person. It’s such a special moment in the film. I also thought that he as a filmmaker executed it with perfect authenticity. I don’t feel for a second when I’m watching those scenes that I’m not in a real drag bar.
On stripping away “Lady Gaga” for the film:
Lady Gaga: I do love makeup. I love fashion, and costumes and drag. I do a lot of this myself. I think it was the friendship that we developed together where I really trusted him in exposing myself in a way that I’ve never exposed myself before. He wanted no makeup on my face during the screen test. He took a makeup wipe and wiped it down my face and I was trying to trick him with my no makeup makeup. He looked at the makeup wipe and it was all brown and concealer and he was like, “Take it off.” We took it all off and I dyed my hair my natural color quite a bit before we started filming because I wanted to get into the character. It was a challenge, but it was also very liberating. To me, any time I’m doing anything, especially with an actor of his caliber, and I’ve always been such a huge fan of Bradley, I was so excited to be the first lead actress in his film. I wanted to give everything that I had — every last drop of blood, everything, all my fear, all my shame, all my pain, all my love, all my kindness, everything. I wanted to give it to him. I wanted to give it to everyone on this couch [her fellow cast members].
On becoming a musician and songwriting:
Cooper: The songs are a complete character in the movie and there’s not one lyric that’s not perfectly put that’s either reflecting where a character’s at, what the relationship is and what they’re yearning for. So it’s constantly propelling and reflecting what you’re seeing while it’s happening. It was a very amorphized thing that was cultivated along with the script. We were changing and implementing songs weeks before or days before or on the day. We had this arsenal of music that was being cultivated. We would leave the set and go to the studio and work. In terms of my own evolution as a musician is 100 percent due to this person right here [Lady Gaga]. It’s odd because so much of our relationship reflects from the relationship of Ally and Jackson. She really gave me the confidence from the very first time I met her, we were singing together 10 minutes into meeting, I don’t know how that happened [“I was freaking out over his voice,” Lady Gaga interjected. “I can’t believe how incredible your voice is"].
It really gave me the confidence to then really work on it. Then we started writing songs. I started writing songs and arranging songs, and her masterful ability to cultivate talent. That’s the thing — we all know that she’s so talented, but she’s such a cultivator of talent, and selfless with giving her knowledge and enthusiasm to other people which was really wonderful. That created a harmony of all the writers — Jason Isbell, wrote an amazing song, Mark Ronson, Hillary Lindsey. Lukas Nelson, I cannot say enough about. Lukas Nelson, who I saw at Desert Trip, and it was on the JumboTron and I loved the way Neil Young plays guitar and lot of Jackson, I love that muscular way that he plays. I didn’t want it to be sort of lyrical, but I found myself looking at Lukas Nelson on the JumboTron, who was playing right next to him, and I met him the next day. His band [Promise of the Real] winds up being Jackson’s band, and he was integral to the creation of the sound of the music.
On shooting at Glastonbury:
Cooper: I can’t say enough about Glastonbury. I’ve gone the past six years, this last summer was the first time I missed it. It helped propel everything that this movie is. I spent four days there. I learned so much about the inner workings of what it is to put on a show. It’s the largest privately-owned music festival in the world and it is the place that makes careers and can rejuvenate careers. There’s that 3 p.m. slot on Saturday that Lionel Richie did and Dolly Parton and it just re-catapulted them — it’s a really magical place, and you watch major huge musicians still get nervous. They talk about playing the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury; it’s still this place of fear and beauty. So it is a really incredible festival that I urge everybody to go to if you can — and [festival organizers] Nick [Dewey] and Emily [Eaves] were kind enough [to let us]. I don’t know if anybody’s ever shot a fictional movie there — Glastonbury has been portrayed in movies, but it hasn’t been Glastonbury. It’s a crazy story. Kris Kristofferson came to set, happened to be playing Glastonbury last summer, and they said, “We’ll let you come on the Pyramid Stage but you have to let somebody play into your set time-wise.” And he said, “Sure.”…we had four minutes. It was unbelievable. I didn’t want to make a movie about music without Glastonbury being an element. I wanted those flags, so people who know music will know that’s Glastonbury.