Bradley Cooper may be the one sitting in the director’s chair of the 2018 remake of A Star Is Born, but Lady Gaga was more than just his leading lady: She was his talent coach and musical guide, and he “relied” on her expertise to deliver a performance that involved surprising 80,000 people with a sneaky serenade.
In a conversation with Robert De Niro at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 21, Cooper discussed his upcoming directorial debut and the numerous challenges he faced while preparing to play grizzled, jaded rocker Jackson Maine. The actor/director’s musical skills were scarce when the pieces for the production began to fall into place in 2015. Gaga, who plays Ally, the singer Jackson takes under his wing, threw him for a loop when she insisted that everyone who sings in the film would be doing so live — and any alternative involving canned vocals wasn’t an option.
“She said right from the beginning that this was going to be a bargain,” he told De Niro and the Tribeca crowd. “‘I’m gonna rely on you to get a performance that’s honest out of me,’ because she’d never done a film before, ‘and I’m gonna make sure you that turn into a musician, because we’re going to sing everything live.’ And I thought, wait, what? She said, ‘No, the only way this is going to work — I can’t stand when I watch movies when they have music and you can tell when it’s pre-recorded and people are lip-syncing. And she’s right. So that was terrifying, but I really relied on her.”
Cooper threw himself into vocal training, taking lessons for the 18 months leading up to filming while honing his stage presence. Like any ambitious musician, Cooper had to get comfortable with the steel strings of a guitar and the techniques that vault a bellow to the back of any given theater. Unlike your typical aspiring rock star, Cooper had the resources and clout to not only film scenes at festivals like Stagecoach and Glastonbury, but actually play for throngs of unsuspecting show-goers.
“One of the great things that I love about the movie is we shot everything from the stage, and we went to real concerts, real venues, and just jumped onstage for 45 minutes,” he explained. “We were at Stagecoach; I got to sing in front of like, 20,000 people. We got to jump on the stage at Glastonbury, which is the largest open-air music festival in the world, and I was there at the Pyramid Stage, singing in front of 80,000 people. The production value you get out of that is great.”
De Niro agreed — he called Cooper’s work “terrific,” making a point to highlight his musical chops — and Cooper continued. “Kris Kristofferson, who was in the 1976 version, he just happened to be performing at Glastonbury last summer,” he explained, visibly delighted at the chance to tell the story of how his version of A Star Is Born has a direct tie to its predecessor, which starred Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand. “He let me take four minutes of his set, so I got to do that, and then I got to say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Kris Kristofferson,’ which was very cool.”
Cooper’s enthusiasm is contagious, as is his admiration and appreciation for his co-star. Clearly, Gaga held up her end of the bargain, and he’s eager to share the proof that he did the same.
“You can’t hide when you sing,” he said. “To me, the best way to express love is through singing and music. I knew that if I could marry that in a way, that’d be special. Lady Gaga is just kind of a revelation. But I don’t wanna say too much — maybe you’ll hate the movie, but I love it. I really love it. It’s the movie I set out to make, which is hard to say.”