Bradley Cooper Learned To Sing, Direct And Talk Deeply For 'A Star Is Born'
Growing up, Bradley Cooper always wanted to be a director. He saw The Elephant Manmovie when he was about 12, but instead of focusing on the actors or their characters, he honed in on director David Lynch's vision. And though Cooper went on to have a wildly successful acting career — starring in films like Silver Linings Playbook and American Sniper —his interest in directing never waned.
"My curiosity [in directing] seems to be a bit different than many other actors," Cooper says. "I would always spend all my time, as much as I could, in editing rooms and shadowing directors and asking crew members questions and learning about lenses and so on."
Cooper knew that he wanted to make a film about adult relationships. He chose A Star Is Born —the classic film that was originally released in 1937, then remade in 1954 and 1976. It tells the story of a doomed love affair between a leading man and the talented female performer whose career he helps to launch.
Cooper was drawn to the characters, but he also wanted more from the story. He directed a new version of A Star Is Born, in which he co-stars (alongside Lady Gaga) as Jackson Maine, a famous musician struggling with addiction. Cooper hopes that his version of the film presents a more rounded portrait of the iconic characters.
"That's the beautiful journey," he says. "They stopped being these mythical figures. You get to explore the full human being."
On his character's deep voice, which he modeled after Sam Elliott (who Cooper later cast as his brother in the film)
I wanted to change my voice, because I knew that I wouldn't even believe it as an actor if I kept hearing my voice. I just hear this guy from Philadelphia. ... So what voice could be wonderfully iconic without being geographically limited? ... And at some point I asked [my dialect coach] ... Where is Sam Elliott from? Because I can't quite place his accent and I had no idea he was from Sacramento, Calif. And then I learned that his mother is from Texas and was a huge influence on him, and so his voice — he has this accent that you can't quite place.
So it felt perfect for the character, and then the journey began — how the heck am I going to get that voice? How could I ever? So I just — it was just hours and hours and hours. We developed a whole series of exercises and then we would listen to tapes literally for hours and hours. We met four hours a day, five days a week for about six months steady. ...
At first it was very difficult; actually I could only do it with my head down. And at night I would go to sleep and I felt like my esophagus was lowering into my chest. I had to, like, forcefully do it, but then after a while it just became so natural and I could breathe and talk to you and do everything, live my life within that voice. And that was a hurdle that I was terrified I wasn't going to be able to get over.
On learning how to sing for his role in A Star is Born
I had no idea how to breathe. I knew nothing about singing — nothing. It's such a difficult art form to sing in front of people, because you lose your breath right away when you're nervous. ... I had great teachers. Lukas Nelson [is] an incredible musician who I worked with — he and his band [Promise of the Real, worked with me for] hours and hours and hours and hours. I think it's because I was a good student and listened to great teachers [that] I was able to do it.
On performing songs in front of a live audience for the movie's opening scene, and needing pep talks from sound mixer Steve Morrow
We went to real venues. We went to Glastonbury music festival ... and we had four minutes on the Pyramid Stage, which is in front of 80,000 people. ... [And] we jumped on stage for eight minutes at Stagecoach [country music festival] in front of 30,000 people and sang that song ["Black Eyes"]. Both times I thought, "There's no way I'm going to be able to do this. I should just mouth it and I can record it later." Literally both times, and both [scenes] were bookended by the film.
The Glastonbury [scene] was, like, the last day of shooting almost and ... I said, "No, I'm going to forget the lyrics. I'm just going to put the camera so you can't really see my face." And each time [Morrow] said, "You've done all this work. I've heard you sing the song 100 times. Just go do it." So he was wonderful.
On suffering from an ear disorder as a kid, which helped him relate to his character's tinnitus and hearing loss
I had a cholesteatoma in my ear drum when I was born, and I had tons of ear infections, and I had to have it removed. Back then, they did a skin graft so they would actually cut a part of the skin around your ear rather than a synthetic piece that they would put on your ear drum. And there was so much scar tissue that it never healed.
So I've always had a hole in my ear drum. [There were] whole summers when I was growing up that I could never go in the water. I could have easily lost my hearing in my right ear. All of those things were very present for me as a child, feeling ashamed, not being able to go in the pool with the other kids, all those types of things. So there was something I could really relate to. Also, tinnitus, even though I don't have tinnitus, I certainly know what the ringing sounds like because when you have an ear infection it's very similar. It can be that similar tone. So I felt like, oh here's something I could really not act, but just completely dwell in.
Lauren Krenzel and Seth Kelley produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Patrick Jarenwattananon adapted it for the Web.
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