TORONTO: When Bradley Cooper saw Lady Gaga perform “La Vie en Rose” at a fundraiser, it wasn’t one of the important moments along the road to making “A Star is Born.” It was, Cooper says, THE moment. “She demolished the room,” he recalls, still wide-eyed about it. “I knew that was plutonium.”
The next day, Cooper went to visit Lady Gaga’s home in Malibu to confirm that what he had seen the night before was real. He arrived hungry. Lady Gaga (whose friends call her by her real name, Stefani) fed him some leftover spaghetti, and the two East Coast, Italian American-raised performers felt a natural, and immediate, connection.
Within minutes, they were singing by Lady Gaga’s piano and “A Star is Born” was born.
“When I heard him sing, my God! I stopped playing the piano and I was like, ‘Bradley you can sing!’” said Lady Gaga, sitting next to her co-star and director, “and he was like, ‘Really?’
And then he said, ‘Let’s film it.’ He started filming it on his phone.”
Cooper shakes his head.
“It was nuts.”
It can be hard to separate the already mythologized transformations that fuelled “A Star is Born” from the fictional fable of fame itself. In both the movie’s creation and in the finished product are lessons of bold chances and artistic integrity, of personal frailty and popular success.
“A Star is Born” is the fourth version of the story (or fifth, depending on how you count). First was George Cukor’s 1932 “What Price Hollywood?” followed by William Wellman’s 1937 remake. Later came one with Judy Garland and James Mason, in 1954, and one in 1973 with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.
A new “A Star is Born” has been in development for about two decades, with various incarnations once planned around Will Smith and Whitney Houston, or Beyonce and Leonardo DiCaprio with Clint Eastwood directing. Cooper, who starred in Eastwood’s “American Sniper,” first discussed acting in the film for Eastwood before deciding to direct, too. For encouragement, Eastwood visited the set on the first day of shooting. “I remember he said he liked my boots,” Gaga says. “I turned bright red.”
Cooper, though, put his own imprint on “A Star is Born,” retailoring the story and, he hopes, launching himself as a writer-director. With meticulous preparation, Cooper threw himself into the new role. Often, he could be found under a table in a scene with a monitor so as to be as close as possible to the actors.
Cooper stars as Jackson Maine, a hard-drinking, country-rock’n’roll star in the vein of Gregg Allman.
(Maine’s band is played by Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Neil Young’s regular backing band.) When Jackson ducks into a drag bar for a drink, he’s blown away by Ally (Gaga), who’s there singing “La Vie en Rose.”
A naturally talented singer who has essentially given up on her music dreams, Ally has always been told her look (and her nose) isn’t quite right. She and Jackson quickly fall in love, even as Jackson’s drinking problem worsens, but not before they can together forge something honest and beautiful through music, catapulting Ally to stardom.
“When I’m watching it back, I see myself as a much younger girl, more like when I was 15 writing songs at the piano,” Gaga says. “What Jackson is trying to teach her is something that I still want to give more of in my music now and in the future. It’s the nakedness of talent.”