A complex journey through the beauty and the heartbreak of a relationship struggling to survive
Putting his own stamp on the tale with his contemporary take on A Star Is Born, director/writer Bradley Cooper strove to make something that speaks to the timeless nature of human feelings and failings, mixed with today’s diverse world of music.
“I never thought, ‘How do I make it original?’ I just knew I had to make it authentic to tell the story I wanted to tell,” says Cooper who, in addition to directing and co-writing the screenplay with Oscar winner Eric Roth (Forrest Gump) and Will Fetters, and starring as Jackson Maine, produced the film. He also co-wrote some of the music, which he performed alongside Lady Gaga, who co-wrote much of it as well.
Cooper and Lady Gaga fuse their considerable talents to depict the raw and passionate tale of Jack and Ally, two artistic souls coming together, on stage and in life.
Cooper portrays seasoned musician Jackson Maine, who discovers and falls in love with struggling artist Ally. She has given up on her dream to become a successful singer, until she meets Jack, who immediately sees her natural talent.
Theirs is a complex journey through the beauty and the heartbreak of a relationship struggling to survive.
In this new take on the iconic love story, four-time Oscar nominee Cooper (American Sniper, American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook), makes his directorial debut.
In addition to playing Ally, Gaga—who earned an Oscar nod for the song “Til It Happens to You” from the film “The Hunting Ground”—performs original songs in the film with Cooper, which they wrote with a handful of artists, including Lukas Nelson, Jason Isbell and Mark Ronson. The music is original and all vocals for the movie were recorded live during filming.
Though she loved his take on the story, Gaga—as experienced a performer as they come—was nervous to take on the role of Ally in her first feature film, but nevertheless thrilled to do so with Cooper at the helm and by her side. “I had to get past the nerves, but I was so excited,” she relates, “because, in my opinion, when somebody has talent inside them, brewing for years, ready to move into another medium and it finally happens…it’s like a huge explosion, an opus. He was meant to direct, and I just got lucky enough to be in his first film.”
Cooper states, “She’d done incredible work as an actress, but to make this huge transition… It felt like we were at the same point individually in our work, and we both needed the same thing from each other, essentially, in order to jump the tracks to this other place.”
Still, it’s no easy feat, even for such accomplished individuals. As seasoned singer/songwriter Jack tells Ally when they first meet, “Talent comes from everywhere, but having something to say and a way to say it so that people listen to it, that’s a whole other bag. And unless you get out there and you try to do it, you’ll never know. That’s just the truth.”
In the film, Maine’s philosophy is intended to encourage the skittish ingenue to step into the spotlight, figuratively and literally. It could also be Cooper subtly revealing through his character why this story motivated him to finally test his own wings behind the scenes.
“I’ve always known that I wanted to direct, but I also knew that I needed to have a point of view, to know why I was doing it, otherwise there was no reason to,” he says. “And I always wanted to tell a love story, because it feels like something everybody can relate to—the love, the loss of it, the high of it. It’s the thing that makes you feel the most alive.
“Coupled with that is music—not just music, but singing,” he continues. In fact, Cooper and Gaga made a pact early on to record all their performances in the film live—no lip-syncing to a track. “There’s something about singing that’s so honest…you can’t hide at all. I thought that those two things could be put together in a way that maybe I’d find my point of view.”
Producer Bill Gerber states, “Bradley didn’t really base his decisions on what went before him, but on how this version of the movie would work. What always resonated with me, and with him, is that it is not simply a rags-to-riches story, or a cautionary tale about the perils of fame; it’s a love story, and this is Bradley’s vision mainly born out of conversations he had with Stefani,” he says, using Gaga’s given name, “about who they are as artists. It’s by no means autobiographical, but that’s what really paved the way for the story we’re telling.”
Anyone who has ever been in a relationship has experienced the complexity of intermingling lives along with fears, joys, doubts, anger, hopes. Will Fetters, who worked with Cooper on the script, says that key for him was “understanding what’s beneath the surface for these characters, what motivates them, what are they doing that’s making me feel for them and what exactly am I feeling, and why? This is about an epic love between two flawed individuals on different trajectories in life who find each other, and I found myself, through them, just wanting to explore the basic human emotions beneath all the glitz and fame. Why are we fascinated with the famous and what does our fascination feel like for them, what does it do to them?”
“This film pulls back the curtain on what it means to be both a star and a rising star in this business today, and Bradley is not your typical first-time feature director,” observes producer Lynette Howell Taylor, who has worked with Cooper before. “You’re talking about an actor who’s been in the entertainment industry for years, who’s lived with a level of renown, while also soaking up knowledge from the likes of David O. Russell, Clint Eastwood, Todd Phillips and Derek Cianfrance, and honing his own craft as a producer. He’s a real collaborator, he learns, he pays attention. So, by the time he was ready to step into this role, he was more than ready, and it wasn’t at all surprising to me that he’d dive into something that would challenge him and push him, and that would be big and spectacular as well as relevant and current.”
To translate the awesome nature of what it’s like to be among the world’s most popular musical artists performing in arenas around the world before tens of thousands of fans, the filmmakers shot in such iconic locations as Los Angeles’s Greek Theater, The Forum and The Shrine Auditorium, and on the stages of the Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals, as well as “Saturday Night Live.” Cooper turned to celebrated cinematographer Matthew Libatique to capture both the intimacy and the spectacle of Jack and Ally’s world, and production designer Karen Murphy and costume designer Erin Benach to bring it to life.
Cooper surrounded himself with an equally impressive ensemble cast. In addition to Gaga, he tapped the likes of Sam Elliott, Dave Chappelle and Andrew Dice Clay to play roles critical to understanding who Jack and Ally are and where they’ve come from, along with Anthony Ramos as a friend who’s got Ally’s back, and Rafi Gavron as a manager who steers her toward her future.
“Once everything came together—we got the cast, the music, the script was in shape—everybody was invested in a way that felt like it was more than a job,” Cooper states. “They trusted me, which made directing just the greatest experience ever, and made it possible to create the film we set out to make.”
Like the characters they play come to do, Cooper says he and Gaga relied on each other in every single way.
“I knew every time we did a musical number, I had this undeniable force in her, and I knew there was no one else who could’ve played the part. Her talent, her work ethic honed from years of performing… As a storyteller, you’re just so thankful you cast the right person, but we were truly in this together, and that’s the way we approached every scene and every song: as partners.”
Gaga relates, “The very first thing we said was, ‘Okay, now you’re a musician and I’m an actress. We’re making that exchange, so keep me in a comfortable yet vulnerable, raw place where I can give you what you need for the character. He did that for me, and as we worked on creating the songs, I watched him become a real musician.”
In one of Jack’s fan-favorite songs, the chorus goes, “It takes a lot to change a man and it takes a lot to try; maybe it’s time to let the old ways die.” For a man thoroughly set in those wayward ways, it seems Ally may be worth trying for.
“Almost right away, Ally understands that Jack lives this very complicated life, and she gets very protective of him,” says Gaga.
The story offers a glimpse into what can sometimes happen to those who live their lives backstage or beyond the velvet ropes, literally and figuratively. Jack has lived there for a long time and has been damaged by it: for starters, he has tinnitus, a painful condition only exacerbated by years of full throttle amps pulsing in his ears on stages around the world. And while his popularity hasn’t waned and his musicianship appears strong as ever, he may soon find his career has joined him at the bottom of a bottle, broken, with no one to fish either one out.
Though Ally and Jack’s entire journey is an emotional one, for one pivotal scene for Cooper’s character, Gaga went above and beyond to support her co-star. “I knew it was a tough scene and I had gotten Bradley roses, so I watched part of it and then I left them for him where he’d find them,” she says.
“Oh, man, that was great,” Cooper acknowledges. “I think I actually felt her departure and I thought, ‘Wow, I’m on my own here.’ And then I walked up to the truck, because Jack gets into his truck, and I opened the door and saw the roses. She’d left them on the passenger seat.”
When production wrapped, Cooper retreated to his home with his editing crew to cut the film. “I have to say, my editor, Jay Cassidy, and his first assistant, Mike Azevedo, we spent God knows how many months of 16-hour days putting this movie together. They were essential to getting this done.”
As Cooper was working on post-production, most of the cast and crew moved on, but the time spent together making “A Star Is Born” had left an indelible mark.
Gaga, who continued throughout post to help see the soundtrack through to completion, says, “So much of this film resonates with me still. I think a lot of people will relate to the themes, and the story will be something profound to them. And the music really tells this love story—that’s something we all took very seriously and believed in. We all saw Bradley’s vision and we all wanted, to the very last second, to make it just perfect.”
“One thing I’ve learned is that when you’re creating any kind of art, if you’re in the moment, you trust your instincts but can be flexible, too, you can make something that might shift someone’s way of looking at their world a little bit,” Cooper reflects. “And when your whole crew goes there with you? That’s a wonderful feeling. That everybody trusted my vision was exhilarating and, I think, gave me the confidence to keep at that daunting task every day.
“This has been a three-year journey and the experience has been amazing, and if I’m lucky enough that anybody allows me to do it again, yeah, I absolutely would,” Cooper continues, adding, “There’s a line in the film that Jack says to Ally, ‘If there’s one reason we’re supposed to be here, it’s to say something so people want to hear it.’ I hope that’s what we’ve done.”
Bradley Cooper (Jack) is a four-time Oscar nominee making his directorial debut this fall with A Star Is Born. Born in Philadelphia, Cooper graduated with honors in the English program at Georgetown University. After moving to New York City, he obtained his Masters in the Fine Arts program at the Actors Studio Drama School.
In March 2011, Cooper starred in the box office hit Limitless, which marked Cooper’s first starring role in a feature film, directed by Neil Burger. Cooper also served as a producer on the film. In 2012, Cooper was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Pat Solatano in the comedic drama Silver Linings Playbook, directed by David O. Russell; he starred in the critically-acclaimed film The Place Beyond the Pines (2013), directed by Derek Cianfrance; he produced and starred in Clint Eastwood’s critically acclaimed, Oscar-nominated film American Sniper (2014), he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal as the unhinged FBI Agent Richie DiMaso in the David O. Russell drama American Hustle (2014), that same year, Cooper lent his voice to the character Rocket Raccoon in the surprise smash action-adventure Guardians of the Galaxy, directed by James Gun, and the 2017 sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, also directed by Gunn. Cooper’s additional film credits include: Todd Phillips’ War Dogs; David O. Russell’s Joy; Burnt; The Words; The A-Team; New York I Love You; He’s Just Not That Into You; Hit and Run; Yes Man; All About Steve; Wedding Crashes; Wet Hot American Summer, Aloha; Serena and the The Hangover trilogy, all directed by Todd Phillips. He recently wrapped production in Clint Eastwood’s The Mule, and was heard lending his voice to the character Rocket Raccoon in the blockbuster Avengers: Infinity War.
Cooper made his Broadway debut in the spring of 2006 in Joe Montello’s production of Three Days of Rain, opposite Julia Roberts and Paul Rudd. In July 2008, he joined the cast of the critically acclaimed Theresa Rebeck play The Understudy, which premiered at the Williamstown Theatre Festival to rave reviews and sold out performances. Four years ago, Cooper took on the iconic role of John Merrick in The Elephant Man at the Booth Theater on Broadway, opposite Patricia Clarkson and Alessandro Nivola. Following the success of the play in New York, Cooper reprised the role of John Merrick in a six-week limited run of the play in London at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in the West End, directed by Scott Ellis, alongside the original Broadway cast.
On television, Cooper most recently reprised his role as Ben in the Netflix remake Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. His other television credits include: Alias, the F/X Drama Nip/Tuck; Fox’s single-camera comedy Kitchen Confidential, Jack & Bobby; and a guest appearance on Sex and the City.
Eric Roth is an Academy Award winner who attended the University of California at Santa Barbara, Columbia University and UCLA. He won the prestigious Samuel Goldwyn Writing Award while at UCLA in 1970. His first produced screenplay was Robert Mulligan’s “The Nickel Ride,” which premiered at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival.
Among the movies Roth has written include The Drowning Pool; Suspect; Mr. Jones; and Rhapsody in August, directed by the legendary Akira Kurosawa. He wrote the Academy Award-winning Best Picture Forrest Gump, for which he won the Oscar and the Writers Guild Award for Best Adapted Screenplay; The Horse Whisperer, directed by Robert Redford; and The Insider, which was Academy Award-nominated for Best Picture, directed by Michael Mann, for which Roth was nominated for an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and a Writers Guild Award, and won the Humanitas Award. He also wrote Ali, directed by Michael Mann, and co-wrote the 2005 Academy Award-nominated screenplay for Munich, directed by Steven Spielberg, which was also Academy Award-nominated for Best Picture; and the screenplay for The Good Shepherd, directed by De Niro.
Roth received a Writers Guild Award nomination, a Critics Choice Award nomination, a BAFTA nomination, and his fourth Academy Award nomination for the Academy Award Best Picture-nominated The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, directed by David Fincher, as well as the National Board of Review Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. He also wrote Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which was also Academy Award-nominated for Best Motion Picture, and which earned him a Critics’ Choice Award nomination for Best Screenplay Adaptation.
Roth recently finished adapting the Frank Herbert novel Dune for Denis Villeneuve to direct. He also completed the screenplay for the Leonardo DiCaprio-starring vehicle Killers of the Flower Moon, to be helmed by Martin Scorsese.
Roth won the prestigious Laurel Award for Screen in 2012, the Writers Guild of America West’s lifetime achievement award.
In television, Mr. Roth is the executive producer of five-time Emmy Award-nominated Best Drama House of Cards for Netflix, Berlin Station for Epix, and 2018 Emmy Award-nominated Outstanding Limited Series The Alienist, for TNT.
Will Fetters was an undergraduate studying Political Science and Finance at the University of Delaware in 2003, with every intention of attending law school and then becoming a lawyer of some kind, when a misunderstanding with local law enforcement dovetailed with an idea for a film. He finished school, bought a book called How to Write Screenplays, read said book, then started writing. That legal misunderstanding eventually inspired the narrative foundation for his first original screenplay, Memoirs, which became the film Remember Me.
He then adapted two Nicholas Sparks novels into films—The Lucky One and The Best of Me.
Fetters has since adapted Norman Ollestad’s survival memoir Crazy for the Storm. Most recently, he finished The More They Believe, an original screenplay based on the true story of the Chicago police shooting of Laquan McDonald. He is also producing this project.