TORONTO – “A Star is Born” is one of the major hits of early festival season and the film’s two leads, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, met with the North American press for the first time on Sunday morning to discuss the already buzzed about Best Picture contender.
The movie is Cooper’s directorial debut and the fourth incarnation of this specific story, but he says he first had the idea for a film in the specific vein of “Star” at a Metallica concert six years ago.
“I was behind Lars Ulrich‘s drums and I saw the scope and the perscinium of that and I thought, ‘Just to be on the stage the whole time.’ I’ve never seen a movie where all the concert footage you’re always on the stage,” Cooper recalls. “And I wanted to tell a love story. And not to get too specific, but it was [also] Annie Lennox singing a cover of ‘I Put A Spell On You’ and I was looking at the veins in her neck and how pure it was. And if I could have that in the movie, because you can’t hide when you are singing. It was all [those] elements. But all of all of them, [it was] Lady Gaga. She was the one who propelled the whole thing.”
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Gaga (who also goes by her given name Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta) had previously acted professionally among a large ensemble in Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk‘s TV series “American Horror Story” and even earned a Golden Globe for her performance. Jumping to a female lead in a feature film was a significantly more difficult endeavor and she credits Cooper for helping her make such a smooth transition.
“[It] was such a thrill to watch him work. It was such a thrill to watch him act in the environment he created. He operates with such precision. He has such a vision. And you could see the gears turning while he’s working even whiles he’s working even when he was in character at the same time,” Gaga says. “And, yes, he would whisper things to me like ‘Tony’ or ‘Come on assassin’ or ‘Ninja’ and we would pound [fist bump] each other [to hit a certain mark]. He told me the most important thing was to know what I was trying to say, to know the story I was meant to tell in the scene. And when I was on set to throw it all away and exist in this precise and liberating environment. It wasn’t rigid. It was a very artistically free experience. And I’m very, very grateful for him believing in me.”
As rock n’roll legend Jackson Maine and up and coming star Ally, both Cooper and Gaga ended up singing live in a majority of the film. For Cooper there was “really no question” about a creative decision that was inherently difficult since the “American Sniper” star wasn’t previously known for his singing prowess.
“I sort of feared it, but when we first met Stefani was adamant about it,” Coope says. “I wasn’t sure how I was gonna get there. But I worked with this incredible vocal coach, Roger Love, as well as for a shot time [Lady 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 to sing in front of 20,000 people. Your endorphins are running and your breath goes.”
A good portion of the performance in the film actually take place in front of real audiences. In order to pull that off Cooper and Gaga jumped from one free stage to another all over the world.
“The opening of the movie we shot in eight minutes,” Cooper says. “Jamie Johnston was kind enough to let us on, and Willie Nelson. Then we went to Glastonbury before Kris Kristofferson went on in front of 80,000 people. There really weren’t multiple takes, but the stuff we were able to orchestrate it was important it felt like one floating thing.”
Jackson first meets Ally randomly, in all places, a drag bar in what becomes one of the more memorable sequences in the film. These scenes feature two notable drag queens, Shangela and Willam, both of whom Lady Gaga was very familiar with beforehand.
“Cracking the structure of the 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 short period of time,” Cooper says. “[Screenwriter] Eric Roth and I were writing the script and we would sit down with Stephanie for hours and hours at a time and he and I would work through it afterward and see what we could implement. I saw her sing ‘La Vie en Rose,’ that was the first time I ever saw her sing live at a show and Cancer benefit the night before I met her. And she leveled the entire room when she came out, it was insane. And I thought right then that’s in the movie because that was the first time I saw her sing. And we were talking about this idea of a drag bar that you used to perform at on the lower East Side. And then you suggested Shangela and then I met Willam and Willam is gold. And when we showed up on set Karen Murphy the production designer recreated The Virgil this bar into this incredible place and it just had a vibe. It felt like we shot there for two months and we shot there for a day, a day and a half and it just had this energy. We just soaked it up and I just started to spend time with Willam and Shangela and it really became magical.”
Gaga, who was a guest host on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” in 2017 and shot her lyric video for “Applause” at a drag show at Mickey’s club in West Hollywood, CA says it was “an absolute dream of a scene and moment” for her in the film.
“I make a joke sometimes that behind every female icon is a gay man and I really wouldn’t be here without the gay community and what they have taught me about love and acceptance and bravery. And this scene was so special. I loved singing ‘La Vie en Rose.’ I sang it before, but the challenge was I wasn’t at a Sean Parker [charity] event singing it as myself, but I was Ally singing ‘La Vie en Rose’ so I sing it a little bit differently. And I think one of the most beautiful moments in this film is when she walks through the tinsel and she hears him playing a song and the words, ‘Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die’ to the queens who are sitting there. And 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 as special moment in the film. And I thought he in the film he executed it with perfect authenticity. I don’t think for a second with those scenes I’m not in a real drag bar.”
“A Star is Born” opens nationwide on Oct. 5.