For Gaga, Cooper, cast, ‘A Star Is Born’ hits close to home

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - LIVING - By Jake Coyle AP Film Writer

TORONTO >> When Bradley Cooper saw Lady Gaga per­form “La Vie en Rose” at a fundraiser at the home of en­tre­pre­neur Sean Parker, 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 Gaga’s home in Mal­ibu to con­firm that what he had seen the night be­fore was real. He ar­rived hun­gry. Gaga — whose friends call her by her real name, Ste­fani — fed him some left­over spaghetti, and the two East Coast, Ital­ian Amer­i­can-raised per­form­ers (Cooper is from Philadel­phia, Gaga New York) felt an im­me­di­ate, nat­u­ral con­nec­tion. “In­stantly,” says Gaga. “When I saw his eyes, when I opened the door.”

Within min­utes, they were singing by Gaga’s pi­ano and “A Star Is Born” was, well, born.

“And when I heard him sing! My God! I stopped play­ing the pi­ano and I was like, ‘Bradley you can sing!’” said 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 — Cooper di­rects! Gaga acts! — that fu­eled “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 a movie mir­rored by its mak­ing.

“A Star Is Born” is the fourth ver­sion of the story (or fifth, de­pend­ing on how you count). First was Ge­orge Cukor’s “What Price Hol­ly­wood?” in 1932, 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 at Warner Bros., 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,” says Gaga. “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 and di­rec­tor. With metic­u­lous prepa­ra­tion, Cooper — ever the stu­dent — 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. “He was tire­less,” says Sam El­liott, who plays Cooper’s brother in the film. “He never quit on it, from be­gin­ning to end. It prob­a­bly drove the stu­dio nuts at some point that he wouldn’t quit on it.”

“Be­ing 39 when I started this jour­ney, I just re­al­ize: Time is the big­gest cur­rency. If I don’t do what I keep feel­ing in­side, con­stantly see­ing shots in my head,” Cooper says, trail­ing off. “I al­ways knew that at some point I had to stop cri­tiquing other movies and just make one.”

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 — what else — “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,” says Gaga. “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.”

A rare fer­vor has greeted Cooper’s “A Star Is Born.” Its trailer has been watched more than 10 mil­lion times, many of them re­peat, misty-eyed views. And if there’s one thing that ac­counts for its swoon-in­duc­ing power it’s this self-em­pow­er­ing mes­sage of fame com­ing to those who are true to them­selves.

It’s some­thing that res­onates for many in the cast, too, like An­thony Ramos, who plays Ally’s best friend. The 26-year-old ac­tor, who grew up in the projects of Bush­wick, Brook­lyn, caught his big break when Lin-Manuel Mi­randa cast him in “Hamil­ton.”

“I’ve had teach­ers tell me, ‘You have to be this or you have to be that to be suc­cess­ful. You have to change the way you speak. You have to grow your hair out.’ I’ve had peo­ple tell me all kinds of things to give me the for­mula for suc­cess,” says Ramos. “But what I re­al­ize, which you find by the end of this movie, all you gotta do is love your­self and be­lieve in your­self, and con­tinue to be your truest self.”

For even the 74-year-old vet­eran ac­tor El­liott, “A Star Is Born” has been cause for re­flec­tion on his own path. For decades, El­liott, with his sonorous drawl and trade­mark mus­tache, has been res­o­lutely him­self, in any role.

“No­body’s ever go­ing to con­fuse me with a chameleon. I’m just not one of those kind of ac­tors,” says El­liott. “Ben John­son told me one time: ‘I might not be a very good ac­tor, but no­body else can play Ben John­son bet­ter than I can.’ And that some­how res­onated with me. It was about char­ac­ter. It was about in­tegrity. It was about what makes up the man.”

Gaga, who has ral­lied her fans (“lit­tle mon­sters”) around a mes­sage of self-ac­cep­tance, says she iden­ti­fies equally with her char­ac­ter and with the more trou­bled Jack­son. The pop star has pre­vi­ously been forth­right about her strug­gles with men­tal health, and has said she was raped at age 19.

“Jack­son’s plight in the film and his sub­stance abuse, it re­ally stays with me. The men­tal health as­pect, the sub­stance abuse as­pect, the trauma as­pect. I told Bradley right af­ter we watched it in Venice that I had to take 30 min­utes to my­self in a back room some­where,” says Gaga. “If I act again, the ex­pe­ri­ence has to be as deep as this one or it wouldn’t be ful­fill­ing to me.”

Cooper, too, says “A Star is Born” has al­tered him.

“I find my­self think­ing of lines Jack­son says of­ten, just in terms of tak­ing on a new project: What am I try­ing to say and how am I go­ing to say it?” the 43 yearold says. “Any other project that comes af­ter this, I just have to be bru­tally hon­est with my­self and lis­ten to Jack­son.”

Ramos’ suc­cess re­cently in­spired his own older brother to — like Ally does in the film — quit his job and “go for it.” Af­ter “A Star Is Born” opens in the­aters Fri­day, more walk­outs may fol­low, more stars ready to be born.

“Ev­ery­body quit their job!” jokes Ramos. “Naw, not ev­ery­one can quit. We need some peo­ple work­ing.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ac­tress and singer Lady Gaga poses for pho­tog­ra­phers upon ar­rival at the pre­miere of the film “A Star Is Born” in Lon­don.

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