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

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - FEATURES - By Jake Coyle AP Film Writer

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.”

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