Bradley Cooper on A Star Is Born: 'People told me to do a less ambitious film'
Bradley Cooper makes his directorial debut with A Star Is Born, starring Lady Gaga as a talented musician who lacks the confidence to make it big. He explains to Laura Harding about casting the music superstar, why the time was right to sit in the director's chair and how he ended up in front of thousands at the world's most famous festival
Bradley Cooper has always been itching to direct a film, but it has been a long road to get there. Along the way, he has picked up a handful of Oscar nominations and starred in box office hits like The Hangover trilogy, Silver Linings Playbook, American Sniper and Guardians Of The Galaxy.
But, now, he has finally done it. Helming a new take on A Star Is Born, he has jumped in with both feet - also co-writing the screenplay, producing and starring, and even co-writing some of the music.
"People I really care about told me to do something less ambitious," he laughs ruefully, leaning back in his chair in a London hotel room. I would have said that to me, but you can't help what moves you, and there was a story I really wanted to tell.
"Doing something like this takes so much energy, so it has to come from a very personal place to motivate me that much, so I didn't really listen to anybody."
In the film, Cooper plays Jackson Maine, a successful singer-songwriter with a serious drinking problem, who meets Ally - played by none other than Lady Gaga - while she is singing at a drag bar.
The pair fall madly in love and Jack helps build her confidence to make the most of her talent as a musician.
It's a famous story that has been told several times before - first in 1937 as a drama with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, then as a musical in 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason, and then again in 1976 starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson - but it felt so personal to Cooper, he didn't see it as a remake.
"I always wanted to make a movie. I love cinema so much, and I've been around it for almost 20 years as an actor and a producer, so I always knew at some point I would have to do it," he says.
"I really wanted to tell a love story about two people who actually are madly in love with each other and how hard that is still to endure.
"I also wanted to talk about family and childhood and trauma and finding your voice and all the themes the movie deals with, so it was very exciting to explore all of those things cinematically.
"Because it was coming from a personal place, I still don't see it as a retelling - it's a movie that is within the framework of this property."
The film also looks at the endless tussle between artistic integrity and commercial success, and if the two things can ever go hand-in-hand. Cooper (43) is thoughtful about that balance.
"It depends on how you define success," he says. "I think, like the movie, the key is to figure out what you want to say and how to say it, and that is all you have to worry about.
"You have to really be open and honest with yourself and about what you want to talk about, and I think it takes time and living life.
"Some people figure that out at eight. I think I was 39 when I figured it out."
While he has worked with a string of accomplished filmmakers along the way, such as Clint Eastwood, Derek Cianfrance and Cameron Crowe, it was David O Russell (who'd shepherded him to two of his Oscar nominations, for Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle) who helped Cooper realise his own potential as director.
"David O Russell is the one. I would never have been able to make this movie if I hadn't worked with David O Russell and if he hadn't have been so generous in allowing me to be a part of his process. We always talked through a lot."
Bringing in a star as talented as Lady Gaga, who makes her feature film debut in a leading role, was instrumental to making the film a success, but for Cooper it was a big responsibility.
"When people entrust themselves to you as a filmmaker and a storyteller, when they are going to give all of themselves and they know what is demanded of them, there is a trust that has to be there.
"If it's not there, I don't know how you can ever do it in a real way, so you have to come from an honest place and I have to do the work myself.
"The biggest way you can get someone to do what you want is to do it yourself.
"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."
Once he got to the other side, he was not interested in making things easy for himself, singing live alongside Lady Gaga for the musical numbers and even filming on stage at Glastonbury and Coachella.
"At Glastonbury, it was just four of us. My buddy operated the second camera and we had four minutes to do it," he says.
Those four minutes of stage time were donated by none other than Kristofferson, who happened to be performing at the festival in the summer of 2017, and who let Cooper come out on stage to get his shot at the beginning of his set.
"I remember everything about it. I got to perform on the stage where I'd seen Robert Plant, Jack White, Thom Yorke - and the best part about it was, after it was over, I got to say, 'Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Kris Kristofferson'.
"Then he walked out. I'll never forget that."
A Star Is Born is in cinemas now