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‘Maestro’ is a wonderful gift from Bradley Cooper

Recently, I had the chance to watch “Maestro” at the British Film Institute and I believe it is one great gift from Bradley Cooper, who is both the director and lead actor of this biopic that focuses on the relationship between American conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein—who composed several successful operas and Broadway musicals, including Candide and West Side Story—and his wife Felicia Montealegre. 

Biographical films are complicated in that, essentially it is hard to condense a lifetime in a movie two-three hours long, and filmmakers can be accused of being unable to give justice to a person’s greatness. But in Maestro, Cooper makes it clear that this is about Lenny and Felicia, that Lenny’s genius is innate, but Felicia’s presence somehow became his guide and made a strong impact in his life. 

It takes a different level of understanding and talent—including massive research and tons of preparation—to do a film about an artist, to sink your teeth into not only his art but also in the persona that creates it. One needs to delve into the artist and the artistry, the synthesis, the complexities, and the in-betweens. 

In Maestro, Cooper becomes Bernstein. His performance is impeccable, successfully disappearing into the role. Not falling short either is actress Carey Mulligan, who effectively showed the pivotal role that Felicia played in Bernstein’s life and career.

In an interview with fellow filmmaker Spike Lee, Cooper explains that what allowed him to become Bernstein is to stay in his voice whether he’s acting or directing, and that it helped a lot that he worked with a voice coach for a few years before they started filming.


Cooper as the filmmaker

Cooper was in character all throughout the filming. “It was Lenny directing the movie,” he says, explaining that when he was the young Bernstein, the energy in the set was faster and they were able to get more done, but when Cooper was in set as the old Bernstein, the pace in the set was slower.

Aside from starring in and directing the movie, Cooper also co-wrote it with Josh Singer, and produced it together with Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese, among others. Cooper’s seamless metamorphosis as a director lies in his experience as an actor who knew what the director wanted from him. He describes his transition as very natural: “being on the field is where I feel most comfortable to direct.”

He explains that his set has no video village and he does not watch playback. The only time he reviews a scene is when he’s uncertain of the camera move, but he adds that, as an actor, he has become so aware of the movement of the camera and the composition, that it feels second nature to him. 

Moreover, his experience as an actor helped him be a director that is sensitive to the needs of the actors, at the same time, what to demand from them, which includes serious preparation, stressing that the only way to have a shot at making a great movie is if everybody’s absolutely prepared.

As for Cooper, he came into the role fully prepared, allowing himself to be one with the character, to be Leonard Bernstein. And in the words of Spike Lee, “It’s monumental!”

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