Bradley Cooper faced one of the greatest challenges of his career in directing, cowriting, coproducing and starring in the Leonard Bernstein biopic, Maestro.
The Oscar nominee, 48, revealed that he spent several years learning how to conduct for one of the crucial scenes in the film. Cooper recreated Bernstein’s conducting the London Symphony Orchestra at the Ely Cathedral in 1976.
“That scene I was so worried about because we did it live,” Cooper said during a conversation moderated by Lin-Manuel Miranda following a screening of the movie on Monday, November 13 at the Whitby Hotel in New York City.
“That was the London Symphony Orchestra. I was recorded live. I had to conduct them,’ the A Star Is Born actor recalled. “And I spent six years learning how to conduct six minutes and 21 seconds of music.”
Maestro tells the story of the 16-time Grammy winner, whose composing credits include the score for West Side Story, and his relationship with his wife, Felicia Montealegre. They married in 1951, and remained together until her death from lung cancer in 1978.
Bernstein, who was the musical director for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra from 1958-1969, retired from conducting in October 1990. He died that same month from a heart attack.
In his conversation with Miranda, Cooper recalled he did extensive research to prepare for the scene.
“I was able to get the raw take where I just watched Leonard Bernstein [conduct] at Ely Cathedral with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1976. And so I had that to study,” he said.
Maestro has been in development for five years. Cooper coproduced the film with Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and others. Spielberg was originally set to direct the film, after directing a remake of West Side Story in 2021. However, after seeing how well Cooper directed A Star is Born, he decided the actor was the best person to direct Maestro.
During an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in January 2022, Cooper recalled when Spielberg told him about the change.
“I’ll never forget this. He came, we were sitting there and I’m showing him A Star Is Born and he’s all the way on the other side on the front row, it’s a pretty huge screen,” Cooper told Colbert. “He gets up and I’m like, ‘Oh he’s going to the bathroom now?’ and I was like, ‘That’s it, it’s over. If he’s going to the bathroom at this point in the movie… and he gets up, he walks over, and I’m putting my head down and the next thing I know I feel his face here and he says, because it’s loud, ‘You’re f—ing directing Maestro!”
Cooper told Colbert that he aspired to be a maestro when he was a child, spending “hundreds of hours” practicing conducting as he was growing up.
Cooper previously talked about the challenge of portraying the iconic conductor during a Focus Features roundtable discussion in January. “The level of respect that I have for that world and that podium, it is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever experienced,” he said. “It’s the absolute hardest thing you could ever want to do. It is impossible.”