Tonight, Bradley Coopers new film Maestro was screened to close out the Mill Valley Film Festival. The Leonard Bernstein biographic film script has been in the works since at least 2007; back then the thinking was boilerplate, reverential, tame, there was a sense that for the movie to succeed they’d need to pull their punches, that Leonard Bernstein was too big and too important for a movie going audience to learn of the fuller truth of Lenny’s life.
Spielberg owned the rights to the film, the script underwent further development, several versions later Spielberg felt he had something, that script landed in Bradley Coopers hands, he was asked to read, they thought he might be right to play the lead. Three hours after he had the script Spielberg’s phone rang, the actor said he was all in.
Not long after agreeing to playing Bernstein Cooper was screening a preview of his new picture, A Star is Born, he’d invited many from the business, among the many was Spielberg. There was a conversation about the team being assembled for the Bernstein project, this was before they began Cooper’s new film, it came as something of a shock to Cooper as he learned that Spielberg would produce but wasn’t going to direct, he was shooting the remake of West Side Story, and felt the timing wasn’t right for this project. Surprised, Cooper suggested he’d be interested in directing the film as well as playing the title role.
Twenty minutes into the beginning of watching A Star is Born, Spielberg got up from his seat walked over to Bradley Cooper and said, “… the job is yours, you’re the fucking director!”
Capturing Leonard Bernstein’s life would revolve around the story of his extraordinary marriage to Felicity— Felicia Montealegre Bernstein— this once in a lifetime role is played to my eye note perfect by English actress Carey Mulligan.
Bradley Cooper’s time in the makeup chair took between three to five hours a day, how this complex film was made was only possible according to the creative team because of the boundless energy of the star and director, who they describe as the most passionate person working on this project.
As it happens the film opens in November and moves to Netflix in December. In the hardboiled world of ticket sales, the expectations for a film like Maestro is preordained, the biopic is slated for a short run at theaters prior to going online over at Netflix. Don’t ask me how the money side of this deal works, the film looks plush, recreating the scenes from the 50’s through the 80’s could not have come cheap, the enterprise must have cost a bundle. Success for a project like this is all about clicks, downloads and how many eyes the film can attract online. Gossamers are more tangible.
Cooper is an ambitious artist, he has aimed high, this is a complex story, and with that we are drawn into an ask, and what I mean about this ask— the film Maestro asks us to cope with the lives of Lenny and Felicity and with what the Buddha described as the 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows.
I’ll enjoy talking about this film with you in the months ahead.