Bradley Cooper was warned. Friends discouraged the American Sniper star from choosing A Star Is Born as his directorial debut. Aside from it being one of a handful of takes on the tragic romance, the project had stalled for years in Hollywood, attracting directors and stars like Clint Eastwood and Beyoncé, respectively. “I had a lot of people tell me, ‘Please don’t do this’ — people I respect and who care about me,” says Cooper, 43, on a hot afternoon in the Hollywood Hills while being interviewed for this week’s cover of Entertainment Weekly. “I just knew this could be the end of everything if it doesn’t work. It’s like, ‘Who’s this guy making the fourth [version] of this movie? Shut up already.’ But I still could not deny what I felt deep down, and that’s why it was this movie. It sort of ignited something in me.” The actor admits this is a story that’s been building in him since his childhood. “I used to write songs — that’s like the first time I’ve ever said that,” reveals Cooper. “I used to always hear verses and songs in my head as a kid. And I wrote a couple down. I’m talking from like [age] 8 to like 19. So I knew that there was something that I hadn’t pursued that maybe I could actualize one day in a movie.”
Cooper’s Born, in theaters Oct. 5, charts the tumultuous relationship between alcoholic rock star Jackson Maine and burgeoning singer-songwriter Ally, played by pop icon Lady Gaga, 32. As Jackson falls deeper into addiction, Ally blazes a path toward superstardom. Much in the way Jackson helps lift Ally, Cooper has directed Gaga to her most accomplished and dramatic performance to date. “It just has changed me,” says Gaga of Born. “Watching Bradley work was phenomenal and then having him believe in me — it gave me more ammunition to believe in myself and I just feel so blessed to have had that experience.”
Cooper, who also co-wrote the script with Eric Roth and Will Fetters, has reshaped the story into an exhilarating, emotional rock epic with electric performance scenes shot at real festivals like Coachella and Glastonbury. “I never wanted to be in the crowd,” says Cooper of his decision to have the cameras on stage with the actors. “I always wanted the audience to feel what it would be like if you were the person performing.”
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Born features a stirring original score (collaborators include producer Mark Ronson, singer Jason Isbell, and Willie Nelson’s son Lukas), a career-best performance from the actor, and — yes — a career-redefining role for Gaga. The film, which will world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, has already generated awards talk for its two leads. “I think the reason it’s so outstanding is because of the deal they made at the beginning,” explains producer Bill Gerber (Gran Torino). “She said, ‘People are gonna think you’re a rock star.’ And he said, ‘People are gonna think you’re an actress.’ They both accomplished what they said they would do.”
The pair’s electricity on and off screen is undeniable as is their bond. “I think the biggest thing I learned is that sky’s the limit if you find a companion artistically, and you have a project,” says Cooper of working with Gaga. “There is no dreaming too big. What people can do together is so much more powerful than what they can do by themselves.” Adds Gaga, “I think what I learned from Bradley [is] it’s okay to be relentlessly sure of your vision, and to go after it with every fiber of your being, and to never stop white gloving what you’re making. Sometimes, as an artist, I second-guess myself when I go, ‘Am I pulling the thread? Am I unraveling the whole blanket now? Do I need to stop?’ It’s changed the way that I work today.”
For much more with Gaga and Cooper, including their friendship and the day Barbra Streisand came to set, pick up the Fall Movie Preview issue of Entertainment Weekly on stands Friday.