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Bradley Cooper Will Direct and Star in His Own Leonard Bernstein Biopic

By the power of Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese, Cooper stays in the business of making musical-themed movies.
A Star Is Born
By  · Published on May 11th, 2018

By the power of Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese, Cooper stays in the business of making musical-themed movies.

Well, this certainly is not the rival biopic anyone was expecting. There had been whispers that Steven Spielberg would possibly helm a Leonard Bernstein picture after putting together a mysterious table read a few months ago, ostensibly done in order to help the busy director choose his next project after Indiana Jones 5. As it turns out, he was definitely scoping out a Bernstein flick. However, Spielberg will not actually be directing this particular biopic himself.

As reported by Deadline, Bradley Cooper will direct and star in a biographical film about the famed conductor and composer. The film, titled Bernstein, will be a co-production between Paramount Pictures and Spielberg’s company, Amblin Entertainment. And alongside Spielberg, Martin Scorsese is part of the project in a producing capacity too.

Cooper will co-write the script of Bernstein with Josh Singer (Spotlight), although the scope of the plot remains a mystery for now. Nevertheless, we can likely assume that some of Bernstein’s greatest musical achievements will find their way into the film.

Bernstein’s life is definitely a worthy subject of any biographical drama. His accomplishments and the inner demons that lurked behind the scenes create the ideal dramatic juxtaposition for a gripping film. Bernstein famously began conducting at the New York Philharmonic at the age of 25 and went on to compose the quintessential musical classic West Side Story. But he remained conflicted over his fame too.

But the real question is: will Cooper’s Bernstein be just as fascinating as the concurrent Bernstein biopic that Jake Gyllenhaal and Cary Fukunaga are making? Gyllenhaal and Fukunaga’s project,  titled The American, will notably divide the story into five movements to mirror the structure of a symphony, giving the film some stylistic breathing room to hopefully be as unique as possible.

The point I made in my initial reporting of The American still stands: there are so many biopics out there — and many of them can be good — and stylistic distinctiveness could make or break a movie’s chances of standing out from the crowd. More so than if there was no competition in the Bernstein biopic market, Cooper now has to make a concerted effort to ensure that his film is especially noteworthy. That being said, having the combined backing of Spielberg and Scorsese definitely boosts your film’s status by default.

Besides Spielberg and Scorsese, the rest of the Bernstein team has reportedly been hard at work for 10 years trying to put this movie in the works. In that time, producers Fred Berner (Law & Order) and Amy Durning (3 Backyards) had been in contact with the Bernstein estate to secure the rights for the film, a fact which could lend some credibility to a predictable “based on a true story” tagline — although it should be noted that those working on The American have also engaged with the Bernstein family.

Scorsese had initially shown interest in directing Bernstein before committing to The Irishman as well. Finally, Spielberg and Cooper’s involvement ultimately sealed the deal to push the film into its next stages of development. Hence, considering the big names involved, even if Bernstein turns out to be a more generic take on its source material than the five-act Gyllenhaal-Fukunaga venture, Cooper’s film is not out of the running just yet.

As a director, Cooper could be playing to his strengths too, given that his debut feature – another remake of the musical A Star Is Born starring himself and pop singer Lady Gaga – sits nicely on theme with its musically-driven protagonist. Remaking such a definitive classic for his very first feature was admittedly a ballsy move, especially when the 1937 original as well as each subsequent remake had been nominated for Academy Awards. But Cooper’s film was well-received when it previewed at CinemaCon this year, with audiences calling the trailer for the film emotionally powerful. Cooper’s A Star Is Born even kind of has a seal of approval from Barbra Streisand, who starred in the 1976 remake of the movie.

We won’t know what to make of these little tidbits of information until we actually see footage from A Star Is Born for ourselves. However, knowing that the film has so much potential certainly creates goodwill surrounding it and Cooper’s talents as a filmmaker who is committed to emotional artistry.

Furthermore, Cooper seems keen on the idea that music is a more affective expression as a whole, which could explain his eagerness to jump back into directing another music-based film. Of A Star Is Born, Cooper said at CinemaCon:

“You can’t control what moves you. You can’t really contrive or manufacture something that moves you, and I’ve always wanted to tell a love story, and this project was around before and it always stayed with me. And to me, music is the most purest way that you can communicate love, because you have to be relaxed.”

So even if Cooper’s Bernstein perhaps lacks any of the stylistic individuality of The American, a focus on love could be the key to making the biopic stand out anyway. Cooper will be a busy leading man in the near future too. He has also committed to starring in a Matt Helm movie.

Between Bernstein, The American, and Spielberg’s own West Side Story remake, these high-profile projects will make sure the iconic composer continues to leave an indelible mark on the big screen.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)