At the Ca’ Giustinian, a grand Gothic palazzo overlooking Venice’s Grand Canal, FilmInk has arrived to meet two of the biggest stars of the 2018 film festival: Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. “This is like we’re meeting about solving a problem,” says Cooper, dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, when we meet in a drab office cluttered with filing cabinets and dominated by a large table. “The Oval Office,” giggles the platinum blonde Gaga, sporting platform heels and a halter-neck black evening dress.
The Oscar-nominated actor and the pop sensation have joined forces for A Star Is Born, the fourth remake of a story of fame and fortune that has intrigued Hollywood since George Cukor’s 1932 movie What Price Hollywood. After William Wellman’s 1937 remake A Star Is Born, starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric Marsh, Cukor revisited the tale in 1954, under the same title, with Judy Garland starring as the ingénue actress and James Mason as the washed-up alcohol-dependant actor she falls for.
More recently, the 1976 version by Frank Pierson switched the story to the music industry with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson as the young songstress and has-been musician. Cooper’s take remains in the music world. He plays rock singer Jackson Maine, whose popularity is outweighed by his penchant for booze and pills. When he meets Lady Gaga’s Ally, a waitress who has almost given up her dreams of a singing career, she ignites a long-dormant spark in his soul.
With the music as raw and real as the emotions, Cooper’s decision to sing and play guitar live in front of real crowds – including at Glastonbury music festival in the UK – pays off handsomely. “It was so important to us also to sing live every time,” explains the 32 year-old Gaga. “I hate this in movies when I’m watching a film and all of a sudden they break into song and you can tell they’re lip-synching. I feel like…I was on Mars and now I’m on Venus! Please can we go back to Mars?”
Since she rose to stardom a decade ago with songs like ‘Just Dance’ and ‘Poker Face’, the Grammy-winner has performed a fair few duets – not least releasing a jazz album with legendary crooner Tony Bennett. “Sometimes, even [with] the best in the world, when you’re having a duet, you don’t always have a connection,” she says. “You feel like someone is singing at you. Or they’re singing at the audience. Or they’re there but they’re not embracing you. With Bradley, I felt like I was singing with a professional.”
Cooper, a huge music fan, chips in. “That’s the same with acting. Sometimes, you’re in a scene with someone and you think, ‘I could literally leave and they’ll be doing the exact same thing.’ And that’s not the case with her.” If this sounds like Hollywood back-slapping, it’s not. Cooper, who approached Gaga after seeing her perform at a charity fund-raiser, forges a remarkable bond with his co-star on screen, generating the sort of chemistry that makes hairs stand up on the back of the neck.
Moreover, Cooper’s A Star Is Born says much about celebrity, fame, addiction, loneliness and love, with Jackson’s addictions riding roughshod over his relationship with Ally. “I don’t know if it is statements [that I’m making] but you work from a deep, deep need to say something,” says Cooper. “There are a lot of themes in this movie… there are a lot of themes that we deal with.” He pauses for thought. “I definitely try to bite off a lot with this.”
For Gaga, among the big issues that drew her to the project were substance abuse and co-dependency. “There’s also trauma as a child,” she adds, a reference to Jackson Maine’s difficulties with his late father and older brother Bobby – now his long-suffering tour manager – played by Sam Elliott. “Then there’s the outside world,” she adds. “Having the courage to really embrace what it is you want to do with your life.”
Is this meant as a comment on artistic self-destruction? “I think that all humans are creative and addiction and trauma is universal,” says Cooper. “It’s not subject to people who happen to be artists. So that’s also why… I wanted to tell a movie that a lot of people could relate to. But you want to make it cinematic. You want to entertain. So, let’s heighten it and let these two people be musicians and songwriters. But it really is a movie that hopefully you can relate to.”
Scripted by Cooper, Will Fetters and Eric Roth (who won an Oscar for writing Forrest Gump), the project initially began when Clint Eastwood was attached to direct, with Beyoncé set to star. Cooper – who forged a strong bond with Eastwood when they made American Sniper – eventually took over, determined to make his directorial debut. “Clint was 41 when he made Play Misty For Me. [I thought] I can’t wait past that.”
Now 43, he just about made it in time, but he was keen to differentiate his take on A Star Is Born from the others, especially with the portrait of Ally. “In the other versions, they’re all ingénues. The world is their oyster. This person is 31 years-old. She’s bitter. Right away, you’re already in a completely different world.” When Jackson arrives, as much as she inspires him, he also reignites her desire to sing. “It’s like he’s giving me CPR, y’know?” says Gaga.
When it came to the soundtrack, Gaga and Copper collaborated together. “For me, when I’m making music it comes in many different forms,” the singer says. “I hear a melody or I hear a lyric or I sit at the piano and I play a chord progression, or sometimes I’m working with electronic producers and they’re making beats. Then I get ideas from what they’re making. But throughout the process of making the soundtrack, Bradley was there every step of the way working on it with me. He wrote music for the soundtrack as well.”
She was particularly impressed with the way Cooper understood his character, and his musicality. “I was sitting in the studio and we were working on a song for Bradley, and he walked in and he was like, ‘That’s not Jackson! That’s not Jack’s sound! What is this? What is this?’ I was like, ‘Oh, oh…there we go.’ And I saw in him that he’s a musician and he could hear exactly what it had to be, and he knew exactly the artist he wanted to be. I think you feel that from the top of the film. You know and can feel exactly who he is.”
Gaga, who has made brief appearances in Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City: A Dame To Kill For and Machete Kills, is currently working on her sixth album and is about to embark on a two-year residency in Las Vegas. And yet the chances are she will be spending much of the winter months on the awards circuit, given the huge buzz around her performance. But will she act again? “If I’m lucky enough,” she nods. “I’m spoiled.” As our time comes to an end, Cooper nods towards the table and smiles. “We did solve some world problems.”
A Star Is Born is in cinemas October 18, 2018