Maestro is Bradley Cooper’s labor of love.
And labor, he did, to get his film about Leonard Bernstein correct.
Cooper, who lives in Pacific Palisades, not only stars as the famed composer and conductor, he also co-wrote the film and he directed it. He’s one of the producers, too, along with Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and others.
After a special screening of Maestro at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, Cooper told the audience that he’s been working on his conducting for ages.
“When I was four-years-old, with two wooden spoons, that’s how I started.”
Wooden spoons may have been fine for Cooper as a child. But to prepare for Maestro, he learned to conduct, or “conduct-ish,” as he has called it, a process that spread over a six-year period. While planning for a major musical scene in the movie, he got advice from well-known conductors.
Cooper shadowed Gustavo Dudamel as he conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2019. And he went to Europe when Dudamel conducted the Berlin Philharmonic.
“I just did everything I absolutely could. I also spent years at the New York Philharmonic. I would go there three or four nights a week, for years. Michael Tilson Thomas (music director laureate of the San Francisco Symphony) was a great influence and spent a lot of time.”
Maestro is about a lot more than Bernstein’s music. The center of the film is the relationship between him and his wife, Felicia Montealegre Cohn Bernstein, played by Carey Mulligan.
Their story is such an important part of the movie that Cooper gives Mulligan top billing. His name is second on posters and in the credits.
Bernstein’s three children, who were not part of this particular discussion, have said they are thrilled with the movie. Jamie, Alexander and Nina Bernstein issued a statement on X, formerly Twitter.
“Bradley Cooper included the three of us along every step of his amazing journey as he made his film about our father. We were touched to the core to witness the depth of his commitment, his loving embrace of our father’s music, and the sheer open-hearted joy he brought to his exploration.
“At all times during the making of this film, we could feel the profound respect and yes, the love that Bradley brought to his portrait of Leonard Bernstein and his wife, our mother Felicia. We feel so fortunate to have had this experience with Bradley.”
Back at the screening, Cooper said his immersion in Bernstein’s life brought him oh-so-close to the man himself.
“I can’t believe I didn’t actually meet him. He died in 1990. I don’t understand it. I feel like I know him. I really don’t understand it.
“His daughter said to me the other day ‘do you miss him?’ I was like ‘yeah.’ Isn’t that crazy? That’s how it feels.”
Maestro is starting to rack up award nominations, including eight for the Critics Choice Awards and four for the Golden Globes.
Maestro now is available on Netflix and continues in theaters, including the Bay Theater in Pacific Palisades.