Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Anthony Ramos, and Sam Elliott Talk A Star Is Born with 'blackfilm'
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Playing at the Toronto International Film Festival after making a big splash at Venice Film Festival is Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut ‘A Star Is Born‘ starring Lady Gaga, starring himself
Also included in the film are Sam Elliott, Anthony Ramos, Dave Chappelle, Andrew Dice Clay, and Rafi Gavron.
Based on the story by William A. Wellman and Robert Carson, the screenplay is by Will Fetters & Bradley Cooper and Eric Roth.
The story is about a an famed aging, alcoholic country musician who mentors/is schooled by and then finds romance with a younger female star was first done in 1937 with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. Judy Garland and James Mason starred in the 1954 remake, and Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson were in the 1976 version.
In the remake, Cooper plays Jackson Maine, a country music star on the brink of decline when he discovers a talented unknown named Ally. As the two begin a passionate love affair, he coaxes her into the spotlight, catapulting her to stardom. But as her career quickly eclipses his own, he finds it increasingly hard to handle his fading glory.
While in Toronto, Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Anthony Ramos, and Sam Elliot sat down with a handful of journalists, including Blackfilm.com, to discuss the making the of the film.
Can you talk about including a backstory for Ally and Jack, because in previous versions there wasn’t any on the family.
Bradley Cooper: It just sort of came out of the story itself. I always wanted … movies I like are movies where you get to know the people. And you’re right about that. I remember watching the James Mason version, going, ‘I don’t know anything about him,’ which is kind of incredible that I cared so much about his character when you don’t know anything. It was kind of wonderful.
And in the writing process of this movie, I thought about that. I really cared about telling a true love story and one that … in order to tell a true love story, it all comes about what happened before. What made you the person you are. And specifically with these two characters, this relationship, it’s about trauma as a child and it’s one of the sort of themes that I was playing with in the movie. How that dictates your behavior for the rest of your life. Because of that, branched off into kind of a different story really than the other ones.
I loved it. It was everything I was expecting. And you, oh my God, you can sing anything.
Lady Gaga: Thank you so much. That’s very humbling.
Bradley Cooper: You should have been on set. We all would just look at each other like, ‘What.’ When we stopped crying she would sing.
For Lady Gaga, in your documentary, and the thing that stood out to me is at the beginning of your documentary you talked about how you were so confident and everything now, at that point in your life. The interviews that have been leading up to this film, you’ve been talking about how insecure you’ve been. Can you talk about that? What was the transition? If it was because you were taking on a movie star sort of role or … what changed?
Lady Gaga: I don’t know that I have been necessarily insecure about the release of this film. It’s more just transforming into Ally was so different from who I was when I started my career. I just really believed in myself and was like, ‘I’m gonna make this happen,’ and I was running around New York City banging down doors, singing my ass off as much as I could. Just trying to speak my truth and tell my story. And I believed I was gonna make it and if I was not sitting here at this round table with you right now, with these incredibly talented people, I would still be in a bar in New York singing.
But Ally has completely given up on herself. Taking my makeup off, having my natural hair color, living in that for a few months before we shot … it provides for a vulnerability that I’m not used to. And I was so lucky to have such a tremendous director that would say to me, ‘All you gotta do is trust me.’ And all I had to do simply was that. Was trust him and trust in the truth of the character. And Ally is very different from me. She gave up on herself, she did not believe in who she was, she didn’t think that she could make it, she didn’t feel beautiful, and the movie, I believe, begins to lift off because he believes in her and he loves her. And that inspires her to believe in herself.
The movie is incredible. Both of you should be nominated this year. I just want say that first and foremost, you were just incredible in this film.
Lady Gaga: Thank you.
The movie deals with addiction, which is not an easy subject. How closely does the addiction storyline connect to either one of you as people?
Bradley Cooper: The two things that I wanted to make sure would happen, hopefully, when people watch the movie … anybody who’s a musician, and anybody who’s gone through that will say like, ‘Yeah, that’s the way it is.’ That was really important. You try to do anything you can to personalize the story. For all of us, I think, you find what it is personal to you so that you don’t have to act. That’s the bottom line.
I was really captured by the way you told the story using the semantics, the close shots, and then kind of weaving in the vocals. What informed your decisions on when to really come in and pull out? And when to just let the song and the voice kind of just lead the audience on where the story’s going next?
Bradley Cooper: The movies that I love, and the filmmakers I love. It’s always form follows function. I’m not watching a Martin Scorsese shot and saying, ‘Oh, that was all one take.’ It’s sort of an afterwards. After you go through the emotion of it, you go, ‘Oh, wow. That’s why I felt that way, because he did that.’ Or some sonic variation. I love filmmaking and I’ve always loved films. And I think I’m definitely a visual audio person. Every shot and every close up has to do with where the character is. It’s not like, ‘Oh, here’s a cool shot.’
Jackson is constantly avoiding the camera in the beginning of the movie until he can’t. He has to face it. When she’s in the bed, the camera’s right in his face. His older brother is the same way. She’s the opposite. She’s not even aware that the camera’s there. She steps into the center of the bathroom on stage the first time you see her, not even knowing she’s about to be on stage. These are all just sort of things that you hope that the audience is feeling without recognizing the manipulation of what you’re doing.
You can go over every detail of the movie and the performances, but the movie doesn’t work without the songs working. Can you just talk about creating the songs?
Bradley Cooper: Yeah, I mean, they’re characters in the movie. Absolutely. There’s not one lyric that we have in the movie that isn’t at a specific point where either one of the characters is feeling that, hoping it, fearing it … absolutely. She was incredible, and we also had other wonderful writers and-
Lady Gaga: We had so many songwriters.
Bradley Cooper: Jason Isbell and Mark Ronson and Hillary Lindsay and Lucas Nelson and others. And it was a part of the development. The cultivation of the movie. It was happening simultaneously.
Lady Gaga: And you. Bradley was in the studio all the time working with us and helping to craft the soundtrack. Jack’s sound and who he is as an artist completely came from him and it was so exciting for me to watch as a musician. I remember he came into the studio one day and we were working on something for him, and he was like, ‘This isn’t Jackson’s sound. This isn’t what he sounds like.’ I was like, ‘Oh, okay. I got a musician on my hands.’
It provided for such an inspirational experience, and he had his hand in absolutely every single thing that was a part of this movie. It was tremendous. It was tremendous to be in the midst of … just an honor to watch, really.
Regarding Anthony’s character. Which is an essential link between the connection between the two of you. Can you talk about what you were looking for when casting that role? And then Anthony, if you can talk about kind of what you saw on the page and how it changed once you were cast?
Bradley Cooper: With all the characters, I wanted to represent their relationship to fulfilling their dreams, having enough to fill their dreams, their relationship to celebrity or … all those things. The Ramon character, always to me, was the purest character. Was filled with hope and the joy of doing it. Being around it, whatever it is. I knew I wanted to cast someone and hope someone to come aboard who has an internal light that is just unwavering and that was him. Ramon has this joy and he brought that plus myriad of other things.
Anthony Ramos: It was pretty special just being on set and playing that role. I think everyone needs a real one in their life. No matter what you do, and the more successful you become at whatever you do, you have to keep the real ones. I think that was what I kept playing in my mind. Yeah, I saw stuff on the page and I said what was on the page half of the time, but that was only cause Bradley was like … he’d have moments, he’d be like, ‘Yo, forget about the script. Let’s just try this.’ It was like to lead with the heart. The words are here, we’re gonna say this, but if something feels like it wants to do this, let’s go there. Let’s just try that and let’s do that. And Bradley would be like …
We were shooting a scene with Andrew Dice Clay and Stefanie on the steps outside the house and I think it was one of my first days on set. I was nervous. I’m like, ‘What’s that?’ These incredible actors and director and Bradley’s behind the steps like this with the monitor. And we cut and he’s like, ‘Go there’ and he’s all up in it. And ‘Just try it this way. Move here. Feel her. Feel her. She’s leaving man, she’s leaving.’ We’re working together real great, and then Bradley just sneaks right back behind the steps and you can feel your director. When you feel your leader there with you, you just feel safe. You feel safe enough to just run around like a kid. It’s like a parent with their kid and their just like, ‘Here, here’s the sandbox, do your thing. But I’m right here, I’m watching.’
When you have that, it’s like, ‘Oh, look, we can fly. I can do anything.’
Was this character in the script written as a specific ethnicity? Or you were just open to anyone playing the role?
Bradley Cooper: Oh, totally open.
This film has multiple, beautiful complicated layers, but it still does have that muse and the broken man kind of message also. Do you still and this is for everybody, do you still feel that story has a place in modern times?
Bradley Cooper: I don’t. I never saw her as being his muse. She didn’t inspire him to create art. She wasn’t a muse for him. It’s not like a Pygmalion story. That’s what I kinda loved about him, because he’s this child. I feel like Jackson never changed from when dad died, and when he came home. It’s like he’s 13. That’s why he’s the most childlike, like in the James Mason one, he takes off her prosthetic because he’s angry that the studio was telling her to do this. Jackson’s coming at it from a … he’s like a child, like, ‘Oh, what’s under here? Can I … oh, wow. Look at you.’ He’s just enchanted with her. Then all of a sudden he sees that she has something to say. He likes her voice, but it’s in the parking lot when she starts writing a song right there. That’s that moment when he’s looking up at her almost like a child and she’s on the stage, even though it’s in a parking lot, where he’s just blown away. He just selfishly wants to see what she’s is going to produce as an artist.
I never saw it as the broken man and the muse. That was the hope.
In your documentary, Five Foot Two, you say, ‘I can always bring my past with me, but I can never go back.’ For all of you, what is the one thing that, in your past, that you would want to go back to? If you could.
Sam Elliott: Oh, man, I don’t know. I’ve had such a blessed career that … God, it’s gone on so long. Cause a lot of things I’d like to go back to. I’d like to go back to my mom. I’d like to see my mom again. Nothing to do with this film. It’s where I come from. It’s what you guys were talking about earlier about the Pygmalion thing and as Bradley mentioned it … it’s like the muse thing, I guess is what it was. It’s not really that. It’s like all these characters are who they are because of where they came from. And that’s real. That’s as real as it can be. For all of us. We’re in this movie or not. And if we’re fortunate enough to have come from a good place, then we’re fortunate enough to be sitting here with these guys.
Anthony Ramos: I’m 26, man. So I’m still here.
But you can do a lot of stuff in your 20s that you wish you didn’t ever do.
Anthony Ramos: No. Look, you’re right. You ain’t lying. You ain’t never lie about that. I guess just a moment that I think I always wanna go back to are the most innocent moments, man. When I was a kid and I just wasn’t worrying so much about life. Because somehow, things have always worked out the way they needed to. And I think as a kid, you feel this like … those moments …
We had a wrestling federation in the backyard. I grew up in the projects in Bushwick in Brooklyn. We’re like a bunch of heathens wrestling on this concrete with the jungle gym. But we didn’t care. I think I need to go back to those moments a little more as an adult. Worrying about where’s my career going or what … is this gonna work out? Is that gonna work out? But at the end of the day, I always went back home upstairs and ate my rice and beans and chicken that my mom made and went to bed. And I was like, ‘Everything’s good.’ And I have to remember the rice and beans and chicken. It’s all good, you know? And it’s always gonna be alright.
Lady Gaga: For myself, I often have a vision of me when I was around 19 years old, living on the lower east side. It was just me and this teeny tiny studio apartment with my piano and my futon. I used to wake up and I would either go to the café down the street to write, or I would just walk the streets of New York by myself and I was just dreaming. I had no idea what was in store for me. But I loved the freedom of not knowing. I think something over the years, as my career has progressed, you start to have some idea of how things are going to go. You experience things that you’ve never experienced before. I miss the innocence that I had. But I needed that for this character.
It goes back to what Sam was saying and also what Anthony was saying … is that it’s your past that makes you who you are. But I would say that that independence of being alone and just being a singular artist by myself with nobody around me, no manager, no stylist, no hair and makeup. I miss that time.
Bradley Cooper: When you said the question, I thought, ‘Well, I go back all the time.’ I mean, that’s the beautiful thing about imagination. Hell, I go back all the time. Various things. I was at Bruce Springsteen last night in New York. I don’t know if any of you has gone to see his show, but that’s what that whole show’s about. He takes you back to the tree in his neighborhood and sitting there with his father and we’re just so lucky we get to be in a profusion where we get to do that for a living. But, man, I spend half my day doing that.
I wanted to ask about drag in the beginning. And obviously it’s great to see Shangela (Laquifa Wadley) and Willam and so many drag queens on there. I was curious how that sort of came about. I was also curious because obviously I know you adore and love the drag community and it’s important to you. Have you watched drag race? Do you have a relationship with drag? Or anything like that?
Bradley Cooper: In terms of the structure, the movie, I always wanted there to be a special moment when he first sees her and make it unique. And Eric Roth and I, when we were writing the movie, we sat down with Stefanie and I would record, very much like we are here, hours and hours, I would just ask her tons of questions. And then he and I would listen to it back and try to take things and think, ‘How could we mold this?’ We really loved the drag bar idea. I wanted her to sing, so I was just trying to fit these things together and that’s kinda how that came about.
And then I met these incredible … Willam just blew my mind, and Shangela. Once I met them, and we were on the set, it was like the possibilities became endless of what we could do in this space. It was so exciting.
Lady Gaga: And it was so wonderful. His curiosity as well about drag makeup. And-
Lady Gaga: Bradley’s. Yeah. I remember having a whole conversation with him about soaping the brow and how you get the eyebrow to stay down, and then you pat it with powder so that you can’t see it. Then we talked about doing the eyebrows and all of these little details. He was so interested in. I thought it made for such an authentic moment in the film and I’m so happy that it’s there.
Bradley Cooper: Although, I do have to say, I just thought of it. One Halloween, Amy Poehler and I, in New York, I went drag and she had … now I remember that, yeah. I remember walking down New York City, and I was like, ‘Ah, I feel like a woman. Yeah.’ It was hard to find shoes that fit 13. Yeah, that was … yeah. I needed more prep. I needed more prep time.
Was there a specific woman you had in mind?
Bradley Cooper: No, my friend had this incredible wig so I just took her wig. There’s a photo somewhere.
For today, what would be the one song that you would say you connect to the most? What do you go to right now that when you need to feel something? And this is for all of you.
Bradley Cooper: Music’s amazing that way. I’ve worked with directors that play music during scenes to create an emotional atmosphere. That’s why I wanted to make a movie that had music as an integral part is because it’s just sort of mainlines it right to your soul. There’s no escaping it. I’m like all of you guys, there’s many songs that I’ll listen many different emotions. They’re also connected to a time period and who you were with in a setting, and a smell. Music is like … sound is like-
Lady Gaga: Sensory.
For me, ever since we left the Venice Film Festival, it was almost like we were on this extreme high and I got home and I just dropped and all I could think about was the film and the film just was preoccupied in my mind so deeply, the film affects me so much every time I see it. I kept thinking about the scene at the end. I actually have been listening to Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark. That song actually plays back to my childhood. My father used to swing me around and dance with me to Bruce. So that’s what I’ve been listening to. Because even through the darkness, we can keep dancing.
Anthony Ramos: There’s an artist, he’s on the come up, this guy named Ben Rector, and he’s one of the most beautiful story tellers I’ve ever listened to, yet. He’s got this song called The Men That Drive Me Places, and I’ll tell the story now at the end of my shows at the Encore.
I had this driver in L.A. named Chris who told me that he came from the Philippines to L.A. to become a bartender and he has achieved his dream. And then I said, ‘Oh, so you’re driving in the mornings?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, I do this so that my sister can come from the Philippines, so she can study to be a doctor and she doesn’t have to worry about her housing or anything.’
And the song is just about … it’s like this song just isn’t … he’s like, ‘Isn’t that just the way it goes? You dealt a good hand. And you get celebrated. Oh, how am I the only one who knows I’m half the man of the men that drive me places.’ And it’s just about how we … there’s so many unsung heroes and it’s like … we should never take for granted the guy that’s holding the door for you, or the woman that’s like … or the man that’s like, ‘You want another glass of water?’ These people are helping us live life and get to the next moment and get to the next step. And everybody’s got a story. That’s kinda who I’ve been listening to.
Lady Gaga: Sam?
Sam Elliot: It’s all deep around this town. I wouldn’t single out any particular piece of music or any artist. I sit in these interviews, and I’ve thought about it before while making this film. I started singing in a church choir when I was four years old in Sacramento, California. My mother dragged me to a congregational church and I sang all the way through grade school, middle school, high school, college, and I always thought that maybe I was gonna end up having some sort of a singing career. Just probably fortunately that I took a fork in the road and ended up acting. But I thought about that a lot when I was making this film. I was like, ‘What the fuck happened to that singing career?’
Listen to all these geniuses sing. And listening to Bradley over here that’s talking like me and singing like maybe I sounded, and it’s like … wow. Music is just the greatest, and I just … God, what a gift to be part of this whole thing and particularly to be anywhere in the same proximity to Stefanie is just … it’s just been mind boggling.
Lady Gaga: There’s a lot of love here. There’s so much love here. And we felt it on set, and we still feel it now.
Bradley Cooper: You should. You should. It’s a very touching movie.
Lady Gaga: But that’s a testament to this guy, right here.
Sam Elliot: That’s right.
Lady Gaga: He created a family. And he nurtured us. He’s the nucleus to all of this. And I am just so forever grateful to have met you, Bradley.
The interview was originally posted here.