Bradley Cooper is gearing up to direct his second film, “Maestro,” about legendary composer Leonard Bernstein, but first he had to convince Steven Spielberg to hand the project over to him.
Appearing on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” on Tuesday night, Cooper revealed his childhood obsession with classical music conductors and told the story of the moment Spielberg handed “Maestro” over to the “A Star Is Born” filmmaker.
“When I was 8 years old I asked Santa Claus for a baton because I was obsessed with conducting classical music,” Cooper told Colbert, adding that he spent “hundreds of hours” practicing conducting when he was a kid. Spielberg knew of his obsession, and reached out to Cooper about playing Bernstein in the biopic that Spielberg was originally intending to direct.
“Steven Spielberg happened to know that I had this obsession with conducting,” Cooper recalled. “Like in grad school I did an MFA and you create a character and I created a conductor and wrote a monologue. So he said, ‘There’s this project called ‘Maestro’ I might direct, would you read it to maybe play the guy?’ and I didn’t know anything about Leonard Bernstein. And I said, ‘You know I just wrote and directed this movie, and that’s really all I wanna do, are you really gonna direct this?’ and he said, ‘I’m probably not gonna.’”
Bernstein, of course, composed the Broadway musical “West Side Story” (which would become Spielberg’s next project, as it turns out) and was a heavily lauded composer throughout his career.
So in order to convince Spielberg that Cooper was the right person to direct “Maestro,” he set up a screening of “A Star Is Born” before the 2018 film was complete.
“I said, ‘Well can I show you ‘A Star Is Born’, I’m just in the middle of coloring it, and if you like it, could I research Leonard Bernstein and figure out what the story could be?’” Cooper recounted to Colbert. “I’ll never forget this. He came, we were sitting there and I’m showing him ‘A Star Is Born’ and he’s all the way on the other side on the front row, it’s a pretty huge screen. It’s the scene where Jackson calls Ally up on the stage, it’s the biggest scene in the movie. And right as she just is going on the stage he gets up and I’m like, ‘Oh he’s going to the bathroom now?’ and I was like, ‘That’s it, it’s over. If he’s going to the bathroom at this point in the movie… and he gets up, he walks over, and I’m putting my head down and the next thing I know I feel his face here and he says, because it’s loud, ‘You’re f—ing directing ‘Maestro’!’ It was an amazing moment.”
Cooper has been developing “Maestro” ever since and co-wrote the screenplay with “First Man” and “The Post” co-writer “Josh Singer, and Carey Mulligan and Jeremy Strong are due to co-star.
Watch Cooper recount the story in the video above.