Late night writing sessions, time constraints and a private Lady Gaga concert — so was Eric Roth’s experience co-writing the screenplay for awards contender “A Star Is Born.”
From the moment he started writing the screenplay for Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut alongside Cooper and Will Fetters, Roth said he knew they had something. And when they started shooting a few scenes and when Cooper showed him the movie — in which the director also starred as country singer Jackson Maine — he realized it was a special film.
“I got involved around Christmas time last year,” Roth told TheWrap. “I thought long and hard because I had never done a remake and the movies were obviously famous, and I didn’t want to be the person who would wreck it. It was a great challenge, but I thought, if we could accomplish this, it could be something unique — and it was well worth the challenge.”
Because there have been three previous iterations of “A Star Is Born,” Roth said he had to make sure to stay true to the story but modernize it to fit into our current climate.
“Generally, I stayed as true as I could to the previous versions — the storytelling is basically the same,” he said. “I tried to tell it more in a modern and contemporary way, how the film was affected by our world. Bradley had such a unique point of view which made it easier to follow the way we might do this, and he wanted to make this personal and truthful and it feels like that when you’re watching it. It’s a mixture of trying to keep the old of what ‘A Star Is Born’ is and what makes it vital to the world we live in today.”
Roth, known for taking a long time on scripts that are sometimes way too lengthy (as he pointed out himself), only had six weeks to write the screenplay for Cooper’s version.
“I’m easy to work with but I am a little prickly and kind of a curmudgeon,” Roth said, laughing. “So [Bradley and I] had our moments where it was like we were kindergartners fighting for our terrain. But he is one of the people I really adore — we would write together in the middle of the night: three, four in the morning, we’re sending each other scenes.”
And working with Cooper, he said, was “collaborative in most ways,” but his experience working on “A Star Is Born” was different than his previous films, which include “Forrest Gump” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” because of Cooper being a first-time director.
“He never tried to stop any creativity I had,” he said. “I’m used to working with well-known directors and I was more used to some people who had more experience with making movies than Bradley did as a director. It was new to him and I got to go along on the ride.”
The songs are a big part of the film. “Shallow,” for example, has received a Golden Globe nomination, as well as a Grammy nomination. And although the soundtrack is comprised pretty much entirely of original medleys (except for two), it wasn’t always supposed to be like that.
“At one point, we were doing probably some covers and then Bradley said, ‘Let’s do no covers at all, let’s do all originals,’ except for ‘La Vie En Rose’ and ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow,'” he said. “I didn’t know what to make of that. But I knew when [Lady Gaga] opens her mouth, God steps in.”
He explained that during the table read of the script, everyone would go through their lines until it was time for a song: “She’d sing a song, and we were all like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I think I might be decent at what I do, but she’s in another realm.”
“She did a pretty wonderful thing with me, early on in the process, we had a meeting at her house in Malibu, and she asked me to stay when Bradley had to leave,” Roth added. “She asked if she could play a song for me and she sang ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’ It was magnificent. I don’t know if she was doing it for a purpose or not — but it definitely served its purpose.”
With Cooper and Lady Gaga in the lead, Sam Elliott rounded out the cast. Cooper has previously talked about having written the part of Bobby, Jackson Maine’s manager and older half-brother, with only Elliott in mind. But what would Roth have done if Elliott had not been available?
“I don’t even know! That’s a great question,” Roth said. “I guess our arrogance ruled the day. We were so struck on him imitating the voice of Bradley because Sam’s voice is so distinctive in so many movies. I think it would’ve been difficult — he was just what we wanted.”
With “A Star Is Born” wrapped and heading into Oscar season, Roth is now shifting his focus to his other projects: Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” and Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” both of which took him longer to write than the screenplay for “A Star Is Born.”
“Dune” will star Rebecca Ferguson and Timothee Chalamet, while “Killers” will star Leonardo DiCaprio.
“This version [of ‘Dune’] will differ considerably from David Fincher’s,” Roth said. “It was difficult because I wasn’t familiar with the book, and reading the book [takes] forever. It’s daunting because it has 300 pages to a chapter, and it was a really hard adaptation. I had two or three experts on ‘Dune’ that would tell me what was intended. I would say it took me probably a year plus.”
He has been working on Scorsese’s film for “probably five years,” however.
“Martin is the most inventive man I’ve ever worked with — certainly, he encourages you to be the most imaginative and I have a good imagination… It’s set between 1920 and 1925, and I think it can be one of the last great Westerns. He wants to make one big Western — this will be the last of its kind, I promise you.”