Ask Georgetown students about their favorite alumni and, odds are, many will name Bradley Cooper (COL ’97). The film icon began his career with a 1999 television guest role in “Sex and the City” and made his film debut in 2001 as Ben in “Wet Hot American Summer.” Cooper is best-known for starring as Phil Wenneck in the 2009 hit comedy “The Hangover,” as well as his roles in “Limitless,” “American Hustle” and “American Sniper.”
On Sept. 11, Cooper returned to the Hilltop to speak in Gaston Hall about his directorial debut, “A Star is Born.” The movie, the third remake of the homonymous 1937 film, is a musical romantic drama that follows the love story of two musicians. Afterwards, The Hoya, alongside The Voice, sat down with Cooper for an interview to discuss his experience as a first-time director, the cast’s close personal connections and his memories in the Georgetown dorms. His responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Were there any specific aspects of filmmaking that you were excited to focus on as a director?
Oh yeah, tons! The fact that I had technology, the lenses, lighting and coloring at my disposal to tell a story was endlessly fascinating. I was able to come up with ideas based on all the great directors that I’ve watched — and my imagination. I always have loved directors whose form follows function. There’s no arbitrary moves. The goal I think [director Marin Scorsese] achieves is to be so heightened in terms of your style that as a viewer you’re not aware of what he’s doing. You just feel what he’s doing. Afterwards, you become blown away by the technique he used but, as a director, you don’t want to show the technique or have the viewer be aware of the technique while it’s happening. I never talked to him about that, but that’s what I received as a viewer of his films. That’s what I try to do with this movie is compose shots and have the camera move in a certain way or shoot a character in a very specific way that you feel something from that point of view, without really knowing how you’re being manipulated by the camera.
The emotional connection everyone has with the film and with each other seems pretty unique. How as a director did you try to foster that community and connection? Do you feel like you had a large role in doing that?
You’d have to ask them that. But I know, for me, I just approached the set asking: What could be the ideal environment to get the best out of the actors? Being an actor myself — and I’ve been doing this for a while — I knew the environments that I feel the most comfortable in or imagining one that would be the ideal one. That was the one I tried to create, which was for them to have complete faith in me, but also know that they’re going to have to give up a little bit of themselves. It’s going to be scary, but I had to let them know it’s OK, but they’re going to have to really risk. They can’t fake it.
Do you feel like the movie’s music added to its emotional resonance?
Oh, for sure. I mean everything, every aspect of it, I hope. Music is a character in the movie, and everybody has a relationship to music in the movie, so it’s a massive part of the film.
What do you think you want viewers to take away when they see the film?
The thing is it belongs to you now and it’s for you to say. I can only tell you the things that I was trying to investigate in the film. They all revolve around the theme of humanity and people needing each other, and how hard is it given life and what people actually go through. Whether it’s something that happens in your childhood, risking having a voice and having something to say. There’s a lot of things that I wanted to deal with in the movie, but I had to just connect them all in a fluid manner so that you could enjoy the experience. Hopefully it elicits some sort of intrigue into those ideas. That was the goal. I just tried to stay true to what I wanted to investigate and hopefully in doing so, others will.
Since this is the third time the movie has been done, why did you want to make it and what did you want to say with your version?
I knew I wanted to tell a love story. I wanted to tell a story about how hard it is even when two people love each other. I mean there’s no infidelity. There’s no looking at other people. These two people are completely committed to each other, and even with that, it’s hard — and why is it hard? I also love music, and I thought the purest way one can communicate is through song and voice because you can’t hide. It just felt like the right combination, and this property that Warner Brothers had was a great playground with which I could then write a story that uses all of those assets.
Did you draw heavily from the previous three remakes?
It was exciting cinematically to acknowledge the other films, and I wanted to do that and pay respect to them — so there’s little things. Ally [Lady Gaga’s character] walks up the ramp in the beginning of the film and she’s singing the preamble to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which is Judy Garland’s song in “The Wizard of Oz,” and I wanted to put the “A Star is Born” graphic over it. I wanted a bathtub scene. I didn’t know what it was going to be, but I wanted to pay homage to the 1970s version too. And in the 1950s version, one of my favorite scenes is when Judy Garland goes through the screen testing at the studio, and they put on all these prosthetics. James Mason pulls them off and he’s angry that she let them do that. I wanted to have a scene like that and flip it on its head. Instead, she used makeup because she’s into the pageantry of singing “La Vie en Rose” in the masquerade, and then he comes and he’s just curious so it’s a completely different scene. Two different characters with the same action, but coming from a completely different place.
One Georgetown-specific question. On New Student Move-In Day this year, I was excitedly approached by a freshman and her mother asking where Bradley Cooper lived on campus. I told them I didn’t know and that I’d probably never find out, but now that I’m here, where did you live on campus?
First year it was LXR because I transferred, so sophomore year was LXR. Junior year was Copley. I loved Copley! We had a corner overlooking Red Square. It was amazing. Pablo was my roommate from Argentina. Then senior year, he and I got a floor of an apartment not far from Dumbarton Oaks, that park just south of Wisconsin and east of M Street. But I studied abroad junior spring semester.
Where did you go abroad?
Aix-en-Provence. That was great.
So what do you think is next in terms of directing? Acting?
I knew I could only tell a story if I had a story to tell. I didn’t know if I’d ever direct again, quite honestly, but I found this other story and I’m deep in it now so hopefully — it’s going to take a lot of work, but I already know what I want to do.