Lady Gaga was recognized at the Academy Awards for her first leading role on the big screen in A Star Is Born. But the pop icon has admitted that her performance benefited greatly from the encouraging first-day words she received from its co-star and director. Here’s a look at how an early conversation with Bradley Cooper helped set Gaga on her path to awards glory.
The story of A Star Is Born has been given the Hollywood treatment on no less than four occasions. Indeed, it first hit the big screen in 1937, as a Technicolor romance helmed by William A. Wellman and starring Fredric March and Janet Gaynor. Then 17 years later James Mason and Judy Garland assumed the main roles in a remake directed by George Cukor.
In 1976 Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand shared the screen together in a third take on the story, this time directed by Frank Pierson. And in 2013 the world of Bollywood got in on the action with its own version. Aashiqui 2 starred Shraddha Kapoor, with Mohit Suri taking the director’s chair.
The seeds for Hollywood’s third remake of A Star Is Born were sown in 2011, with the news that Clint Eastwood had signed on as director. Another chart-topping vocalist, Beyoncé, was initially poised to take on the leading female role. Meanwhile, Christian Bale, Tom Cruise and Leonardo DiCaprio were just a few of the A-list actors who were reportedly in the frame to play her co-star.
But shooting of the movie had to be postponed because Beyoncé fell pregnant. Grammy-winning singer Esperanza Spalding then became the favorite to replace her as Bradley Cooper’s name entered the leading man fold for the first time. Indeed, he became both its co-star and director when the project got the green light several years later. However, his choice of leading lady came out of leftfield.
That’s because the leading female role of Ally Maine went to none other than everyone’s favorite meat dress-wearing pop superstar Lady Gaga. Interestingly, the singer didn’t have much experience on the big screen. Indeed, her only previous notable role had been human shapeshifter El Camaleón in Robert Rodriguez’s 2013 grindhouse throwback Machete Kills.
Of course, Gaga had spent most of the previous decade focusing on her music career. The artist, born Stefani Germanotta, hit the world stage in the late ‘00s with number one debut single “Just Dance.” Both follow-up “Poker Face” and parent album The Fame reached pole position in the U.S., too.
Gaga went on to dominate the pop landscape for several years. Her 2011 sophomore Born This Way shifted over one million copies in its first week in America alone. And its empowering title track sold a similar number over the same time frame to become the fastest-selling download in iTunes history.
Gaga added to her discography in 2013 with the EDM-influenced Artpop. And a year later she teamed up with legendary crooner Tony Bennett a year later on jazz album Cheek to Cheek. And in 2016 the superstar scored a fourth number one on the Billboard 200 with the soft rock-tinged LP Joanne.
Just a decade into her pop career and Gaga had already established herself as one of the best-selling artists ever. Indeed, as of 2016 her sales tally stood at 27 million albums and a whopping 146 million singles. And she’s also been recognized at the Grammys, BRIT Awards and Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Gaga also became renowned for her work as a social activist and philanthropist. Indeed, since rising to fame she’s been a regular vocal advocate of LGBT rights. And in 2012 she launched the Born This Way Foundation, a non-profit organization designed to empower today’s youth and deal with the problem of bullying.
Meanwhile, Gaga’s talents as an actress were first recognized in 2016 when she won a Golden Globe for her role in American Horror Story. The star picked up Best Actress in a Miniseries or Television Film for her portrayal of hotel owner Elizabeth in the Hotel series of the popular horror anthology. She also briefly returned to the franchise as Scathach the witch in the following season Roanoke.
But it was a musical performance at a fundraiser for cancer research that inspired Cooper to take a chance on Gaga in A Star Is Born. The pop icon subsequently got the role of Ally Maine, a struggling vocalist taken under the wing of Cooper’s fellow performer Jackson Maine. The film follows their relationship and its pressures as their careers start to head in contrasting commercial directions.
The film’s main cast also includes Sam Elliott as Jackson’s manager and half-brother Bobby and Andrew Dice Clay as Ally’s father Lorenzo. Comedian Dave Chappelle starred as Jackson’s friend Noodles, Rafi Gavron as Ally’s manager Rez and Michael Harney as limo driver Wolfie. And real-life country rockers Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real served as Jackson’s backing group.
A Star Is Born received its world premiere in August 2018 at the Venice Film Festival before being released theatrically across North America two months later. The movie saw instant commercial success, grossing nearly $43 million in its opening weekend. Indeed, it went on to make more than $200 million at the domestic box office alone.
And the film has been just as well-received internationally. Indeed, as of January 2019 it has grossed approximately $409 million, with audiences in the U.K., Germany and France proving to be particularly receptive. This means A Star Is Born made over ten times more than its modest $40 million production budget.
The critical response to A Star Is Born was also overwhelmingly positive. The Washington Post said it “offers a suitably jaundiced glimpse of starmaking machinery at its most cynical, but also its most thrilling and gratifying.” Meanwhile, Entertainment Weekly also gave a rave review. It praised Gaga for her “restrained, human-scale performance as a singer whose real-girl vulnerability feels miles away from the glittery meat-dress delirium of her own stage persona.”
A Star Is Born subsequently became a major contender on the 2019 awards circuit. It picked up five Golden Globe nods, with both Gaga and Cooper being recognized for their performances and the film landing a Best Picture nomination. Its one and only victory at the ceremony was for Best Original Song with “Shallow.”
And it received an impressive eight nominations at the Academy Awards, too, with Sam Elliot joining Gaga and Cooper in the acting categories. It also picked up nods for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing and Best Original Song. And “Shallow” once again became the film’s standout musical number.
In fact, “Shallow” and the rest of the movie’s soundtrack became just as popular as the film itself. The aforementioned song topped the charts in the U.K. and peaked in fifth place on the US Hot 100. Its parent album also reached number one on both sides of the Atlantic, on its way to a worldwide sales tally of more than two million.
As well as performing on the soundtrack, Lady Gaga also co-wrote and co-produced many of its 19 numbers. The superstar collaborated with Lukas Nelson, the son of country legend Willie and leader of Jackson’s backing band in the film, in the studio. The pair then also worked together on two tracks from Nelson’s eponymous 2017 LP.
Of course, everyone already knew that Gaga could cut it as a singer-songwriter. But it was her acting talents that truly surprised and impressed audiences and critics alike on A Star Is Born’s release. And the singer later revealed that she had her director and co-star to thank for coaxing such an incredible performance out of her.
Indeed, during a red-carpet interview at the Golden Globes in 2019, Gaga gushed about her experience working with Cooper and her first day on set with him in particular. She told E!’s Ryan Seacrest, “My very first scene with Bradley, I was in my head. Something was going on.”
Gaga continued, “[After I said my line,] he said something back to me that wasn’t the line I thought was he was going to say, and I just said my same line again. Then he said something else, and I just said the same line again. I started crying, I couldn’t let it go…”
Gaga then recalled how this emotional response ultimately led to a much more authentic performance. She said, “The scene happened as written, and it happened in a much more organic way. Bradley taught me how to be present, [and I] had to work really hard to be this character. She’s nothing like me.”
“I discovered something while working on this film, and it’s something called alchemy,” Gaga continued. “You’re creating a character but really becoming the character. You know your lines but you really just know what you are saying and then you on set and throw it all out the window and Bradley taught me that… about being in the moment.”
Gaga described Cooper as a “tremendous” director and actor during her red-carpet interview. E!’s Seacrest also told the star that he felt compelled to call her after seeing the film due to how much it resonated with him. And the pop megastar continued to thank Cooper for his faith in her when she later appeared on the Golden Globes stage.
While accepting the Best Original Song award for “Shallow,” Gaga said, “I just have to say, as a woman in music, it is really hard to be taken seriously as a musician and a songwriter.” Referring to the song’s co-writers, she added, “These three incredible men… they lifted me up and supported me.” She than gave a shout-out to Cooper by declaring, “Bradley, I love you.”
Of course, Gaga and Cooper spent most of the film’s promotional tour singing each other’s praises. Discussing their first meeting, Cooper told a Venice Film Festival press conference, “After ten minutes we were eating homemade food that she cooked. And that was actually a huge bond that we both came from East Coast Italian-American families. So we had a real synchronicity on that level from our upbringing.”
Cooper further reflected on his instant connection with Gaga in an interview with Vogue. He said, “She had her hair slicked back and she sang ‘La Vie en Rose,’ and I was just… levitating. It shot like a diamond through my brain. I loved the way she moved, the sound of her voice.”
Cooper also admitted he essentially gave Gaga the part on the spot. And Gaga was just as effusive about Cooper in the same interview. She said, “The second that I saw him, I was like, ‘Have I known you my whole life?’ It was an instant connection, instant understanding of one another.”
Gaga told the Los Angeles Times how Cooper’s insistence on her auditioning completely without make-up helped her tremendously. She said, “It put me right in the place I needed to be, because when my character talks about how ugly she feels – that was real. I’m so insecure. I like to preach, but I don’t always practice what I preach.”
The pair even developed their own form of language code while working on the movie. Whenever he wanted to evoke the same sense of warmth Gaga had with singer Tony Bennett, Cooper would often whisper “Tony” to her. The Los Angeles Times also claims that if Cooper wanted Gaga to focus he would use the words “assassin” and “ninja.”
Meanwhile, Cooper continued to gush about how confident he was in Gaga’s abilities on screen during a chat with W magazine. He said, “We were immediately comfortable with each other. We made a kind of deal. I believed in her as an actress, and she believed in me as a musician.”
Cooper then added, “I wanted there to be a meta aspect to the film and Stefani gave me that. Also, no actress can do musically what I needed Stefani to do in 42 days of shooting. I needed plutonium. And the plutonium in A Star Is Born is Stefani’s voice.”
Gaga even shed a few tears after hearing Cooper’s compliments about her during a joint appearance on Good Morning America. The director told viewers, “I’m just so glad God gave her the talent that she has and he chose her because that’s quite a vessel to go through. Because it’s really what you do with it, and she’s such a beautiful human being.”
Shortly after the release of A Star Is Born, Cooper appeared on screen again in Clint Eastwood’s The Mule. He then returned to voice Rocket once more in Avengers: Endgame. Cooper then added to his behind-the-scenes credits with a producer role on DC Comics picture Joker.
Meanwhile, Gaga returned to the studio to work on her sixth studio effort with the likes of BloodPop, DJ White Shadow and Sophie. She also kicked off her two-year residency at Las Vegas’ MGM Park Theater. The first of her two shows, Enigma, saw her perform her greatest hits. Meanwhile, the Jazz and Piano Show featured stripped-back reworkings and renditions of Great American Songbook classics.
And fans at one particular Enigma show in January 2019 were treated to a very special guest star, none other than Bradley Cooper. The actor and director joined Lady Gaga on stage to perform their Oscar-nominated hit “Shallow.” Gaga began, “So a really good friend of mine… I don’t know if you know him but his name is Bradley.”
She continued, “He made that movie, um, A Star Is Born. So I’m gonna be a little chance-y. Yo Bradley, you wanna come up and do this one with me?” Cooper initially struggled with his in-ear monitor, joking, “Jackson never used these.” But thankfully the rest of the performance went without a hitch.