Bradley Cooper reveals how his faith led him into the director’s seat for the first time with new movie A Star is Born.
Back in 2013, Bradley Cooper was the hot ticket in Hollywood. Fresh off his Oscar-nominated performance in Silver Linings Playbook – opposite the equally incandescent Jennifer Lawrence – the handsome Hangover star was untouchable. So, when asked by Details magazine whether religion played a significant role in his life, he could have easily played it safe and hinted at some vague and non-committal sense of spirituality.
But instead, Cooper gave a straightforward, impassioned, candid response: “I grew up Roman Catholic. I was baptised. I always loved the pageantry of it.”
“It’s something I’ve always carried with me,” says Cooper, “and I’ve never felt the need to hide it – why should I?
“In fact I’d go so far as to say a life without my faith is one I couldn’t contemplate. Right back to watching my father, Charlie, praying, soaking up the inspiration and positivity of something that I didn’t really understand… that felt incredible as a young kid; it was like having a superhero in the room.
“I so much wanted to be like my father, so of course I would follow him in that path.”
While faith has helped the 43-year-old rationalise and give reason to the things in life that challenge and inspire us, Cooper has also let his faith guide him professionally. “To feel I can draw extra confidence from my faith has always been something I’ve embraced, and that is so powerful to me,” he says. “And I say that as someone who didn’t really find his stride until well into his thirties. I didn’t have that fearlessness of youth, and had been through a lot to get that first big break.”
And yet now, the breaks keep arriving. This Autumn, the charming Philadelphian is taking another leap of faith with his directorial debut A Star is Born, released on 18 October. A remake of the 1937 film – though the 1976 rock musical version with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson is better known – Cooper takes on the role of Jackson Maine, a weary but successful singer/songwriter besieged by alcohol problems, who becomes both mentor and love interest to up-and-coming singer Ally, played by Lady Gaga.
“This was a big step into the unknown for me but I knew I had to come at it from a simple, rational viewpoint, and to me that was consider that this was just a story being told for the first time. Sure, it’s a remake but I wanted to put myself in the position of someone who didn’t know the story, so that we could all believe and buy into the hopes and dreams of those characters.
Ultimately, it is just that – a movie about belief… believing in ourselves, believing in others, as [Warner Bros exec] Sue Kroll did in me. I mean, she believed in this movie when maybe not everyone else did and she is absolutely the reason that this movie was able to be made, single-handedly.
“But beyond that it’s a message to say whatever piece of art it is you’re trying to create,” he continues, “do something that challenges you to such a degree that you learn something at every turn. I have to say that I would be here for two hours talking to you about all of the things that I have learned in this experience, and to have that opportunity to learn and grow is to admit you’re willing to face your fear.
“Learning comes with facing fear and I certainly faced it singing, directing and writing a movie, for sure.”
For Cooper, A Star is Born provides a particularly telling reflection. Just like his character, Jackson, he had severe struggles with alcohol and substance abuse, to the extent it nearly drove him to suicide. So clear is he now of those demons he can afford himself the luxury of musing over his character’s self-destructive nature. “The thing that I love about Jackson Maine’s character he that he really doesn’t think about fame at all.
“The opening scene of the movie is at a sold-out venue and you get the sense that all is well. Yet the realisation then presents itself that there’s something on the inside that might be the problem – you see in his car, and where you may be expecting to see somebody filled with elation, instead he is melancholic. He takes a swig from a bottle of gin that’s on the backseat, and it becomes clear very quickly that this is someone operating from a completely different viewpoint.
“He could have gone on and sold out venues. He didn’t have any financial problems, and if he’d got his own mind straight and worked on himself, he could have continued to perform and be very successful… but life isn’t always that straightforward.”
Cooper’s own light bulb moment came after an incident in 2004 where he recalls sitting in ER waiting to get his head stitched up, realising that his self-destructive behaviour could very well prevent him from reaching his full potential.
Since then, Brad has remained sober, utilising the tools of recovery to strengthen not just his faith, but also his sense of self-worth, and that has resulted in a slew of box office blockbusters, from The A-Team to Limitless, Guardians of the Galaxy and American Hustle to American Sniper.
Despite three subsequent Oscar nominations, Cooper remains humble. “I’ve always been someone who’s had big dreams, but the biggest is to stay healthy, stay true and to enjoy each and every day.” He concludes, with a knowing smile, “It would be ungrateful not to.”
Karen Anne Overton