Much of the buzz around Bradley Cooper’s “Maestro” so far has revolved around his shocking physical transformation into famed conductor Leonard Bernstein, but the actor-director-writer’s prep for the role might also blow some people away. Speaking at a recent Los Angeles screening for the film in a conversation moderated by “Hamilton” Tony-winner Lin-Manuel Miranda, Cooper revealed that he spent a whopping six years learning how to conduct just over six minutes of music in the style of Bernstein himself so he could record a crucial scene in “Maestro” live on set.
The scene in question recreates Bernstein’s famous conducting of the London Symphony Orchestra at the Ely Cathedral in 1976. The sequence is the film’s most rousing, as it fully showcases Bernstein’s musical genius and shows off Cooper’s staggering performance in all its full-bodied glory.
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“That scene I was so worried about because we did it live,” Cooper said at the event (via IndieWire). “That was the London Symphony Orchestra. I was recorded live. I had to conduct them. And I spent six years learning how to conduct six minutes and 21 seconds of music.”
“I was able to get the raw take where I just watched Leonard Bernstein [conduct] at Ely Cathedral with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1976. And so I had that to study,” Cooper added, while also thanking “wonderful teachers” such as Metropolitan Opera director Yannick Nézet-Séguin for helping him fine-tune the performance.
“Nézet-Séguin made videos with all the tempo changes, so I had all of the materials to just work on.” Cooper said. “It was really about dialing exactly what I wanted cinematically and then inviting them into then inhabit that space and trusting that they have all done the work. Because I think that I knew I was terrified, absolutely terrified that if I hadn’t done the work then I wouldn’t be able to enjoy myself in these scenes. And everybody did.”
“Maestro” frames Bernstein’s professional career around his marriage to Felicia Montealegre, played by Carey Mulligan. Matt Bomer, Maya Hawke and Sarah Silverman also star. Mulligan recently told Variety that it was Cooper’s style that made her feel like a “proper actor” for the first time on a film set.
“There was a part of me as an actor that always felt like, ‘Well, I’m never going to be one of those actors that keeps their dialect in between takes,'” Mulligan said. “There was a part of me that was slightly held back, or maybe nervous of completely committing to something. But that was what Bradley asked, basically, at the beginning of the process. He was like, ‘If you’re going to do this, you just have to fully, fully do it.'”
“When he said that, I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to absolutely do it all.’ I’m going to do all the research. I’m going to do all the dialect stuff. I’m going to do everything, so that when I get on set, I am 100% able to just feel like I’m onstage and have that sense of ‘I don’t remember what happened.'”
“Maestro” opens in select theaters on Nov. 22 and will be available to stream globally on Netflix starting Dec. 20.
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