Bradley Cooper spends 7 years diving into Bernstein’s past

By Michael Karpienski | Last Updated: December 23, 2023
Bradley Cooper, famously known for the comedy blockbuster, “The Hangover,” can easily be judged for lack of depth in his career. Generally, he portrays a tall and handsome, commercial and superficial actor for many, including myself. However, with “Maestro,” his latest directorial project for which he stars as Leonard Bernstein, the film is anything but superficial. Instead, Cooper probes deeply into the world of complexity. And not solely through symphonic intricacies his character conducts, but the relationship with his wife for which he tries desperately to keep afloat through the course of his life and the film.
In short, “Maestro” depicts the anatomy of a complicated marriage of one of the most renowned conductors and composers in America. Bernstein's tumultuous life finds stability and direction only with the herculean help from his wife Felicia. A Chilean Broadway actress who sacrifices her own career to help develop that of her husband Bernstein, Felicia takes a prominent role – a big decision Cooper made that other directors might not have taken. And it was the right decision indeed.
In order to depict Bernstein accurately, Cooper studied Bernstein’s life for 7 years. He read countless books on his life. He met almost every weekend with Bernstein’s children at his Connecticut home where most of the scenes were filmed. He even learned how to compose an orchestra among other challenging activities. Through all of that, Cooper was able to personify the life of this protagonist. And that is what I admired and learned to respect from Cooper’s line of work. His immense adaptation and capacity to observe, learn and execute as an actor, and it naturally made for the success of the film.
Leonard Bernstein’s story as a musician and his relationship with Felicia reminded me of Dostoyevsky’s relationship with his wife. Regarding the famous Russian writer, most of his artistic life found relevance, order and power when Anna Dostoevskaya intervened as an editor and publicist. In one scene of “Maestro,” for example, Felicia Montealegre is being interviewed with her husband and almost represents Bernstein as a manager, knowing his tour dates and presentations, showing a more professional relationship than a romantic one. In other words, she was his professional support, and that is what Cooper revealed in this movie. That’s to say, the maternal and overwhelming support for which Felicia endowed the composer.
Having completed his first directorial project “A Star is Born,” Copper has clearly evolved into a new level of acting and directing with this second directorial project. Bradley has demonstrated once more that in seven years he was able to direct and perform a love story of an artist. And how abstract it is that we celebrate our heroes by making art, and Bernstein, being one of them, was a genius who lived a double life. A double life which indirectly killed his wife in the end, almost as a counterpoint to “A Star is Born,” in which Cooper’s character dies off while Lady Gaga’s character lives on. Do we see a pattern in Cooper’s film making? I guess we will have to wait for the next film to know for sure.
-Fernanda Karpienski
Steven Spielberg and Bradley Cooper discuss Maestro