Bradley Cooper is no stranger to a box-office hit, as the star of “The Hangover,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Sniper.” But “A Star Is Born” is his most personal work yet. He not only plays the lead, a rock star named Jackson Maine who falls for a talented singer he meets one night at a bar (Lady Gaga), but he also directed, produced and co-wrote the script. On Nov. 29, he’ll receive the American Cinematheque Award to honor his achievements on the big screen.
Did you see a lot of movies growing up?
I went all the time. Movies stayed the theaters for six months back then, so I’d see a movie eight times. It was just part of my life. When I was young, Comcast had just come to Philadelphia, so we had Prism and HBO and they were playing movies all the time. And then I’d be with my grandparents and we’d watch all movies on TV.
What were some of your favorite films?
“Stand by Me.” “Elephant Man” was a seminal movie for me. It was the moment I consciously realized I wanted to be part of this industry. It just shook me to the core. I couldn’t believe a movie could do that. Every movie Gene Hackman was in. Jack Nicholson in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” “The Godfather.” And British actors like Albert Finney really crushed me. Even “Popeye” with Robin Williams.
What was the last movie you saw in a theater?
“Roma.” Which I loved.
Did you watch the previous iterations of “A Star Is Born?”
I watched all three versions. I hadn’t seen them. I felt reverberations of the 1976 “A Star Is Born,” because it was so iconic for its time. The Judy Garland one is a masterpiece. I was just doing my due diligence of seeing what came before.
What surprised you the most about directing?
In the process of making a movie, I realized it’s three different separate pieces of artistic content. The script is its own thing. You write it 1,000 times until you get it to a place that you want to shoot and you feel something that has all the marks. In the shooting, it’s its own artistic installation. You’re trying to get as many authentic moments and cover your bases storywise for what you think you’ll need in the editing room. The editing room is a completely new artistic piece of content. One has to be free from the preceding one to be brutally honest. You have to brutal in service of the story.
How did you know where to put the camera?
There’s no reason to make a movie if you don’t know where you want to put the camera. It’s your pen. I never saw this as being handheld like cinema verite. What I wanted to do was gradually put the viewer in between the two of them, which is what happens when you meet somebody.
It’s been a while since a mid-budget movie made as much money as “A Star Is Born?” Were you worried that audience wouldn’t see it?
I don’t know if worried was the right word. Right before Venice [film festival], I was terrified. I didn’t realize I was terrified until we were in the boat riding up and it was pouring rain. I remember thinking I’m glad it’s raining. This is good. I was literally telling myself out loud before we arrived at the theater: no matter what happens, please don’t let the outside response contaminate what you experienced, which was having an idea and inspiration and seeing it all the way through the end and making the exact movie that I wanted to make.
Do you think movie stars are as important as they once were?
It doesn’t matter who you are. The story opens the movie now, because of social media and because people catch wind of whether a movie is good or not. If the movie was bad, this wouldn’t have opened. Even if it was me and her [Lady Gaga], I don’t think it would have mattered. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.
What: American Cinematheque Awards
When: Nov. 29
Where: Beverly Hilton Hotel