December 2, 2023

Bradley Cooper spent six years developing Maestro as a film. Cooper wrote, directed and stars as Leonard Bernstein. He told Deadline’s Pete Hammond at Contenders Film L.A. that he lost all sense of time making Maestro.

“He died in 1990 and I swear I knew him,” Cooper said of Bernstein. “This movie has messed time up for me. It’s bent time, it really has.”

Cooper said his obsession goes back further than the time since he got the rights to Bernstein’s music and life from his family. Cooper remembers asking Santa Claus for a conductor’s baton as a child, having seen it in Bugs Bunny cartoons.

“I spent embarrassingly too many hours pretending I was doing that,” Cooper said. “I didn’t know it was called baton back then. I was like the thing Bugs Bunny is holding that makes music.”

RELATED: The Contenders Film: Los Angeles – Deadline’s Full Coverage

This year, Cooper said, his daughter asked him for a baton coincidentally. It was both Cooper’s passion for conducting and his interest in highlighting Bernstein’s wife, Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan), that won the Bernstein family over.

RELATED: ‘Maestro’ Review: Bradley Cooper’s Triumphant Turn As Leonard Bernstein Is A Love Story On More Than One Level – Venice Film Festival

Mulligan also signed on before Cooper had written the script. She visited Montealegre’s family in Chile.

“The more I learned about her, the more I wanted to learn about her,” Mulligan said “She wanted to be an actor. She wanted to come to New York but to know where she arrived, I needed to know where she came from.”

RELATED: ‘Maestro’ Trailer: Bradley Cooper Orchestrates Leonard Bernstein Biopic For Netflix

Bernstein was bisexual and Montealegre tolerated his affairs with men. One of Bernstein’s lovers was David Oppenheim (Matt Bomer). Bomer said he read letters between Oppenheim and Bernstein in the Library of Congress, and copied Oppenheim’s letters by hand to give to Cooper on set.

“It was such a beautiful private look into their world and a shorthand they had together,” Bomer said. “The love and respect they had together and the similarity of their ambitions, their points of view on the world and how to succeed in the world.”

Cooper focused more on Bernstein’s relationships, though he learned to conduct for several scenes in the film. Bernstein’s original music provides the film’s score.

“I did want to serve his legacy musically,” Cooper said. “The best thing is to tell a story we can all relate to hopefully and it’s all to the rhythm of his music. The movie is all scored to his music. That is the best way I can present to you this man.”

Maestro opens in theaters Nov. 22 and premieres on Netflix Dec. 20.

Check back on Monday for the panel video.

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