When backlash over Bradley Cooper‘s nose prosthetic in “Maestro” first erupted in August ahead of the film’s world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, Cooper himself could not speak out to defend his choice as it was in the midst of the SAG-AFTRA strike. He finally got the opportunity to do so during an interview with “CBS Mornings,” explaining that he first attempted to play famed composer Leonard Bernstein without the prosthetic but ultimately decided “we just had to do it.”
“Nothing catches me off guard,” Cooper said when asked about the initial backlash over the fake nose. “You never know what’s going to happen. I’ve done this whole project out of love and it’s so clear to me where I come from. My nose is very similar to Lenny’s actually. The prosthetic is actually like a silk sheet.”
“I thought, ‘Maybe we don’t need to do it because we could take time off prep,’” Cooper continued. “But it’s all about balance, and, you know, my lips are nothing like Lenny’s, and my chin. And so we had that, and it just didn’t look right [without the prosthetic]…we just had to do it, otherwise I just wouldn’t believe he’s a human being.”
Cooper has earned critical acclaim for his performance in the film, which he also directed and co-wrote. As soon as the backlash started in August, the real Leonard Bernstein’s children — Jamie, Alexander and Nina — issued a joint statement defending Cooper.
“Bradley Cooper included the three of us along every step of his amazing journey as he made his film about our father,” the three children said. “We were touched to the core to witness the depth of his commitment, his loving embrace of our father’s music, and the sheer open-hearted joy he brought to his exploration. It breaks our hearts to see any misrepresentations or misunderstandings of his efforts. It happens to be true that Leonard Bernstein had a nice, big nose. Bradley chose to use makeup to amplify his resemblance, and we’re perfectly fine with that.”
Afterwards, the Anti-Defamation League also came to the defense of Cooper. “Throughout history, Jews were often portrayed in antisemitic films and propaganda as evil caricatures with large, hooked noses,” the ADL said in a statement to Variety. “This film, which is a biopic on the legendary conductor Leonard Bernstein, is not that.”
Cooper worked with Oscar-winning makeup artist Kazu Hiro (“How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “Darkest Hour”) to create the prosthetics used in the film. Hiro first addressed the backlash himself during the film’s press conference at the Venice Film Festival.
“I wasn’t expecting that to happen,” Hiro said. “I feel sorry that I hurt some people’s feelings. My goal was and Bradley’s goal was to portray Lenny as authentic as possible. Lenny had a really iconic look that everybody knows — there’s so many pictures out there because he’s photogenic, too — such a great person and also inspired so many people. So we wanted to respect the look too, on the inside. So that’s why we did several different tests and went through lots of decisions and that was the outcome in the movie.”
As Cooper noted, it wasn’t only his nose that was modified in order to transform him into Leonard Bernstein. Hiro created prosthetics to change the actor’s neck and chin depending on what age he was playing Bernstein in the film.
“Maestro” opens in select theaters on Nov. 22 and will be available to stream globally on Netflix starting Dec. 20.
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