Enjoy the Shallow: Why Bradley Cooper Won't Let Just Anybody Into His Private Life

The actor and first-time director spent four years getting A Star Is Born made—but please don't read that much into it

By Natalie Finn Oct 17, 2018 10:00 AMTags
Bradley Cooper, 2018 San Sebastian Film Festival  Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

Bradley Cooper has a hit movie and a No. 1 album.

A Star Is Born, the fourth incarnation of the classic Hollywood tale and Cooper's feature directorial debut, has received a warm critical reception and is a bona fide box office success. Those best-of-2018 lists are just around the corner, and Oscar prognosticators are busily prognosticating.

Cooper directs, stars, learned to play guitar like a seasoned musician, does his own singing and is making people weep into their popcorn. He gave it his all and now he's easily the man of the hour.

"It's scary...putting yourself out there to this degree," he told E! News at the press junket. 

But he'd prefer that you don't read too much into it.

A Star Is Born Through the Years

The 43-year-old multi-threat entered the promotional whirlwind for the biggest creative endeavor of his career months ago. The film had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in August and then it was onto the Toronto International Film Festival, talking to traditional print media, radio and online outlets, doing panel talks and cast Q&As. The gauntlet of morning and late-night shows is usually the final exhausting leg before a film hits theaters.

Before he embarked on that long, long ride, he apparently brought a "really, you're asking that question?" attitude to one of his interviews—which isn't all that surprising when you show up to talk about a movie and you're peppered with personal questions. What was surprising was that it happened with The New York Times, which titled its big Sunday profile about the auteur "Bradley Cooper Is Not Really Into This Profile" when it was published late last month. Denied any new juicy insights into what makes Cooper tick, the journalist instead opted to make sense of the don't-try-to-make-sense-of-me vibe Cooper was supposedly giving off during their chat.

"You know, here's the thing," he told the paper, offering what was reported as a "resigned" smile. "The experience was so incredible, it was such a wonderful, wonderful experience, that it can only go downhill."

Actors Turned Directors

This, ironically, reminds us of his A Star Is Born character, Jackson Maine, who amiably takes selfies with fans but harbors a deep mistrust of the industry machine. Perhaps in an attempt by Cooper to pretend they don't exist, Jack's life, with all the trappings and deep, deep pitfalls of fame, is mercifully devoid of in-your-face tabloid coverage. Or at least it's never mentioned by name, though YouTube does play a serendipitous role in the titular star's birth.

And so here we are, drawing connections between Cooper's artistic choices and how they reflect his real life—basically the one thing he was most wary of, the go-to connecting-of-the-dots that he tried his best to reject at every turn.

But movies aren't made in a vacuum, and he knows that, and he's provided plenty of insight as to how A Star Is Born came about and how he dug into his character. It just wasn't the Times' lucky day if they wanted to reinvent the celebrity-profile wheel using information gleaned directly from that celebrity. Hence the finished story kinda scolding him for not being more forthcoming, suggesting that by not saying much he was still giving away plenty, but also that he had missed his shot to reveal the real meaning behind his choices.

Sure, whatever. "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold" it wasn't.

Daniele Venturelli/Daniele Venturelli/GC Images

However, it's not as if he sat there and didn't say anything. He just didn't want to peel back too many layers of his personal life. Like always.

"I always knew I wanted to direct," he explained during a Talks at Google event at Google headquarters earlier this month, noting that directors Clint Eastwood and David O. Russell had allowed him to be a part of their filmmaking process when they worked together. "I always knew that eventually I was going to have to stop saying I was going to do it and actually do it." 

Watching a Metallica concert from behind Lars Ulrich's drum kit (having met the rocker the night before) and seeing the roaring crowd from the rock star's perspective helped plant the seed to make a movie in which you get to see that unusual vantage point. And then, sifting through Warner Bros. properties for a potential project, he eventually got his heart set on A Star Is Born.

"There's always been, like, six characters I've always thought I can play in my life," Cooper told the NY Times. "And one of them is a musician."

About his approach to playing Jackson Maine, he said in an interview with NPR's Morning Edition last month. "I think because I'm 40 [the age he was when he finally decided he was ready to go for it], and I've gone through a lot in my life, I was able to do it with joy. 'Cause some people have asked me, 'It must have been hard to go to those places?' But oddly enough, it was very therapeutic...You know, I've had an interesting road, and I've dealt with similar things in my life. And I've observed it in others close to me, and..."

Asked if he was referring to alcoholism, which his character suffers direly from, Cooper added, "And addiction in general. And the main thing, when I was writing it and specifically shooting it, I thought, Gosh, when this movie comes out (if it does come out), I really want anybody who knows deeply about this disease to say, 'Yeah, this is the reflection of what it's like.' Not a glossy version, but the real reality of what it is to be an addict."

So, he's been quite chatty over the last few months, really.

Lady Gaga's Best Style Moments From the A Star Is Born Press Tour

There are many reasons, meanwhile, why Cooper, who started acting almost 20 years ago and has been very, very famous for close to a decade, isn't a likely candidate to get all caught up in his own hype.

Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Perhaps he finds such ostentatious displays distasteful. His first taste of the awards season rigmarole came as a star of Silver Linings Playbook, a Weinstein Company film and therefore a plow for the since-disgraced-and-expelled Harvey Weinstein to ram through the competition. That marked the first of Cooper's four Oscar nominations, three for acting and one as as producer on 2015 Best Picture nominee American Sniper

"I don't want to win an Oscar," Cooper told British GQ in 2013 before the Academy Awards took place and his Silver Linings co-star Jennifer Lawrence won Best Actress. "It would change nothing. Nothing. The things in my life that aren't fulfilled would not be fulfilled. Career-wise, right now, it's better that I don't win one. I don't want to win. I don't."

The Philadelphia native had been talking about the effect his dad's death in 2011 had on him. Cooper said then (and continues to say to this day) that losing his father, a cinephile who fostered his own love of movies growing up, "changed everything." After that, "the beauty is that I don't sweat s--t anymore."

Movie Remakes

Of course, A Star Is Born—which he spent four years getting made after long-ago plans for Clint Eastwood to direct Beyoncé in the film fell through—doesn't fall under the category of general "s--t."

Quite the opposite.

"In terms of this story being personal, a lot of it has to do with my father," he explained to NPR. "My dad works his way into my life every day. Luckily, thank God, I still dream about him—he comes into my dreams." Jackson's dog in the film—Cooper's real-life dog—is even named Charlie as an homage to his father.

The Weinstein Company

His not-so-contrary take on the subject (serious actors don't generally run around saying they'd love to win an Oscar) in 2013 doesn't mean he wouldn't like an Oscar or two by now, having gone home empty-handed three years in a row. Five years ago it also sounded as though he felt getting the movie business' so-called top prize would unfairly tether him to that one night of his life—dampen his ambition or otherwise moderate his approach to the craft and the way he was received as a craftsman.

And he is considered a master of his craft. Which now encompasses more than ever.

Clay Enos/Warner Bros.

"I love acting," Lady Gaga told E! News, "but this was a very different experience and I completely cherish it with everything in my being. [Cooper] provided for such a tremendous, spectacular experience on set. And just watching him direct, watching him write, watching him write—not just the screenplay—but watching him write music for himself, becoming a musician, seeing him create his character and him guiding me through the process, it was just incredible. I just feel honored to be the first lead actress in his directorial debut."

Former Inside the Actors Studio host James Lipton, whom Cooper auditioned for when he was dean of the Actors Studio, remembered spotting in the Georgetown University graduate "a unique accessibility to the self." 

"It's very difficult to describe," Lipton said on Larry King Now last year, "but if it's not there, it's not there. And if it is, you spot it." 

Cooper, who was among the students in the crowd in several episodes, famously got choked up during his own 2011 sit-down with Lipton when he was asked about his basic-technique teacher, who happened to be sitting in the audience. "I can't talk with tears, it's going to be like hyperventilating," he cracked while the tears continued to fall. "I was never able to relax in my life before her."

Singers Turned Actors

As an actor's actor, and now a director's director, maybe Cooper still doesn't care about the industry finish line, because his personal finish line was making the movie he wanted to make, with the cast he wanted.

Which he most certainly did, and Lady Gaga is also an early Oscar favorite for his and her tireless efforts. The sonorous Sam Elliott, who plays Jackson Maine's brother, seems like the guy we're going to see collect a shelf-full of prizes in 2019, and if you're not already, you will be tired of "Shallow" by the time it's honored on Oscars night as well.

They're all in the deep end now, like it or not.

Red Carpet Couples

Cooper edited the film at his house, in a room right under his daughter's nursery, and, as he recalled at Google HQ, "I'm always wondering if she's going to grow up"—he whirled his hand by his ear, indicating sound being heard over and over again—"I thought, 'oh, she's going to hear this music for the first six months of her life. I wonder if she's going to hate our music or love it.'"

So, another likely layer of Cooper's protective coating: This is his first awards season contender as a father, and if there's any likely time for a celebrity to put up a few more walls, it's when he becomes a dad.

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Cooper is by no means a public curmudgeon (he was at the Met Gala this year, for goodness' sake), his impromptu battle of wits with the dissatisfied NY Times aside. But he has proved to be one of the more private parents in Hollywood since he and partner Irina Shayk welcomed daughter Lea de Seine Shayk Cooper in March 2017.

If anyone was hoping for Cooper to finally get on Instagram to control the baby-picture narrative, or at the very least share a few cutesy parenting anecdotes or public raves about what a great mother Shayk is... well, they just weren't paying attention.

"I just don't talk about certain things," the otherwise loquacious star said on The Howard Stern Show in January 2015, more than a year before he and Shayk would walk a red carpet together.

He didn't even talk about his daughter on Ellen a couple months after she was born. And if you don't talk about your baby there...

Warner Bros

But now that he's birthed his first cinematic baby, Cooper couldn't help but realize that the two are connected, and being a dad is going to affect everything from here on out, whether it's wondering if Lea can't get "Shallow" out of her head or choosing future projects with a whole other set of priorities in mind.

Spending four years working on A Star Is Born was a gratifying experience, because he was satisfied with the finished product. "So I guess having a child, and having a family of my own— which is a miracle and something I've always dreamt of—has opened me up even more, I guess, to the day, and to be present," he told NPR.

Cooper concluded, "Here's the other thing that connected Stefani [Lady Gaga] and myself right away, is that we were very, very loved as children. And when I meet people that have had that similar upbringing, I can just see it in them. And that's the thing I want my daughter to have—I just always want her to feel loved."

There's no reason to expect much more than that.