Bradley Cooper might’ve caught a lot of flack for the fake nose he wears to play conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein in Maestro, but speaking about it for the first time with Gayle King on CBS Mornings, he said the response didn’t surprise him.
“Nothing catches me off guard,” Cooper told King on Tuesday. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
Last spring, when first-look images emerged of Cooper in his Bernstein make-up, controversy bubbled as some argued that the heavy prosthetics used to transform the non-Jewish Cooper into a better likeness of the Jewish composer were inappropriate. The fake nose became the nexus of these critiques.
“My question, ‘How many pounds of latex would it take to make Bradley Cooper into an elderly Jewish man?’ was supposed to be rhetorical,” one onlooker tweeted at the time. “The answer, BTW, is ‘Enough latex that somebody should probably find it a hair problematic.”
According to Cooper, however, the faux schnoz was a necessary artistic flourish—one that made his character more believable. “The truth is, I’ve done this whole project out of love, and it’s so clear to me where I come from,” he said. “... My nose is very similar to Lenny’s actually. So the prosthetic is actually like a silk sheet.”
Looking back, Cooper recalled thinking that perhaps they could skip the prosthetics and save time in the make-up chair. “But it’s all about balance,” he said, “and, you know, my lips are nothing like Lenny’s, and my chin. ... It just didn’t look right.”
And so, as viewers will observe, Cooper said that when playing a younger Bernstein, he wears the prosthetic nose, and from there, “it just moves out, so by the time he's older, it's the whole face. We just had to do it—otherwise I just wouldn’t believe he’s a human being.”
Unlike Cooper, Kazu Hiro, the make-up artist on Maestro, said in September that the backlash actually had caught him by surprise. “I feel sorry if I hurt some people’s feelings,” the make-up artist said. “My goal was and Bradley’s goal was to portray Lenny as authentically as possible.”
“Bradley Cooper included the three of us along every step of his amazing journey as he made his film about our father,” Bernstein’s children Jamie, Alexander, and Nina wrote in a statement. “It breaks our hearts to see any misrepresentations or misunderstandings of his efforts.”
The statement continued: “It happens to be true that Leonard Bernstein had a big, nice nose. Bradley chose to use makeup to amplify his resemblance, and we’re perfectly fine with that. We’re also certain that our dad would have been fine with it as well.”
Speaking with CBS on Tuesday, Cooper said the gesture was “very moving” and added that he called Alexander to express his gratitude.
“I couldn't believe it, but this huge emotional exhalation came out and I just was crying so hard I couldn't even thank him,” Cooper said. “And he started crying, and it was an incredible moment. I couldn’t believe that gesture. It was very moving to me.”