Bradley Cooper is weighing on a controversy surrounding his portrayal of legendary conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein.
When the first photos were released from his upcoming biopic Maestro, some critics zeroed in on the actor’s prosthetic nose and accused the film of being antisemitic. Some used the arguably derogatory term “jewface” to describe the characterization.
Talking to CBS Mornings on Tuesday, Cooper was asked about the debate and said he initially considered not using a prosthetic.
“I thought, ‘Maybe we don’t need to do it,’” he said. “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].”
The Anti-Defamation League was one of many to come to the film’s defense, noting, “Throughout history, Jews were often portrayed in antisemitic films and propaganda as evil caricatures with large, hooked noses. This film, which is a biopic on the legendary conductor Leonard Bernstein, is not that.”
Bernstein’s children also wrote a letter of support, saying, “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. We’re also certain that our dad would have been fine with it as well.” They added that the critiques were “disingenuous attempts to bring a successful person down a notch — a practice we observed all too often perpetrated on our own father.”
Cooper spent six years preparing for the role and directed and co-wrote the film. He said he found conducting an orchestra on camera terrifying. “All the orchestra, this is what they’ve done their entire life,” he said. “And I’m sitting there talking like Leonard Bernstein, directing them. And they’re going, like, ‘Who is this guy?’ You know, and, ‘He’s gonna conduct us?’”
Carey Mulligan (Saltburn) plays Bernstein’s wife, Felicia Montealegre. “The reason why I wanted to make the movie was I believe that they found each other’s soulmates,” Cooper said of the couple. “There was something so iconic about her and so magnetic and wry and deeply intelligent.”
Maestro premiered at the 80th Venice International Film Festival where it generated very positive reviews (81 percent on Rotten Tomatoes). The film is getting a limited release on Nov. 22.