When “Maestro” director, writer, and star Bradley Cooper wanted to meet with Carey Mulligan to talk about her joining his Leonard Bernstein biopic, it was “a quite dramatic” beginning.
Cooper, who wanted Mulligan to play Bernstein’s wife, Felicia, attended the first preview of her one-woman play “Girls and Boys.” During the show, being staged in New York’s West Village, a piece of wood fell and hit Mulligan’s head. It gave Mulligan a concussion, which she now downplays, calling it a curtain because “it sounds fluffy.”
On this episode of the award-winning Variety Awards Circuit Podcast, Cooper and Mulligan discuss the process of getting into the mindset to play the Leonard Bernstein and Felicia Montealegre in Netflix’s “Maestro.” The two break down key scenes, and talk about their favorite acting works from one another. Listen below.
“Maestro” follows famed composer and musician Leonard Bernstein through decades of creating music and teaching against the backdrop of his marriage to his wife, Felicia Montealegre. The film also stars Maya Hawke, Matt Bomer and Sarah Silverman.
Read excerpts from the interview below.
Variety: The film doesn’t outwardly label Lenny as bisexual or call their marriage a knowingly “open marriage.” Did you two discuss these characters and what they knew about each other?
Cooper: I don’t remember having any marco-identifying label conversations on either. It was more about asking Carey to go on this journey and sending her scenes and the script as it evolved. The story and the evolution of this marriage and this relationship. We never talked about it in terms of categorizing. Is that accurate?
Mulligan: Yes, I agree. I just loved getting a text from Bradley; it would be a scene he’d just written. And it would be three years before. From our text thread, there are a million versions of him as Lenny from 2019 onwards. All these different ages, stages, and versions. And then pages and pages of the script. It was like getting a little present. It’s why I’m not such a great producer or anything or haven’t got the bones for it. My favorite thing is opening a script and being surprised.
Thanks to this film, you’ll both be associated with one single word forever: For Cooper, it’s “church” when you orchestrate, and for Mulligan, it’s “Snoopy,” during the big blow-up on Thanksgiving. Can you discuss those moments?
Mulligan: Do you want to talk about writing Thanksgiving?
Cooper: Yes, I’m glad you brought up those two scenes because those are the two pillars of the film story-wise. The movie is about their relationship and the evolution of their relationship. And that first scene is the seeming reckoning; even though she doesn’t really come to terms with what she’s actually feeling, she seriously confronts him. And the other scene is the truth of his existence, her seeing that, and then the reconciliation — and the moment where they may actually fall in love for the first, maybe, certainly him.
For some reason, I wrote that scene faster than anything in the whole movie. I wrote it in about 20 minutes one night, back five years ago. [looks at Mulligan] I don’t know if I told you this. I would have married couples I knew who were older and who were in an interesting dynamic — I would have them read that scene throughout the years. I would be like, ‘Would you guys mind?’ And I would pull it up on my phone and then read it. Afterward, each time, one of the people in the relationship would say, ‘It’s very honest.’
Mulligan: We did two takes at first, and they just didn’t feel truthful. But it was the third take, which is the one in the movie. The most remarkable thing about working with Bradley as an actor and a director is when he would say things very specifically to me, always as Lenny, that would elicit a certain response from me. And in that third take, everything he did was so intentional, and it pissed me off something rotten [laughs]. He bumped into the furniture, so that was fucking annoying because he’s hungover, or the sunglasses. And again, it’s the third take where we were suddenly flying, and we like, ‘OK.’
Cooper: The church was one take. I learned more from Clint [Eastwood] than anybody I’ve worked with: when you know you have it, just move on. I wanted to conduct the London Symphony Orchestra for the cathedral scene, and the day before, I kept messing up. I was behind the tempo and needed to make the changes right. On the second day, I realized I had set up cameras in a fearful way to protect them. I was setting myself up for failure. Oddly enough, I remember every single moment in that moment, but my memory is I’m levitating over the orchestra. I don’t remember actually having my feet on the podium. But I felt so inside the music that there was no time.
Variety’s “Awards Circuit” podcast, hosted by Clayton Davis, Jenelle Riley, Jazz Tangcay, Emily Longeretta and Michael Schneider, who also produces, is your one-stop source for lively conversations about the best in film and television. Each week, “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top film and TV talent and creatives, discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines, and much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post weekly.