Bradley Cooper is unrecognizable as Leonard Bernstein in Netflix’s ‘Maestro’

The actor stars in and directs a biopic about the renowned American composer who wrote the music to ‘West Side Story’

Bradley Cooper plays Leonard Bernstein in Netflix’s ‘Maestro.’
Bradley Cooper plays Leonard Bernstein in Netflix’s ‘Maestro.’Netflix

From the 1940s until his death in 1990, Leonard Bernstein was one of the most influential composers in the world. Pianist, orchestra conductor and prolific composer, Bernstein’s symphonies and film scores – including music for the famous musical West Side Story – permeated the public consciousness for decades and have endured to this day. Although he died more than 20 years ago, no one has made a movie about his life. Netflix decided to rectify this omission and is producing a Bernstein biopic titled Maestro, in which Bradley Cooper does triple duty as the lead actor (playing Bernstein), screenwriter and director. Netflix recently released some publicity photos that show Cooper’s dramatic on-screen transformation as the famous composer.

In Maestro, Cooper portrays Bernstein at different stages of his life, and changes his appearance accordingly. His transformation into the elderly Bernstein is especially striking. No physical characteristic of the septuagenarian composer is overlooked: white hair, wrinkles (arms included), size and weight and more. There are no film clips yet of Cooper as Bernstein, but the four photographs released by Netflix clearly show the daunting makeover undertaken by the actor to achieve such a close resemblance to the composer.

Carey Mulligan is next to Cooper in one of the photographs taken during filming in Los Angeles, California. Mulligan plays Costa Rican-born Chilean actress Felicia Montealegre, who was married to Bernstein from 1951 to 1976, when Bernstein decided to leave her for a young music director named Tom Cothran. The stellar cast of Maestro includes Maya Hawke, who plays his eldest child, Jamie, and Matt Bomer. The film’s release date has not been set.

Top–Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein in ‘Maestro.’ Bottom–Bernstein in France, 1987.
Top–Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein in ‘Maestro.’ Bottom–Bernstein in France, 1987.Netflix/Cordon

This is not the first time Cooper has gone through this kind of transformation for a movie. For American Sniper, Cooper put on almost 45 pounds of muscle by maintaining a strict diet and training program that included four hours a day with a personal trainer. The film’s producer Jason Hall said he ate “every 55 minutes, about 8,000 calories a day” for the Clint-Eastwood-directed movie, and rejected using “any hormones or steroids, or anything.”

Carey Mulligan and Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein and Felicia Montealegre in Netflix’s ‘Maestro.’
Carey Mulligan and Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein and Felicia Montealegre in Netflix’s ‘Maestro.’Netflix

These types of roles where an actor gets deep inside the character and undergoes a dramatic physical transformation are loved by movie critics and audiences alike, and often win major awards for the actor, including the coveted Oscar. For instance, Charlize Theron in Monster, Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyer’s Club, Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl and Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose all won big during award season. Cooper has been nominated for an Oscar nine times but has yet to win.

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