Bradley Cooper has weighed in on controversy surrounding the use of a prosthetic nose in the film Maestro, in which he portrays the legendary conductor Leonard Bernstein.
After initial photos and a teaser for the film were released in August, some critics decried Cooper’s decision to don a prosthetic nose to star as Bernstein, who was Jewish. Daniel Fienberg, the Hollywood Reporter’s chief TV critic, called it “problematic” and described the film as “ethnic cosplay”. Others called the decision antisemitic, or used the derogatory term “jewface”.
Asked about the debate on CBS Mornings on Tuesday, Cooper said he initially considered not using the prosthetic, but decided to use it to resemble the renowned conductor, the son of Jewish-Ukrainian immigrants to the US perhaps best known for writing the music for West Side Story.
“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 several organizations 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.”
And the conductor’s children, Jamie, Alexander and Nina, posted a statement to social media defending Cooper from “disingenous” criticisms. “It happens to be true that Leonard Bernstein had a nice, big nose,” they wrote. “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.”
The critiques, they added, were “disingenuous attempts to bring a successful person down a notch — a practice we observed all too often perpetrated on our own father”.
Cooper’s comments come a few months after the film’s makeup artist responsible for the prosthetic apologized for any offense. Speaking at the Venice film festival, where Maestro premiered in September, Kazu Hiro said he was surprised by the backlash. “I wasn’t expecting it to happen. I feel sorry if I hurt some people’s feelings,” he said. “My goal was and Bradley’s goal was to portray Lenny as authentically as possible. Lenny had a really iconic look that everybody knows.
“There’s so many pictures out there because he’s photogenic, too – such a great person and also inspired so many people,” he added. “So we wanted to respect the look, including what’s going on inside. So that’s why we did several different tests and went through lots of decisions and that was the outcome in the movie. That was our only intention.”
Cooper had spent over six years preparing for Maestro, which he co-wrote and directed. He shares the screen with Carey Mulligan as 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 will get a limited theatrical release on 22 November before heading to Netflix on 20 December.