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They say making a movie is like birthing a child, and Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut, A Star Is Born, is a full-bodied take on one of the most oft-made films in the Hollywood canon —

A version of this story appears in the First Look issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands Friday. For more exclusive interviews and First Look photos only in EW, buy it here or subscribe now.

see also the 1937 original with Janet Gaynor, the 1954 Judy Garland version, and the 1976 rock opus with Barbra Streisand. But Cooper’s will enter the world to the beat of its own drum.

“It all comes down to this broken love story,” Cooper says of the central romance between a fading crooner, Jackson Maine (Cooper), and the talented unknown, Ally (Lady Gaga, credited by her real name, Stefani Germanotta), he takes under his wing. “She’s not an ingenue,” he says, describing the reenvisioned character, whose journey into the limelight breathes joy and heartbreak into the movie’s rock soul, thanks to a soundtrack of original songs Cooper crafted with Germanotta, Mark Ronson, Jason Isbell, and Lukas Nelson.

“[We’re asking]: What happens when you’re 30 and the idea that ‘Maybe I’m not going to make it’ has crept into your artistic brain?” he says. “There’s no better way to express that than through singing because there’s nowhere to hide when you’re singing.” Or a star.

A Star is Born is in theaters on May 18. Read on for EW’s full conversation with Cooper below and check out our exclusive first look photo from the film above.

So I’ve read the synopsis that was officially released, but I’d like to hear in your own words, in greater detail, what the film is really about. Who are these characters as people, what brings them together, what’s the dynamic of their relationship?
[We’re exploring] what unconditional love is, how hard it is to love someone in this world as a human being, and what that demands: those are the things I was interested in. I was also very interested in the character of Ally being a bit different than the other versions. She’s not an ingénue; she’s not this innocent person. [We’re asking]: What happens when you’re 30 and you [realize] you might not make it? And what happens when the idea that maybe you’re not going to make it creeps into your artistic brain, but then you meet somebody who inspires you to run away from that idea and embrace what it is that moves you [creatively].

We’re also dealing with the idea of abandonment — when you put too much stock in a relationship and not in your own worth —
how that affects your ability to fully be there for someone else, and for yourself. I wanted to explore the realities of loving another human being, and what that demands [of a person].

Would you say the film has a darker tone than in previous iterations, then?
I hope the tone is authentic, more than anything else, that it has darkness, laughter, and humor, and is reflective of life. It’s celebratory, wish fulfillment, and heartbreaking.

Gaga composed most of the music, correct? What other producers or songwriters did you work with?
We had many wonderful writers. Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, who’s in Jackson’s band, participated in writing a lot of the music. I wrote the music, Stefani wrote a lot of the music, Jason Isbell has a wonderful song that he wrote, and so many other great writers from Nashville. Mark Ronson, too. We’re honored to have incredible writers on the movie, because all the music is original, and it’s all sung and recorded live. There’s no singing in playback, which was terrifying, but it’s key to the movie! It makes all the difference. Stefani was adamant about that: she said, ‘We have to record everything live,’ and I’m so glad she did. It’s night and day.

Like La La Land and Les Mis, a lot of the songs were recorded live on the set, right? Why did you decide to do that and how do you think that enhances the film and the performances or the chemistry between you in those performative moments?
I actually jumped on many stages at real festivals. I jumped on stage at the Stagecoach Festival and on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in front of, like, 90,000 people, which was incredible. If you don’t believe that I’m actually playing this guy, Jackson Maine, who’s a real musician, then the movie won’t work.

Because I’ve heard that they’re everything from rock to country to dance, what genres will we hear on these songs?
Ally’s rise has a musical arc to it. For Jackson’s music, [Stefani] gave me the inspiration, she just said, ‘Work, and then you’ll figure out what kind of musician he is,’ and that’s really what happened. I had the luxury of time. I spent two-and-a-half years prepping for this movie, and got to go see and work with so many people and had an incredible vocal coach, Roger Love, and great musicians to help me, and by the end he just kind of started developing into his own sort of creation. If I had another year of prep, it would have been complete rock, but now it’s some sort of hybrid.

So you’re saying you’re comfortable enough to tour with this stuff?
[Laughs] That’d be incredible. It was an incredible experience performing at the Pyramid stage — unfortunately, we couldn’t have the music to go through the sound system because then the music would get out here, but the first five rows could hear me just screaming through the monitors. But if anybody would show up, that’d be great.

How does the performative dynamic change when you’re singing opposite someone who’s spent her entire life honing her craft as a musician?
It’s a tribute to her generosity as an artist. She made me so comfortable, from day one. When I first met her to talk about the role, I asked her if we could sing this folk song together, because if there’s no chemistry or we can’t sing together, it won’t work, but she just sat down and made me feel comfortable, and from then on it was that way. I had the benefit of preparation. By the time we shot the movie… in some ways I was able to hide in him, so I never had to deal with the reality of asking myself, ‘Are you nuts, putting yourself on stage with Lady Gaga?’ That never really entered into my head, thank God!

What’s a standout track or one you’re particularly proud of her for contributing?
There’s a moment when Jackson first brings Ally on stage that feels like something very special. It’s a song [Stefani] had written with Mark Ronson called “The Shallow.” The song Jason Isbell wrote for Jackson became the staple, the sword with which a lot of the music spawned from me. And he sent that early on in the demo through Dave Cobb, who’s a producer out of Nashville I worked with, who was fantastic–especially in creating the aesthetic of Jackson’s instruments.

How do the songs fit into the film? I’m curious as to what story you guys are trying to tell through the music, whether that’s lyrically or how the music compliments character? Is there a uniting thread?
It’s an integral part of the entire story. Even the lyrics and where the songs fall in the movie — all have to do with the story. It’s a major artery of the entire film.

Would you say you’re both showing fans different sides of your respective careers, here?
My hope is that [audiences really] see the characters, as Ally and Jackson. There’s always been a meta element to the tradition of A Star Is Born, in that it has to be somebody like Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, or Lady Gaga playing the role. In that sense, you’ll be blown away by what Stefani’s created.

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