Bradley Cooper to star in and direct Leonard Bernstein biopic – after taking the baton from Jake Gyllenhaal

31 July 2019, 17:38 | Updated: 31 July 2019, 17:41

Bradley Cooper to play Leonard Bernstein in biopic film
Bradley Cooper to play Leonard Bernstein in biopic film. Picture: Getty

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Just days after Jake Gyllenhaal announced plans to star as Leonard Bernstein in a new biopic film, Bradley Cooper announced a ‘rival biopic’ – with Steven Spielberg as producer.

Following the success of his directorial debut A Star is Born, Bradley Cooper plans to direct and star in a new biopic on legendary composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein.

Bernstein will be co-financed by Paramount Pictures and Steven Spielberg’s production company, Amblin Entertainment, with a script by Josh Singer.

The film will feature music by the late composer, including songs from West Side Story, after Cooper was granted exclusive music rights from the Bernstein estate.

But he wasn’t the only one who wanted the rights.

The battle of the Bernstein biopics

On 1 May 2018, actor Jake Gyllenhaal announced he would play Leonard Bernstein in new biopic The American, which director Cary Fukunaga intended to start shooting last Autumn.

Nine days later, a ‘rival’ Bernstein biopic was announced, to be directed by and star Bradley Cooper, alongside Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese as producers.

Both projects tried to secure music rights from the Bernstein estate, which is carefully protected by the composer’s children Jamie, Alexander and Nina. However, the estate eventually awarded exclusive rights to Paramount Pictures and Spielberg’s company, Amblin Entertainment.

Spielberg to direct a film remake of West Side Story, starring Ansel Elgort >

The National Board Of Review Annual Awards Gala - Inside
Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga and Steven Spielberg. Picture: Getty

Jamie, Alexander and Nina said in a press release: “In our father’s centennial year celebration, we are delighted to form an exclusive and unprecedented partnership with Paramount Pictures, Amblin and this extraordinary group of filmmakers to create a Leonard Bernstein biographical film. They understand our father and are passionate about telling his story.”

This means The American does not have permission to feature any music that Bernstein composed, including West Side Story.

Jake Gyllenhaal ‘won’t be doing the Leonard Bernstein biopic’
Jake Gyllenhaal ‘won’t be doing the Leonard Bernstein biopic’. Picture: Getty

Is Jake Gyllenhaal still making his Bernstein biopic?

The reports are inconclusive, but according to a November interview with Gyllenhaal on, the actor is no longer pursuing the project. The interview reads that Gyllenhaal “won’t, as he once planned, be doing the Leonard Bernstein biopic – that role has reportedly gone to Bradley Cooper, who is said to be pursuing [Carey] Mulligan to costar.”

In June earlier this year Cooper and Mulligan joined the Philadelphia Orchestra to narrate their season finale performances of Bernstein’s operetta Candide, alongside a host of other stars from the worlds of opera and musical theatre.

Leonard Bernstein, who was known for blurring the lines between opera and musical theatre, shot to fame when he composed the music for West Side Story, which opened on Broadway in 1957 and was made into a film in 1961.

But he first burst onto the classical music scene when, aged just 25, he became the youngest guest conductor in the history of the New York Philharmonic. The composer died on 14 October 1990, aged 72.

Leonard Bernstein to be played by Bradley Cooper in new biopic
The world celebrated Leonard Bernstein's centenary last year. Picture: Getty

When will Bradley Cooper’s Bernstein be released?

Shooting for Bernstein is expected to start in Autumn 2019.

Earlier this year, Cooper was spotted preparing for the role by sitting in the orchestra pit at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House, and watching Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin conduct Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande.