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Bodysuits and bald caps: Inside Bradley Cooper’s controversial Maestro transformation

It took makeup artists up to five hours to get Cooper ready


Bradley Cooper sent shock waves through the internet last December when it was revealed he wore a large prosthetic nose in Maestro, a biopic of the famous composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein (ask your parents).

Bradley Cooper both directed and starred in the film, and while the famed conductor was Jewish, Bradley Cooper is not. Many criticised the prosthetic choice as anti-semitic and complained that he should have casted a Jewish actor who resembled Bernstein, instead of playing him himself.

Despite the controversy surrounding Bradley Cooper’s prosthetics, the film was nominated for a best make-up and hairstyling Academy Award, along with six other nominations, including best actor and best picture.

Cooper was able to transform his appearance with the help of some heavy duty makeup magic, reportedly getting into the makeup trailer at 1 am to have prosthetics, wigs, and makeup applied for five hours.

But what did Cooper wear to perform as Bernstein?

Credit: YouTube

Nose, lip and chin

His transformation was achieved by the help of Oscar-winning special make-up effects artist Kazu Hiro, who told Variety “we wanted the look to be as authentic as possible.”

When playing a young Bernstein, Cooper’s transformation took about two and a half hours to achieve, and involved applying prosthetic pieces to the nose, lip and chin.

Credit: Netflix

Ear shape and nose plugs

Cooper would wear “nose plugs to change the way his voice sounded,” Hiro explained in a Variety article, “we change this ear shape and we gave him a face-lift around the temples that would pull the eyes out and jawline to make them younger.”

Credit: YouTube

Shoulders, bald cap, and prosthetic forehead

As Leonard Bernstein gets older in the film, makeup artist Kazu Hiro had to age Bradley Cooper up. This meant applying a bald cap, a prosthetic forehead, and makeup stipple to create fake wrinkles.

Credit: YouTube

Cheek and neck

While the process for the younger look only took around two and a half hours, Bradley Cooper would spend a minimum of five hours to transform into the elderly Leonard Bernstein. This included full cheeks and neck prosthetics to age him up significantly.

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While the process for the younger look only took around two and a half hours, Bradley Cooper would spend a minimum of five hours to transform into the elderly Leonard Bernstein. This included full cheeks and neck prosthetics to age him up significantly.

A full bodysuit

The aged look wouldn’t be complete without the full bodysuit created for Cooper to wear in the final act of the film, making him look significantly heavier. His hands would also have delicate makeup applied to his hands to age him up, making the 49 year old actor look over well beyond his years.

Credit: Netflix

The controversy

The film was met with criticism for the heavy use of prosthetics, with some finding it to be offensive and anti-semitic and suggesting a different actor should have been cast.

Responding to this, Bradley Cooper told the Guardian “I thought, ‘Maybe we don’t need to do it,’ 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 nose]”.

Bernstein’s own children defended the choice, announcing on Instagram, “it happens to be true that Leonard Bernstein had a nice, big nose. Bradley chose to use makeup to amplify his resemblance, and we’re perfectly fine with that. We’re also certain that our dad would be fine with it as well.”

Hiro agrees. “We wanted the look to be as authentic as possible,” he explains. “He’s iconic and people know what he looks like. As with any movie, we put an actor in a costume, and we build sets to make audiences believe the story, and makeup is a part of that.” And the artist insists that the goal was to help Cooper shape-shift convincingly: “We respect Lenny and his look. He’s so handsome and talented and an amazing composer and conductor. And when we listen to his music, we think of how he conducted, so it was important to make Bradley as close as possible to Lenny.”

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