As the New York Film Festival crowd began arriving at David Geffen Hall for the US premiere of Maestro on Monday night, a buzz spread throughout the room: Bradley Cooper had arrived.
Normally, this wouldn’t be unusual, since Maestro is a Cooper production three times over: He cowrote it, directed it, and stars in it—from behind layers of prosthetics—as the legendary composer Leonard Bernstein. But with the Screen Actors’ Guild strike still ongoing, Cooper’s presence was a rare dose of star power in a nascent awards season that has so far been lacking it.
Of course, he got permission. While Cooper didn’t attend Maestro‘s Venice Film Festival debut, he was allowed by SAG to attend the NYFF screening—but only to watch from the audience. He didn’t pose for photos and didn’t take the stage at any point. There were other celebrities in attendance—Jeremy Strong and Laura Dern among them—but Cooper kept his profile low, remaining relatively inconspicuous in an aisle seat on the left side of the house, at least until the composer’s daughter Jamie Bernstein blew his cover just before showtime. This was not a “Taylor Swift at the Chiefs” game scenario, despite the fact that the festival had pulled out all the stops for his movie. The event occurred in the home of the New York Philharmonic, a location that was central to Bernstein’s life, and the newly renovated David Geffen Hall was outfitted with Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos specifically for the night.
Not that Cooper’s name didn’t come up. During the screening’s introduction, Adam Crane of the New York Phil spoke about the actor-auteur’s dedication to studying conducting, saying Cooper frequently texted him, looking to show up at concerts and observe. Cooper, Crane said, “has become one of our best cultural ambassadors, in the great Bernstein tradition.”
Bernstein’s daughter Jamie added to the chorus of affection. Bradley found so many ways to evoke our father’s lifelong need to reach out, to communicate, above all to use music as a way of creating and sharing love,” she said. “Bradley has mirrored Bernstein by doing the same thing himself.”
Bucking biopic conventions, Maestro resists overexplaining the highlights of Bernstein’s accomplishments, instead showing examples of his musicianship, including a re-creation of his interpretation of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 in Ely Cathedral that received spontaneous applause from the NYFF audience.