Bradley Cooper's fascination with 'Maestro' Leonard Bernstein began with Bugs Bunny

A man with long hair and and a short beard smiles while wearing a tuxedo
"Maestro" actor-director Bradley Cooper, seen at the 2022 Met Gala in New York City, says he has loved the notion of conducting since he saw Bugs Bunny doing it. (Evan Agostini / Invision / Associated Press)

Bradley Cooper's admiration of legendary composer Leonard Bernstein traces back to watching Bugs Bunny conduct an orchestra.

"It started with Tom and Jerry and Bugs Bunny as a kid, watching them conduct," Cooper told "CBS Mornings" on Tuesday. "And asking Santa Claus for a baton when I was about 8 or so, and then, just being obsessed with conducting."

Cooper said he found it magical watching a conductor wave the baton, and for that to result in sound. "And it was just this incredible feeling of being a maestro really."

Cooper is starring in "Bernstein," but he also directed, produced and co-wrote the feature film — his second directing gig after debuting with "A Star Is Born" in 2018.

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"It's all one thing," Cooper said of starring in a film as well as working behind the camera. "I really see it as filmmaking. You know, it starts with an idea, and then you write it. And then there's something in me to be the character."

The Oscar-nominated actor prepared for six years to portray Bernstein, embracing the challenge of conducting, which he did live for the film. The experience, he said, was more terrifying than performing "Shallow" alongside Lady Gaga at the 91st Academy Awards for an audience of Oscar-nominated actors, directors, producers and musicians.

"All the orchestra, this is what they've done their entire life. And I'm sitting there talking like Leonard Bernstein, directing them. And they're going, like, 'Who is this guy?' You know, and, 'He's gonna conduct us?'" Cooper jested.

Earlier this month, he appeared at a special New York City Tastemakers screening Q&A moderated by Lin-Manuel Miranda and discussed the six-minute sequence. In the scene, Cooper portrays Bernstein conducting the 1976 London Symphony Orchestra in Ely Cathedral, one of his most famous performances.

“That scene I was so worried about because we did it live,” Cooper said, per Indie Wire. “That was the London Symphony Orchestra. I was recorded live, I had to conduct them. And I spent six years learning how to conduct six minutes and 21 seconds of music.”

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“I was able to get the raw take where I just watched Leonard Bernstein [conduct] at Ely Cathedral with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1976. And so I had that to study,” Cooper said. “And Yannick Nézet-Séguin made videos with all the tempo changes, so I had all of the materials to just work on.”

Cooper said it was really about dialing up exactly what he wanted cinematically and trusting all of his collaborators to have done the necessary work. “Because I think that I knew, I was terrified, absolutely terrified that if I hadn’t done the work that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy myself in these scenes. And everybody did.”

Maestro” is set to premiere in theaters Wednesday, followed by a streaming release Dec. 20 on Netflix.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.