Right now, there are dueling Leonard Bernstein biopics. The first is from True Detective director Cary Fukunaga and is set to star Jake Gyllenhaal as the famous composer and conductor in The American. But just ten days later, Bradley Cooper announced he was doing his own Bernstein biopic, titled Bernstein, and he had Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese on board to produce. Now Gyllenhaal’s biopic has taken another hit.
According to THR, Bernstein has won the exclusive rights to use Bernstein’s music. Per THR, “That means that The American doesn’t have permission to feature any music that Bernstein composed, including West Side Story.” This could basically render Gyllenhaal’s Bernstein biopic DOA if he doesn’t have any of the music that helped define the composer’s career. It’s not like when there are dueling biopics of a famous figure as was the case in the mid-2000s with Truman Capote movies. You kind of need a composer’s music if you’re going to make a movie about that composer.
Cooper likely had the edge because he had Spielberg in his corner. THR reports that “Cooper showed a cut of his upcoming directorial debut, A Star is Born, to Spielberg. The elder filmmaker was impressed, and told Cooper he should direct Paramount’s Bernstein biopic. Cooper was sold, with Amblin coming aboard as well, along with Spielberg as a producer,” continuing that “Spielberg and Cooper also met with the [Bernstein] estate, which was shown A Star is Born. (Spielberg is hardly a stranger to the Bernstein brood, since he has a separate rights deal for his planned West Side Story remake.)”
Bernstein isn’t expected to start shooting until next year. Cooper wants more time to work on the script with screenwriter Josh Singer (Spotlight).
That being said, The American isn’t giving up. They plan to move ahead as planned, which means their Bernstein biopic will get into theaters first, likely sometime in 2019. “Insiders close to Gyllenhaal and Bron say they fully intend to proceed, despite not being able to use any music from West Side Story,” reports THR. “They note that Bernstein was just as famous for being a conductor, and that much of the music he conducted is in the public domain. (However, they likely can’t use any of his orchestral recordings.)”
It will be interesting to see how these two movie compare, especially with so much talent behind them. At the very least, the two pictures will likely end up being very different despite sharing the same central figure.