In one of the weirdest instances of dueling projects in recent memory, today’s hot project is… a biopic of iconic composer Leonard Bernstein. In 2015, Martin Scorsese eyed the subject for a movie at Paramount, then earlier this year we learned that Steven Spielberg was possibly adding a Bernstein movie to his potential docket. And then last week we learned that filmmaker Cary Joji Fukunaga was teaming up with Jake Gyllenhaal for their own take on a Bernstein biopic, and now Bradley Cooper wants in on the fun.
Deadline reports that Cooper will co-write, direct, and star in a Leonard Bernstein biopic co-financed by Paramount and Amblin Entertainment, with Scorsese and Spielberg onboard as producers. That means Spielberg has opted not to direct a Bernstein movie after all, and will instead just produce—something the notoriously choosy director has done plenty of times in the past. Cooper will write the screenplay with Oscar-winning Spotlight scribe Josh Singer, who also co-wrote Spielberg’s The Post and Damien Chazelle’s upcoming Neil Armstrong movie First Man.
So why is Bernstein so hot right now? I really don’t know. He’s a fascinating figure to be sure—a child prodigy who went on to compose such iconic works as West Side Story and Peter Pan, and whose work was hugely influential to the world of music composition. But I can’t put my finger on any sort of renewed relevance at this point in time.
This Cooper project has been in the works for a long while with producers Fred Berner and Amy Durning, who have worked hard to secure the rights with the Bernstein family, saw the rights lapse due to script delays, and then re-engaged in rights talks once Cooper and Spielberg came onboard.
Cooper’s directorial debut A Star Is Born hits theaters later this year, in which he also stars alongside Lady Gaga. Buzz is hot on that one as a potential Oscar contender, and if it indeed is the goods then this Bernstein biopic could be Cooper’s next project. But regardless it sounds like Fukunaga and Gyllenhaal’s film, titled The American and based on Humphrey Burton’s biography, will go first as production on that movie is set to begin this fall. With an awards race ahead of him, Cooper can’t commit to making this Bernstein film until next year, if it even is his next movie.
So we’ll see what happens. Either Cooper’s project falls away when The American moves quickly, Cooper sticks with it and we have two Bernstein movies, or Fukunaga’s film falls apart and Cooper moves forward with his take. What a weird thing.