How Jake Gyllenhaal lost out on the rights for a Leonard Bernstein biopic to Bradley Cooper

‘Maestro’ is Bradley Cooper’s telling of the American composer’s life – but he’s not the only Hollywood name who was keen to share his story

Nicole Vassell
Wednesday 16 August 2023 11:19 BST
Maestro trailer

The first trailer for Bradley Cooper’s forthcoming biopic Maestro, about the late renowned US composer Leonard Bernstein, has already sparked fierce debate.

The film is one of this year’s most anticipated releases and marks Cooper’s first project as director since his Oscar-nominated movie A Star is Born, in which he also starred opposite Lady Gaga.

However, Maestro is already proving controversial due to Cooper, a non-Jewish actor, taking on the role of Bernstein, who was Jewish, and wearing a prosthetic nose for his performance.

Since the first images of Cooper in costume were shared last year, some have accused Cooper of practicing “Jewface” – altering one’s appearance to play a Jewish person.

In a piece for Indy Voices in 2022, Noah Berlatsky wrote: “Using prosthetics to emphasize the physical difference between Cooper and Bernstein effectively turns Jewish people into their physical characteristics. It makes us caricatures.”

Others have questioned why another actor with Jewish heritage wasn’t cast as Bernstein, with at least one such star previously making it clear he was willing to take on the role.

Jake Gyllenhaal, whose mother is Jewish, was once also in the running to create a movie about Bernstein.

However, the composer’s estate ultimately denied his bid and handed the rights to the movie over to Cooper.

Since the release of the Maestro trailer on Tuesday (15 August), Gyllenhaal’s comments from an interview with Deadline have resurfaced, in which he was candid about his disappointment at losing out on a film he’d been yearning to make for almost two decades.

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Jake Gyllenhaal and Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein

“No one likes to admit this, but, we got beat at our own game,” he told the US publication in September 2021.

“That’s basically what happened. There’s really nothing more to say about it than that. There’s always another project. Sticking your neck out, hoping to get to tell the stories you love and that have been in your heart for a very long time is something to be proud of.

That idea of playing one of the most preeminent Jewish artists in America... was in my heart for 20-some-odd years

“And that story, that idea of playing one of the most preeminent Jewish artists in America and his struggle with his identity was in my heart for 20-some-odd years, but sometimes those things don’t work out. In this business, if you’re lucky enough to stick it out for a while, we can easily forget that getting to tell the story isn’t the most important thing.

“I mean, this is our life. Gotta enjoy it. Bottom line, and this may be my Achilles heel or it may be my superpower, but I wish them the best.”

When the interviewer pointed out the Brokeback Mountain actor’s grace in accepting the loss of the rights to the story, Gyllenhaal explained that he didn’t want to be stuck worrying about something he cannot control.

“You know, as artists, there are many stories to give our hearts to and if part of our self is caught up worrying about something you have no control over, then you can’t give your whole self to the thing that’s right in front of you.”

Maestro will be in select UK cinemas on 24 November 2023 and on Netflix from 20 December 2023.

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