Bradley Cooper's Leonard Bernstein Prosthetics Spark Debate

Bradley Cooper’s Leonard Bernstein Prosthetics Spark Debate

It is an unwritten rule of pop culture that whenever photos are released of an actor wearing more than the usual amount of makeup for an upcoming project, every news article about it will deem said actor “unrecognizable.” Rarely is the person actually unrecognizable. For example, that’s clearly Tom Hanks in a fatsuit and fake Vito Corelone jowls in the Elvis trailer. And Jessica Chastain is just wearing a lot of bronzer in The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

But in the case of Bradley Cooper and the just-released first look photos of his Leonard Bernstein biopic Maestro, the word “unrecognizable” is actually warranted. And, in many cases, it’s making people angry, arguing that it’s inappropriate to rely on such heavy prosthetics to make a non-Jewish actor appear more Jewish.

Cooper will be starring as Bernstein, as well as directing the project—his second directorial effort since 2018’s A Star is Born,

Photos released on Monday show the Hangover actor disguised by pounds of prosthetics to resemble the composer behind the music of West Side Story and On the Town, As an elderly Bernstein, Cooper wears an obviously fake nose and thinning white wig. His forehead wrinkles are deeper than the Grand Canyon and his synthetically weathered hands are knotted with prominent veins.

The transformation is an undeniable feat of Hollywood magic from Kazu Hiro, the Academy-Award-winning special makeup effects artist behind The Darkest Hour, Bombshelland The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. One Twitter user praised Hiro’s work, writing, “Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein in Maestro. Prosthetics by Kazu Hiro, coming for that third makeup Oscar.” Others oohed and aahed at the fun of seeing one very famous, identifiable guy transformed into another very famous, identifiable guy.

But the polarizing photos have also been met with backlash, sparking a conversation about whether Cooper, a non-Jewish actor (donning a sizable fake nose, to boot), is an appropriate choice to portray a legendary Jewish cultural figure such as Bernstein.

“My question, ‘How many pounds of latex would it take to make Bradley Cooper into an elderly Jewish man?’ was supposed to be rhetorical,” tweeted one person. “The answer, BTW, is ‘Enough latex that somebody should probably find it a hair problematic.” Another wrote, “Bradley Cooper wearing a prosthetic nose to play a Jewish man is just…No. Bad. If the nose is so important to the character that it needs to be featured, just cast someone with that sort of nose.”

Cooper will star in Maestro alongside Carey Mulligan, who is playing Bernstein’s wife, Felicia Montealegre. He is also producing the Netflix-bound project with Martin Scorcese and Steven Spielberg, among others. In other words, the film is an Oscar-bait checklist. Biopic about a real-life icon? Check. Mega-famous, talented leads? Check. Main actor undergoes a dramatic physical transformation to get into character? Check. Co-signed by Scorcese and Spielberg? Check and check.

For better or for worse, we’re calling a Maestro sweep at the 2024 Academy Awards now.

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