Jake Gyllenhaal Talks About Losing Leonard Bernstein Biopic to Fellow Actor Bradley Cooper After Wanting Role for 20 Years
Jewish actor and producer Jake Gyllenhaal spoke in a recent interview with Deadline about his 20-year dream of wanting to play the late Jewish composer and musician Leonard Bernstein in a biopic, but ultimately losing the project to actor Bradley Cooper.
Gyllenhaal, who stars in the new Netflix drama “The Guilty,” was creating a film with his producing partner in which he would play the award-winning “West Side Story” composer, but Cooper had a competing version of the movie backed by “The Irishman” filmmaker Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, who has since directed a modern “West Side Story” adaptation, using Bernstein’s music from the original film. The Bernstein estate ultimately decided to assign exclusive rights to Cooper.
“No one likes to admit this, but we got beat at our own game,” Gyllenhaal told Deadline.
“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,” he added. “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.”
Gyllenhaal — who was nominated for a Tony Award this year for his work on “Sea Wall/A Life” and “Slave Play” — wished Cooper success with the biopic and said he is not bitter about the situation. He explained, “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.”
He also told the publication he’s been through “a number of situations” in his career where he did not get a project he wanted, but still learned a lot from the experience. He said producing is “just failure after failure … until you fall into some sort of success” and when it comes to getting passed over for roles, “you have to get used to that flow, that rejection.”
Deadline announced last year that Cooper, in his first Netflix Original as an actor, co-producer and director, will play Bernstein in the biopic, which has since been titled “Maestro.” Filming began earlier this year and Cooper co-wrote the script with Oscar-winning “Spotlight” screenwriter Josh Singer. Cooper has also worked on the biopic closely with Bernstein’s children, Jamie, Alexander and Nina. The film will span over 30 years and focus on the complex story of Bernstein’s marriage to Chilean-born actress Felicia Montealegre.