EXCLUSIVE: After launching two Oscar Best Picture nominees in The Irishman and Marriage Story, Netflix is re-stocking its star-driven prestige film arsenal with a big one. Netflix has acquired all rights to the untitled Leonard Bernstein film that Bradley Cooper will direct, star in and produce from the script he co-wrote with Oscar-winning Spotlight scribe Josh Singer. The project exits Paramount, which set the film as a priority project in May 2018. Amblin remains firmly part of the drama that spans over 30 years in telling the beautifully complex story of the marriage between Bernstein and his wife, Felicia Montealegre.
Netflix will make the film with a enviable roster of top producers: Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Cooper and his Joint Effort producing partner (and Joker director) Todd Phillips, Kristie Macosko Krieger, The Irishman and Joker double Oscar-nominated producer Emma Tillinger Koskoff, and Fred Berner and Amy Durning. The latter duo shepherded this project in various iterations over a decade.
Scorsese several years ago intended to direct a Bernstein film at Paramount when Singer was the sole scribe, but stepped aside to make way for Cooper as he put his time into directing Best Picture nominee The Irishman. Spielberg just shot a remake of West Side Story, using Bernstein’s music from the original film that was the late composer’s most famous movie credit. The deal allows Netflix a chance to be in business with Spielberg.
The Bernstein film is expected to begin production early next year. Netflix will give it a significant theatrical release before the film premieres on its streaming site, just as it did for Scorsese on The Irishman, as well as Marriage Story, The Two Popes and several other awards season contenders.
“Bradley’s directorial debut was nothing short of brilliant and he quickly cemented himself as a serious filmmaker,” said Netflix Head of Film Scott Stuber, in confirming the deal for Deadline. “His strong passion and clear vision for bringing to life the relationship between the iconic composer Leonard Bernstein and his wife Felicia Montealegre promises to do their lives justice as only this renowned filmmaking team can. We are honored to be working with the Bernsteins to share their family’s story with audiences everywhere.”
Paramount will no longer be involved, sources said. The studio embraced the film when Cooper and the filmmakers got the exclusive rights from the Leonard Bernstein estate. That effectively ended a competitive situation with a rival project that had Jake Gyllenhaal playing Bernstein in a film that was to be directed by Cary Fukunaga, who instead helmed the upcoming James Bond pic No Time to Die. Cooper has been working closely with Bernstein’s children, Jamie, Alexander and Nina, for the past two years.
The film Cooper will direct as the follow-up to his Oscar-nominated debut A Star Is Born is not considered a traditional biopic, in that it focuses on the relationship between Bernstein and Chilean-born actress Montealegre. Bernstein’s colorful life included making a memorable conducting debut at the New York Philharmonic at 25 when the conductor took ill; without even rehearsing, Bernstein did so well his star was launched the next day when his feat made the front page of the New York Times. He was blacklisted before being cleared of being a communist just before he composed the Oscar-nominated score for On the Waterfront; and he was an activist in the civil rights movement, and outspoken on issues including ending the Vietnam War. Cooper has always been fascinated with conducting, but the charged and complex relationship between Bernstein and his wife is what compelled Cooper to make the film his next directorial outing.
This will be the fourth project Cooper produces with Phillips at Joint Effort, including the 11-Oscar-nominated billion-dollar grosser Joker and the eight-Oscar-nominated A Star Is Born.
Cooper next stars in the Guillermo del Toro-directed Nightmare Alley. He is repped by CAA.