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Leonard Bernstein’s Children Defend Bradley Cooper’s Prosthetic Nose in Biopic

The first trailer for “Maestro” prompted ridicule for the actor-director’s makeup — and accusations of antisemitic caricature

Bradley Cooper Leonard Bernstein film

Jason McDonald/Netflix; Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Bradley Cooper‘s Maestro, a biopic about composer Leonard Bernstein and his wife Felicia Montealegre that he co-wrote, directed, and stars in, looks set to become an award season contender once it premieres at the 80th Venice International Film Festival in September. But if it’s recognized for makeup design, you can expect some controversy.

Netflix rolled out the first teaser for the drama on Tuesday, featuring lush shots of Cooper as Bernstein with Carey Mulligan as Montealegre, set to Bernstein’s sweeping music. Some were distracted from the romantic air of the preview, however, by Cooper’s large prosthetic nose, unfavorably comparing his look in the film to actual photos of Bernstein. “Did the prosthetics team even try?” asked one viewer. Others went beyond a critique of the likeness itself, suggesting that the nose verged on antisemitic caricature. “This isn’t about making a non-Jewish actor look more like Leonard Bernstein; it’s about making a non-Jewish actor look more like a Jewish stereotype,” wrote a PhD candidate in History of Judaism and religious studies in a tweet that went viral.

While reactions ranged from amusement to ridicule to genuine offense, the consensus on social media seemed to converge around two points: the nose does not make Cooper look more like Bernstein, and it certainly wasn’t necessary for the role. A few critics recalled how Cooper had performed in a Broadway production of The Elephant Man, playing the real-life Joseph Merrick, who had severe visible deformities, without the aid of prosthetics. (The play specifically does not call for such makeup.)

Before the backlash could gain any more steam, Bernstein’s three children — Jamie, Alexander, and Nina Bernstein — came to Cooper’s defense in a statement shared on Twitter. “Bradley Cooper included the three of us along every step of his amazing journey as he made his film about our father,” they wrote, wholeheartedly endorsing his passionate creative efforts. “It breaks our hearts to see any misrepresentations of misunderstandings of his efforts. It happens to be true that Leonard Bernstein had a nice, big nose.”

The siblings further assured the moviegoing public that they take no issue with Cooper’s appearance in Maestro, and noted, “We’re also certain that our dad would have been fine with it as well.” As for “strident complaints around this issue,” they added, these struck them as “disingenuous attempts to bring a successful person down a notch.”

From Rolling Stone US