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Bradley Cooper, Guitarist?

About guitar playing in films and why some actors prefer acting as players rather than playing as actors

The new film A Star is Born begins with the perfect energy; The atmosphere is charged with excitement. The camera follows the band members as they take the stage. The guitars and drums start to roar. It’s definitely one of the greatest opening scenes for guitar and rock lovers. But then we see Bradley Cooper air-guitaring the solo… Cooper (the director and lead actor) acts well, has all the right rocker moves down and uses believable guitarist gestures. But alas – his fingers are not synchronised with the sound. In films, sometimes actors do in fact play their own instrument while shooting a scene but the editor might use different takes which could mismatch the visuals to sound. However, in one of his interviews, Cooper revealed that indeed it wasn’t him playing in the film. Although he sang and recorded all the songs live (and did it well), the guitars were played by Lukas Nelson (the son of Willie Nelson).
Cooper strikes a chord
In other parts of the film, it is obvious/clear that Cooper does know what he is doing when he holds the correct chords and changes them at the right time. One article mentioned that Cooper learned guitar for 18 months in order to prepare for the part. He may well have, but the opening scene with its unconvincing guitar solo tells a different story. After teaching hundreds of students, I can attest that playing guitar and even guitar solos isn’t such a difficult task for most people, if they apply themselves. I believe that any beginner is able to play this opening scene’s solo after taking guitar lessons consistently (weekly) for a few months. And I’m willing to bet on it 🙂
Bradley cooper guitarist
Bradley Cooper filming in Glastonbury festival. Photos by RAPH_PH
Many actors play guitar in Hollywood
He wrote music, he sang live – the picture could’ve been complete if only he had taken on the guitar playing. There are many actors and directors who do play guitar in Hollywood and beyond (I taught a few myself). I know it’s not my place to say, but theoretically other actors who are known as accomplished guitarists could have played the role more easily/believably. Johnny Depp, Kevin Bacon, Russell Crowe, Steven Seagal, Jeff Bridges? Maybe it’s not that important. But as a guitarist who knows that there are a lot of other guitarists who will watch this film, it doesn’t feel like there is a need to fake it. Just play it.