This wasn't without training, though. Before starting production, Cooper reached out to musician Lukas Nelson, son of Willie, for help. While Nelson isn't prominently featured in the film, he became a crucial part of its evolution. His band, Promise of the Real, appears on screen backing up Jackson. In fact, if you know what Nelson looks like -- long brown hair, beard -- you can spot him playing a guitar in nearly every major concert sequence. On top of that, Nelson didn't just act as Cooper's personal trainer; he also produced the soundtrack alongside Cooper and Lady Gaga, helping shape the musical narrative of their tale of fame and doomed romance. Of course, Nelson -- who we spoke with in a darkened studio at the Toronto International Film Festival -- is more analogous, at least sonically, to the weary country rocker Jackson than Ally.
Neil Young, with whom Nelson tours, brought them together, in a way. "I'd just seen this clip on Jimmy Fallon where [Cooper] air guitars to 'Down By The River,' the Neil Young song," Nelson says. "I thought, that's cool that somebody would do that. Completely randomly, then he called a couple months later." (It's worth noting that Nelson holds down the heavier-lift guitar parts in A Star Is Born, for the most part.)
Cooper wasn't a complete musical novice, but he did train for at least a year, Nelson says. "He wasn't as much of a guitar player, but he could sing," Nelson explains. "And he could handle the guitar." In a recent profile of Cooper, New York Times' Taffy Akner describes watching a video of Cooper and Lady Gaga singing "Midnight Special" during their first meeting. "His voice is not yet as good as it would become," she writes, "but he was reaching far down into his body for it." It just took practice.
"Bradley's ear is already trained and developed because he sings along to his favorite songs and he knows when it sounds bad," Nelson adds. "All we had to do was just get him to believe in himself and we believed in him. Also to have repetition be a big part of it because it's basically just training your vocal chords to hit the note that you hear."