“Maestro” True Story: All About Leonard Bernstein, Who Bradley Cooper Plays, and His Complicated Love Life

Bradley Cooper also co-wrote and directed the movie, in theaters Nov. 22 before streaming on Netflix Dec. 20

<p>Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty; Netflix</p> Leonard Bernstein and Bradley Cooper

Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty; Netflix

Leonard Bernstein and Bradley Cooper

Bradley Cooper not only co-wrote and directed Maestro, the thrilling new biopic about Leonard Bernstein, but he also stars in the film as the famed musical genius.

Perhaps best known for composing the iconic music for West Side Story, Bernstein, who died in 1990, was notable for many other reasons.

The Massachusetts native, born in 1918, was the first U.S.-born conductor to lead a major American symphony orchestra. He also wrote several classical music works, scored movies including On the Waterfront, and hosted the CBS series Young People’s Concerts for many years.

Over the course of his lifetime, the Harvard-educated talent won 16 Grammy Awards, seven Emmys and two Tonys.

Related: 'Maestro' Reviews: Bradley Cooper 'Disappears Inside His Performance,' Carey Mulligan 'Has Never Been Better'

Among his many great achievements was the family he built with his wife, actress Felicia Montealegre (played in the movie by Carey Mulligan). Married in 1951, the pair welcomed three children: Jamie, 71, Alexander, 68, and Nina, 61.

<p>Courtesy of Netflix</p> Bradley Cooper and Carey Mulligan in 'Maestro'

Courtesy of Netflix

Bradley Cooper and Carey Mulligan in 'Maestro'

Cooper consulted all three Bernstein heirs while making the movie, which is not a standard cradle-to-grave biopic. Instead, Jamie tells PEOPLE, the nine-time Oscar nominee “decided to tell this incredibly personal, up-close, intimate story of our family.”

The director and star developed an interest in Bernstein at a young age since his recordings were on “heavy rotation” in Cooper’s house while he was growing up, he said in production notes for the film.

“So the pilot light I needed to make Maestro turned on many years before I actually came across the project,” he continued.

<p>Jason McDonald/Netflix</p> Bradley Cooper in 'Maestro'

Jason McDonald/Netflix

Bradley Cooper in 'Maestro'

“After doing a year of research on Lenny and the family and letting everything soak in, I realized the most interesting and relatable aspect to me was this marriage between Lenny and Felicia. It was an unorthodox, genuine love that I found endlessly intriguing,” he said.

According to the Leonard Bernstein Office, the maestro and Montealegre met at a party in 1946, three years after Bernstein got his big break when he’d been asked to conduct the New York Philharmonic after the guest conductor fell ill.

The year she met Bernstein, Montealegre made her Broadway debut in Swan Song. They were two young stars on the rise, and their connection was instant and electric.

She and Bernstein became engaged quickly, but broke off their relationship and reunited in 1951, the year they wed, according to the Leonard Bernstein Office.

CBS via Getty Leonard Bernstein conducts the New York Philharmonic
CBS via Getty Leonard Bernstein conducts the New York Philharmonic

Though he was deeply in love with Montealegre, Bernstein also had intimate relationships with clarinet player and music producer David Oppenheim, played by Matt Bomer, and later, with his research assistant Tommy Cothran (Gideon Glick).

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“He was bisexual and had this whole other life having relationships with men,” explains Jamie.

The movie portrays Montealegre as being understanding of Bernstein’s liaisons — but only to a point. They argued over the infidelity, but always came back to each other.

Mulligan, according to Jamie, perfectly embodied her mother, who succumbed to cancer in 1978. “I don't know how Carey did it, but I will tell you that she somehow channeled Felicia, and her performance is just unbelievable. And we just couldn't get over how magnificent she was,” she says.

As Bernstein and Montealegre’s relationship plays out in the movie, Cooper shows the maestro at work as well.

Related: Bradley Cooper Shows Leonard Bernstein's Life and Loves in Emotional New Maestro Trailer

“Bradley’s brought pretty much all of my dad’s facets as a creator. You get rehearsal scenes, you get teaching scenes, you get a composing scene, obviously conducting scenes and how about that piano playing! Just tremendous,” Alexander said, according to Netflix.

Everything Bernstein did, whether it was working or loving, he did with passion. That comes across in many moments that carry emotional heft.

“My father was just all about the heart. He conducted from the heart. He taught from the heart,” says Jamie. “He would've hugged every person in the world if he could have. But he managed to do that pretty well with his own music and his music making. That was his way of hugging everybody.”

Maestro, costarring Sarah Silverman, Maya Hawke and Miriam Shor, is in select theaters Wednesday before streaming on Netflix Dec. 20.

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