Spray Tans & Menthol: Inside Bradley Cooper's A Star Is Born Transformation

Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures.
It would be an understatement to say that A Star Is Born is one of the most anticipated movies of the year. Starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper (who owns the multi-hyphenate role of male lead, producer, and director), it's no wonder the third remake of the 1937 film is on everyone's mind. The blockbuster hit already has a trailer with over 10 million views on YouTube, an original song ("The Shallow") that's topping musical charts, and rumors of several Oscar nominations — even before its official theater release.
But underneath the classic love story, the film tackles heavier themes of alcohol and drug abuse — and not in a romanticized, 'that's-showbiz-baby' sort of way. We see Cooper's cowboy-rockstar character, Jackson Maine, struggle with an addiction that ultimately leaves his musical protégé and lover, Ally (Gaga), as collateral damage.
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So, how does one turn Bradley Cooper — who, for the record, holds PEOPLE's 2011 Sexiest Man Alive title — look like a troubled musician who's lived a life filled with late nights and heavy drinking? On top of some convincing acting, it all comes down to industry veteran Ve Neill, whose IMDB credits include Pirates Of the Caribbean and Edward Scissorhands. As the makeup department head for the film, Neill was responsible for bringing Jackson Maine to life using a beauty kit stocked with lots of self-tanner and... menthol?
To get all the details, we spoke to Neill about Cooper's transformation, the infamous Lady Gaga makeup ban, and the tattoo you probably won't notice the first time you see the movie.
That Cowboy Tan Is Fake — & Available At Sephora
"I tanned him every day," Neill reveals. "I had him do full-body [spray] tans every other week, then every morning I would re-tan him in the chair." She recalls that from the very beginning, Cooper had a vision for Maine: gritty, distressed, and like he'd been riding a motorcycle during a heat wave. During one scene in particular, Maine is saying goodbye to Ally from a car window and calls her to turn around so he can drawl, "I just wanted to take another look at you." In that moment, you see it: an inflamed, aged, and dehydrated man, who drank too much the night before.
Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures.
Maine's complexion lends to the plot, with the ruddiness of his skin correlating to his drug and alcohol use. On top of Cooper's daily Vita Liberata face and body tanning treatment, Neill also used Tom Ford Bronzer and a MAC gray-green eyeshadow in Ashbury to really make his appearance seem dingy. "On the days he was supposed to look really messed up, I'd stipple in a [Premiere Products] glazing red gel at the top of his eyelids and bottom of his lash line so it looked like he'd really been up all night drinking," she says. "On top of that, I'd go back and have him scrunch up his face so I could give him more wrinkles around his eyes with the tanner."
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Watery Eyes Came At A Painful Price
The excessive tanning wasn't even the tip of the iceberg for Cooper's transformation. Neill's trick for getting Cooper's eyes to appear constantly bloodshot and watery was menthol. "I blew it in his eyes all the time so he'd look high and drunk. We did everything we could to make him appear worn out," she explains.
Menthol is an old industry trick that gets actors to hit their emotional mark and cry on command. And if Neill couldn't interrupt a take to blow more menthol in Cooper's eyes, she'd simply rub a paste infused with the irritating agent directly on his lashline. Ouch.
Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures.
Gaga Did Wear Makeup, But Not What You Think
Although Neill was not in charge of doing Gaga's makeup (Gaga used her own trusted entourage of Frederic Aspiras and Sarah Tanno), she does admit that the contentious no-makeup story revealed during the press tour by Gaga is true. "As far as the Ally character goes, [Cooper] wanted her really fresh-faced," Neill recalls. "He said absolutely no makeup. He didn't want her to look like she had anything on." Neill says that Tanno likely put something on Gaga's skin, like a moisturizer, but that's it. Although a lot of people found this rule off-putting and problematic, Neill asserts that this decision was so the viewer could see a strong transition in Ally's character.
Just because Gaga was restricted from using makeup on her face doesn't mean she couldn't wear it on her body, which turns out was totally necessary. Tanno was tasked with covering up Gaga's massive collection of tattoos, so her famous persona off-screen was virtually invisible in the film.
Cooper Designed His Character's Tattoo
Ally doesn't have tattoos in the film, but Maine does. At least, he gets one — a tattoo the audience only sneaks a glimpse of in one scene. "We made it specifically for him," Neill says. "I had [Cooper] draw it actually. Then, I sent it to my tattoo guy, printed it, and put it on."
The tattoo is a cartoon sketch alluding to the American expression "Kilroy was here" that gained popularity during World War II. Whenever the phrase would be scribbled on a wall or troopship, it was accompanied by a doodle: a bald head and an extra-long nose peeking over a wall. Neill explains that, supposedly, the tattoo is Maine's homage to his father (but the backstory isn't fleshed out in the film). Now, just try and spot the famous sketch on his arm in the film.
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