‘Maestro’: Leonard Bernstein’s Children on Bringing Their Father’s Life and Legacy to the Big Screen

Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein in 'Maestro' — a role that's already earning the actor Oscar buzz. Photo: Jason McDonald/Netflix

The children of legendary musician, conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein — Jamie, 71, Alexander, 68, and Nina Bernstein, 61 — had long wondered how any filmmaker could capture the legacy of their father, let alone take up the challenge of dramatizing their father’s life. 

But when you ask them what it is about their father’s legacy that endures to this day, the answer is simple: “It’s the love that he brought to bear on making music and the love that he elicited from people from the music. That’s a closed loop,” Nina said, during my recent interview with the siblings.  

Jamie added, “Everything he did came from this urge to communicate and to reach out and to embrace. Everybody who made music with our dad felt it and we certainly felt it as a family.”

The sibling trio are more than proud to carry the torch of the Bernstein legacy, which includes the new biopic Maestro, starring Bradley Cooper as the legendary music man. The project is a gift, they say, as it allows their father’s music to reach new audiences.


Cooper, 48, not only stars in Maestro, but also directed, produced and co-wrote it. As well, he famously trained for years in order to authentically replicate Bernstein’s movements as a conductor in the film, telling IndieWire that, “I spent six years learning how to conduct six minutes and 21 seconds of music.”  

At the heart of the film, though, is the love story between Bernstein and his wife Felicia, played brilliantly by Carey Mulligan. 

The Bernstein children didn’t have anything specific in mind as to how the story would be told, but Alexander said that each time they read a draft of the film, “it would be absolutely on the right track as far as I was concerned. It was wonderful that he decided to make it about the marriage and not a strict biopic. It was such a beautiful idea.”

“It was Bradley’s idea entirely to tell this story through the lens of Lenny and Felicia,” Jamie said. “And when he suggested that to us, we thought it was a great idea.” 

One of the big revelations for the siblings was the moving portrayal of their mother. She was “such a subtle, complex and very private person,” Jamie said, adding that, “There’s so much Bernstein footage and stuff written about him that Bradley could use as a resource, but much, much less for Felicia. So I just don’t know how Carrie did it. All we know is she somehow captured the essence of Felicia.”  


Carey Mulligan as Felicia Montealegre in Maestro. Photo: Jason McDonald/Netflix


Bernstein’s sexual fluidity is also touched upon in the film, including a scene when young Jamie (played by Maya Hawke) has heard about the rumours of her father’s homosexuality. When she point blank asks Bernstein about it, he denies it – a scene that’s cracking with intensity and punctuated with long, uncomfortable pauses. The scene is taken directly from Jamie’s book, Famous Father Girl

“Bradley had read the book and that’s what led him to decide to include this scene in the film,” Jamie said. “The way it goes in the film seemed very honest. I think the most honest aspects of that conversation were the long pauses that were there, and neither of them really quite knows what to say.”

“Bradley does enormous work with pauses with silence,” Nina added. “They’re very pregnant.

The film, meanwhile, is already receiving major critical acclaim, having earned Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress (Mulligan) and Best Actor and Best Director (both Cooper). It will likely earn Oscar nominations as well. 

As for what Bernstein would think of the film, “Oh, he’d love it. It’s about him,” Alexander said. Jamie agreed: “He loved attention. So I think he would have been thrilled.”

Maestro is currently playing in select theatres and will begin streaming on Netflix on Dec. 20.