Maestro makeup designer Kazu Hiro Bradley Cooper Leonard Bernstein
Carrie Mulligan and Bradley Cooper in Maestro

Makeup designer Kazu Hiro is the man responsible for turning Bradley Cooper into progressively older iterations of the iconic conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein in his romantic drama Maestro.

In a Q&A session following a screening of Maestro at the SCAD Savannah Film Festival on Tuesday evening, Kazu Hiro and producer Kristie Macosko Krieger talked the audience through the years-long process of crafting and perfecting Cooper’s seamless transition into the legendary Jewish-American musician that both refer to affectionately as “Lenny.”

Makeup Designer Kazu Hiro on Transforming Bradley Cooper into Leonard Bernstein for Maestro

“As I put piece by piece on him, he started to change,” Hiro said. “After he put the costume on, he was Lenny.”

An extremely accomplished makeup designer behind impressive cinematic transformations like Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hour, Hiro was honored with SCAD’s Career Achievement Award.

Krieger described the breathtaking first moment that she saw Cooper in full hair and makeup courtesy of Hiro.

“I went over to Kazu’s workshop and it was amazing. I came in the driveway, and Bradley was smoking a cigarette and he was old Lenny, and he turned and looked at me, and I was like, ‘Holy shit.’ I couldn’t say anything else,” she said. “He was Leonard Bernstein. It was insane. It was really insane. And Bradley really honed it and honed it with Kazu. He just kept saying, ‘Am I a fully fledged human being?’ If you saw me walking down the street, would you know that I was wearing any makeup?’ And the answer, at a certain point, became no. He just looked like Leonard Bernstein.”

Krieger and Hiro knew Cooper’s Bernstein was complete when it triggered an emotional reaction from Bernstein’s real-life children.

“Then we show the kids — Bradley FaceTimed the kids. And when Alexander Bernstein burst into tears, you kind of knew you’re going in the right direction,” she recalled.

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Cooper’s dedication to telling Bernstein’s story wasn’t just limited to embodying him fully as an actor, but also applied to his work ethic as a director.

“Bradley showed up completely done in hair and makeup, ready to go, at 7 a.m. crew call because he was also director Bradley Cooper who had to, as Leonard Bernstein, direct this entire cast and crew,” Krieger said. “That’s a 1 a.m. call-time.”

In order to optimize time in Cooper’s day, Kazu Hiro was able to streamline the intense hair, prosthetics, and makeup process.

“We we wanted to cut down the time before filming, so we had a whole makeup department and hair department and a costume in one trailer so [Cooper] doesn’t have to move around the trailers. That would take time,” Hiro said.

At a certain point, Cooper became so thoroughly fused with Bernstein that it was like talking to another person.

“Actually, I was joking with Christie, like, ‘I really miss Lenny.’ He was great, because he was so confident and handsome and fun to be with. I don’t mean that Bradley was not, but…” he trailed off, drawing a hearty laugh from the audience. “It was really fun. It was tough filming. But we had a great time.”

How Hiro Depicted Bernstein Across Four Decades of Age

Maestro follows Cooper as Bernstein from the day in 1943 when he famously got the call to make his short-notice conducting debut at the New York Philharmonic, all the way through the final years of his life in the 1980s.

In order to depict Bernstein’s age across multiple decades, Kazu Hiro took Cooper through four different levels of prosthetics and makeup that got progressively more complex and involved.

“The youngest, he had a nose and lips and chin. And also, you know, Lenny had big ears, so I put a prosthetic piece to kind of change the shape of Bradley’s ears. And he also had the nose piece to widen his nose. And of course, a wig,” Hiro said.

“And then, as he gets older, I added a cheek piece and neck piece and ear lobes. And the next was adding a forehead, and the last stage was all covered.”

But Hiro’s challenge wasn’t just in conveying age — it was also capturing Cooper’s Bernstein through different emotional states and levels of physical activity, like feverishly conducting a symphony orchestra and choir. That presents a challenge when using silicon prosthetics that don’t blush or perspire naturally like real skin.

“What I paid attention to was… people, when they become active and are sweating, their skin tone changes, too. And depending on their emotional state. When he’s conducting and sweating and red, and when he is kind of depressed, he’s pale,” Hiro said. “The prosthetic doesn’t change color by itself, so by the scene, I changed the color of the skin tone according to what kind of emotion he was in.”

Maestro will begin streaming on Netflix on Nov. 22.

Main Image: Carrie Mulligan and Bradley Cooper in Maestro. Photo Credit: Netflix.