In A Star is Born, the most fa­mous pop mu­si­cian in the world dis­ap­pears into a role that’s a fun-house mir­ror ver­sion of her own rise. She emerges as a rev­e­la­tion

Elle (South Africa) - - COVER -

‘Ifeel like I’m still a foe­tus,’ says Lady Gaga, look­ing im­pec­ca­bly glam­orous in a wide-belted black Alaïa dress, stabby heels, ex­trav­a­gant lashes and dark brows, her plat­inum hair fram­ing her face in soft waves. What she looks like (no doubt de­lib­er­ately) is a mid-cen­tury Ital­ian film star – Monica Vitti in some long-lost An­to­nioni pic­ture, or a tiny,

blonde Sophia Loren. What she means is that she feels as if she’s just get­ting started as an artist – that she’s only ac­com­plished a frac­tion of what she still plans to do – but I have a hard time wrap­ping my head around this no­tion, con­sid­er­ing the decade she’s just had. Ten years ago, with the re­lease of her frst al­bum, The Fame, Lady Gaga went from strug­gling bur­lesque per­former and New York club kid to global pop phe­nom­e­non in what seemed like the blink of an eye. Since then, she’s put out five stu­dio al­bums, one sound­track al­bum and 18 sin­gles, per­formed at the Su­per Bowl and won six Gram­mys and a Golden Globe, among other things. She’s won fashion awards, col­lab­o­rated with fa­mous artists and sung duets with Tony Ben­nett. Two years ago, while film­ing a Net­flix doc­u­men­tary about her life, Gaga: Five Foot Two, she landed the lead­ing role in a ma­jor Hol­ly­wood movie. She would play the Janet Gaynor/Judy Gar­land/Bar­bra Streisand role in A Star is Born, op­po­site Bradley Cooper. All of which is to say that if any­one in­hab­its a par­al­lel uni­verse where the bar for achieve­ment is set so im­pos­si­bly high that Lady Gaga ranks as ar­tis­ti­cally pre­na­tal, it’s prob­a­bly just Lady Gaga. A few days af­ter our meet­ing, A Star is Born pre­mières at the Venice Film Fes­ti­val. Lady Gaga’s there in a Valentino gown adorned with bil­lowy pink os­trich feath­ers. Half­way through the screen­ing, a fluke light­ning ac­ci­dent mo­men­tar­ily in­ter­rupts the film, which none­the­less goes on to get an eight-minute stand­ing ova­tion and mostly rap­tur­ous re­views. In 2016, while ac­cept­ing the Golden Globe award for her role in Ryan Mur­phy’s Amer­i­can Hor­ror Story: Ho­tel, Lady Gaga said that she’d wanted to be an ac­tress be­fore she wanted to be a singer, but that mu­sic had worked out first. Now that act­ing’s worked out as well, it’s un­clear what more she could do. A Mars colony, maybe. Fly­ing cars. Uni­ver­sal health­care. Lady Gaga has a com­mand­ing pres­ence. She sits like an Olympic gym­nast nail­ing a land­ing. Chat­ting with her in the kitchen of her oth­er­worldly, 2,4ha Mediter­ranean-style es­tate, which fea­tures an eight-horse sta­ble, a dres­sage rink, a bowl­ing al­ley, a salt­wa­ter pool and a panoramic view of the Pa­cific Ocean, I have the feel­ing that I may have tem­po­rar­ily crossed over into this other, ex­tra di­men­sion. The woman comes across as a sweet­heart, but the artist is a ma­chine. In per­son, she’s warm but guarded, friendly but cau­tious, pas­sion­ate but preter­nat­u­rally poised. Her house is cosy and filled with peo­ple – as­sis­tants; her man­ager; her mom, Cyn­thia, vis­it­ing from New York. (‘Don’t we look alike?’ Lady Gaga asks af­ter in­tro­duc­ing me. They re­ally do.) The house is more tra­di­tional than you’d ex­pect, more be­fit­ting a Ste­fani Ger­man­otta (her given name) made in­sanely good than the pop per­for­mance artist who once wore a dress made out of meat to the MTV Video Mu­sic Awards. I mean, the French pro­vin­cial so­fas are draped in quilts. The fire­place is flanked by a big TV and an old Ital­ian movie poster of A Star is Born star­ring Judy Gar­land, a gift from Gaga’s boyfriend, CAA agent Chris­tian Carino. It’s all slightly dis­ori­en­tat­ing. We could be in a Nancy Mey­ers movie. Or a Star Trek episode. A decade into her ca­reer, Lady Gaga’s be­ing born again, as a movie star, and she truly is a rev­e­la­tion. This might just be the most re­mark­able thing about A Star is Born – that, be­yond the fact that she’s un­recog­nis­able, she feels new. Among the most no­table things about her char­ac­ter, Ally, is how stripped down she looks, how vul­ner­a­ble. Gaga’s shown glimpses of this be­fore. We’ve seen it in her hi­lar­i­ous Satur­day Night Live sketches, her al­bum Joanne and her doc­u­men­tary, in which she ap­pears in sweat­pants. ‘The char­ac­ter of Ally is in­formed by my life ex­pe­ri­ence,’ Lady Gaga says. ‘But I also wanted to make sure that she wasn’t me. It was a ca­dence of both.’ Ally is tal­ented, but in­se­cure. She writes, but won’t per­form her own songs. She’s been dis­suaded from pur­su­ing her dreams by an in­dus­try that doesn’t be­lieve in her, that tells her she looks wrong for the part. She re­luc­tantly al­lows Jack­son Maine (played by Cooper) to draw her into his world, to in­volve her in his mu­sic, un­til she meets the man­ager who be­gins her trans­for­ma­tion into a com­mer­cial pop star. For all Lady Gaga’s tal­ents as a singer, song­writer and ac­tress, it’s her metatal­ent for fame – a con­di­tion she sin­gle-mind­edly pur­sued, in­ves­ti­gated, in­ter­ro­gated and named an al­bum, an EP and a fra­grance af­ter – that cat­a­pulted her into global star­dom. It’s in this theme, one on which the movie largely hinges, that Gaga and her fic­tional coun­ter­part, Ally, di­verge the most: once Gaga made the de­ci­sion to be­come a per­former, she didn’t let any­thing stop her. Early in her ca­reer, she un­der­stood that Ste­fani Ger­man­otta, the clas­si­cally trained Catholic school­girl, was tal­ented enough to be suc­cess­ful, but that only Lady Gaga could erupt on the global scene, fully formed. Ally’s char­ac­ter, by con­trast, is like a win­dow into a Slid­ing Doors-like look at how things might have gone. ‘When I watched the film for the first time,’ Gaga says, ‘I said: “Oh, my gosh.” I thought she was re­ally sad at the end of the movie, but I didn’t re­alise how sad she re­ally was at the be­gin­ning. She’s re­ally kind of a de­pressed girl. She works as a cater­ing girl. She has her friend Ra­mon, who’s very im­por­tant to her. She takes care of her dad at home and takes care of all the driv­ers who come and have break­fast in the morn­ing. But she’s truly given up on her­self as a mu­si­cian.’ This lat­est ver­sion of A Star is Born is the fourth it­er­a­tion of the clas­sic melo­drama about the ef­fects of fame and ad­dic­tion on a re­la­tion­ship. Cooper’s Jack­son Maine is an al­co­holic rock su­per­star on the wane who falls in love with a singer-song­writer he hap­pens to meet at a drag club, where he’s stopped for a drink af­ter a con­cert be­cause he can’t face go­ing home. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper first met years ago on the set of Satur­day Night Live, but it wasn’t un­til she per­formed at Sean Parker’s 2016 cancer ben­e­fit that they con­nected. Lady Gaga’s reps had alerted her that the ac­tor would be in at­ten­dance and that he planned to di­rect A Star is Born and was look­ing to cast the fe­male lead. Lady Gaga knew she wanted it. She sang La Vie en Rose, which ended up in the movie as the first song Jack­son watches

Ally per­form – the song that makes him fall in love with her. ‘I was com­pletely blown away,’ Cooper says of that night. ‘I called her agent and said: “Can I meet with her?” Then, the next day, she said “yes” and I drove up to her house, and that was it.’ Gaga says the con­nec­tion was in­stan­ta­neous. ‘Be­fore I knew it, I was mak­ing him pasta, feed­ing him, and we were talk­ing and laugh­ing. Then he wanted to hear us sing to­gether, and asked if I would sing a song called Mid­night Spe­cial with him. I printed out the sheet mu­sic and brought it out to the pi­ano, and I was so ner­vous. So I’m sight-reading the mu­sic at the pi­ano and we start to sing, and I hear Bradley’s voice, and I just stopped play­ing, and I said: “Oh, my gosh, Bradley, you can sing!” It’s in­cred­i­ble,’ she says. Once she was cast, Cooper and screen­writ­ers Eric Roth and Will Fet­ters worked on the script while Gaga worked on the sound­track. ‘I wrote it for her, to play it. I asked her so many ques­tions and wanted to mine so many of the things she told me. That com­pletely formed the cre­ation of Ally,’ Cooper says. ‘We re­ally were very vul­ner­a­ble [to­gether]. I had a lot of be­lief in her magic. It’s one thing to have a sense of it and then watch it, be­fore your eyes, ev­ery day, shoot­ing.’ In or­der to por­tray an un­known singer, Gaga drew on her in­se­cu­rity as an ac­tress. ‘I’ll never for­get the first scene we did to­gether in this Mex­i­can restau­rant. Bradley got some tacos and brought them to the ta­ble. Then he said some­thing to me, but it wasn’t what was in the script and I didn’t know what to do, so I just said my line. Then he said some­thing else and I didn’t know what to do be­cause I thought I was just sup­posed to be say­ing what was on the page. So I just said an­other line – the next line. See­ing that I wasn’t go­ing off­script, he said: “Are you OK?” and I just started to cry.’ Through this, she learnt to fo­cus more on the story than the lines. So when it came to the con­cert scenes, where their ex­pe­ri­ence was re­v­ersed, she tried the same tech­nique. ‘When we sang Shal­low to­gether at the con­cert, af­ter he runs over and starts to pull me on the stage, I didn’t think: “I haven’t made it yet as a singer.” All I had to do was go: “I haven’t made it yet as an ac­tress.”’ When Gaga was 14, she was shop­ping at a bou­tique on the West Side – singing, as one does – and a sales guy ap­proached her and of­fered to give her the phone num­ber of his un­cle, a vo­cal coach. Don Lawrence, whom she calls the aor­tic valve to her ca­reer, made time in his sched­ule to work with her. ‘Later, I re­mem­ber we were talk­ing one day – we used to talk a little bit dur­ing our les­sons, be­cause we liked each other so much – and I said: “I just don’t know how I’m gonna make it,”’ she says. ‘I was tak­ing meet­ings with en­ter­tain­ment at­tor­neys and knock­ing on peo­ple’s doors, try­ing to get them to lis­ten to demos that I made on a four­track Tas­cam cas­sette player, and he said to me: “There can be 100 peo­ple in the room and 99 of them won’t be­lieve in you, but all you need is one.”’ Af­ter high school, Gaga en­rolled in the Col­lab­o­ra­tive Arts Project 21 through NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, but dropped out af­ter a year – ‘when I de­cided to re­ally say: ‘Sorry, Mom and Dad” and be a starv­ing artist on the Lower East Side’, she says. She worked three jobs, in­clud­ing one as a go-go dancer. She used to call clubs and pre­tend to be her own man­ager. She would haul her pi­ano from gig to gig. Once, while per­form­ing at a jazz bar where a crowd of frat boys wouldn’t be quiet, she stripped down to her un­der­wear to get their at­ten­tion. The mo­ment was a turn­ing point – it made her un­der­stand some­thing about com­mand­ing at­ten­tion. ‘I al­ready knew that she was this au­then­tic, open, raw, real artist who could sing and write songs and be this quadru­ple threat,’ says Heather Parry, who pro­duced the Net­flix doc­u­men­tary and ex­ec­u­tive­pro­duced the film. ‘But the thing I was most im­pressed with was that she’s a very strong busi­ness­woman. In any­thing she does, you’re, like: “She’s such a boss!”’ A Star is Born, of course, is an ev­er­green, re­gen­er­a­tive para­ble about the price of fame – which may be a bit of a chest­nut, but it works. The best sto­ries about the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence are the ones in which or­di­nary peo­ple are made to with­stand ex­tra­or­di­nary forces – al­co­holism, phys­i­cal and emo­tional trauma, global star­dom, the mer­ci­less ma­chin­ery of cap­i­tal­ism. Lady Gaga is an artist. She feels things pro­foundly. She’s grap­pled with the in­her­ited trauma of the death of her fa­ther’s sis­ter at 19; with the emo­tional trauma of hav­ing been bul­lied in school and later sex­u­ally as­saulted; with the phys­i­cal trauma of a hip in­jury and surgery that left her with chronic gen­er­alised pain. But pain is the bal­last against which sub­lim­ity takes shape. In one of the most mov­ing scenes of her doc­u­men­tary, Gaga’s get­ting ready to per­form at the Su­per Bowl, but is feel­ing melan­cholic. ‘I’m so ex­cited to do it,’ she says, ‘but I can’t help but re­alise that when I sold 10 mil­lion records, I lost Matt [Wil­liams, her ex-boyfriend and ex-stylist]. I sold 30 mil­lion and lost Luc [Carl, her ex-boyfriend]. I did a movie and lost Tay­lor [Kin­ney, her ex-fi­ancé]. It’s like a turnover,’ she says. ‘This is the third time I’ve had my heart bro­ken like this.’ At the start of A Star is Born, it’s a scene about Jack­son, not Ally, that gets at the heart of the ex­pe­ri­ence. ‘For me, in mu­sic and in act­ing, I’m al­ways pulling from my past ex­pe­ri­ences, fam­ily dy­nam­ics, re­la­tion­ships, pain, hap­pi­ness, joy, the roller-coaster ride of my life – how that’s kind of cre­ated this beau­ti­ful disco ball that’s some­how re­fracted and frac­tured,’ she says. ‘The open­ing mo­ment, when you see him pop some pills, down some booze, hop on stage and just elec­trify the au­di­ence un­til the last bass note hits, and the limou­sine door shuts as the cam­eras are flash­ing, and it goes to to­tal si­lence – this is how I feel as a per­former. That’s what it feels like when you go on stage and there are 20 000 peo­ple scream­ing, and you’re singing and danc­ing and per­form­ing, and then the show’s over, and there’s no sound. It’s emo­tional. ‘Suc­cess tests re­la­tion­ships,’ she con­tin­ues. ‘It tests fam­i­lies. It tests your dy­namic with your friends. There’s a price to star­dom.’ But she adds: ‘I can’t make mu­sic or act with­out us­ing and ac­cess­ing the pain that I have in my heart. I mean, what bet­ter place to put it? Oth­er­wise it’s of no good use.’

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